The Caligula Effect: Overdose PS5 Review

Great Game, Questionable Re-Release!

When someone refers to something as being a bit “marmite”, that often refers to the extreme opposite thoughts people will have on a subject. Those that love it or those that hate it. The Caligula Effect: Overdose is one such “marmite” game but only because the game doesn’t reveal itself properly for many hours, by which point many could have given up in frustration and confusion. However, if you grin and bear it, a diamond does start to appear from the rough into something very special.  

Originally made for the superb PlayStation Vita and then upgraded to the Overdose version on PS4, the game has now been re-released yet again for the PlayStation 5. The original release, unfortunately, fell under the shadow of the behemoth of a game in the same genre: Persona 5. Therefore, it was overlooked. So, it is somewhat understandable why FuRyu would want to re-release the game for a third time on the PS5 away from the spotlight of competition.  

The similarities to Persona don’t just end at its original release date. In The Caligula Effect: Overdose, you also play as a high school student, blessed with latent internal powers trying to change the hearts and minds of those around you. The game also has a social link system, turn-based combat, excellent stylish artwork, and audio, but where it sets itself apart is the superb, thought-provoking story and combat. 

Like a lot of the game, it takes a while for the main thrust of the story to fully reveal itself. Without going into spoiler territory, the narrative is very much in the same vein as the film The Matrix. You are part of a school but soon become aware that you cannot escape the utopia that is the local city you are in called Mobius. Being self-aware and finding out the world you are in is a fake reality, you find other like-minded classmates who want to get back to reality, so you decide to form the “Go Home Club”. 

As the Go Home Club becomes more infamous, they come to the attention of the powers that be who try and stop you. Your interference in wanting everyone around you to become self-aware threatens the very fabric of Mobius itself. It then becomes evident that the reason everyone is here is because they have hurts and pains in the real world and find Mobius a place to escape the reality of their real lives. This then raises the question, do you want to let them live their lives in a fantasy or wake them up to take them back to the real world? 

Do you take the red or the blue pill? 

The story develops more from there, but the writing of each chapter, as well as the NPCs at times, can really hit you in the feels. For example, in chapter two, the story arc has some pretty harsh things to say about “fat” people that are totally unacceptable to say. Even the in-game characters berate the person for saying these things; however, the reason this person was doing so becomes clear only if you complete the end-of-level boss fight. When the reveal happened, I for one was stunned at how authentic, personal, and hard-hitting the brilliant writing exposed the truth of the matter. Mouth agape, I felt like I’d just been hit in the face by a runaway train. 

It’s not just the main storyline that has these moments. The game also has 500 NPCs to whom you can speak and find out their traumas to help alleviate and thereby earn a reward for doing so. Each of these mini-stories has a personal touch that we all in the real world can relate to, and they were sometimes uncomfortably close! 

The combat of the game is also one of its highlights and truly a unique take on the genre. It is best described as a turn-based, tactical system. Unlike the aforementioned Persona, here in The Caligula Effect: Overdose, you get to see the actions you chose played out before you prior to committing to executing it. Not every turn is going to play out as expected as during the planning phase you are told the % probability of what you are trying to do has in succeeding. Players can also adjust the timing of when their turns are going to take place to take advantage of the result. For example, one character’s attack could launch an enemy into the air. Another team member has an attack that specializes in hitting enemies while they are in the air. Coordinating the team’s attacks in such a way to take advantage of this is extremely simple to do via a slider, and if successful, it benefits the player with huge damage buffs on the enemies.

The tactical element didn’t just end in the attacking. Positioning your team, deploying buffs, and finding time to heal also played a huge role in each battle. Some skills are nullified by enemies, and likewise, some of your attacks, when launched at the correct time, defuse and negate the enemy’s attack. 

Learning the idiosyncrasies of the team and the enemies will really benefit players who play the game on the harder difficulties. I played most of the game on the Normal difficulty, and it was only for the sub-boss/main boss fights where I really had to concentrate on adjusting my team’s timings. All other times, I put the game on Auto and just played as one of the team. I did this mainly because if I took the time to micromanage every action of my team for every battle, the game would have become stale far too easily.

The reason it would become a bit of a grind is due to there being lots of opportunities to fight basic enemies that don’t present much of a challenge. However, it’s useful to engage in these one-sided fights to rank up. Ranking up unlocked more abilities and skill points to spend for more powerful strikes and new abilities to try. The other reason it was a bit of a grind was that each level had the team retrace their steps all over the level, often right back to where they had come from. This often meant that you had to defeat the very same enemies you had before as they had simply respawned.

The Caligula Effect: Overdose is very much in the vein of a third-person dungeon crawler with adequate interest in the surroundings and locations. The world has detail but not much in the way of variety or rendering to set it apart from anywhere else in the same location. 

Everything is very clear, crisp, and smooth in the movements of the team in the field, but the highlight of the visuals would be in the combat. Stylish and flashy skill moves easily discernible to the eye were always entertaining to view, none more so than each character’s power move that came with a short cinematic wind-up. Can I admit my favourite cinematic was where one of your team shoots the downed chosen enemy at point-blank range in the back of the head?

The 2D visuals were also a treat to behold, with some excellent character designs and expressions during dialogue. I also found the audio to be excellent too. 

Even though the game is only spoken in Japanese, a language I don’t understand, the range of emotions I could garner from the wonderful performances was superb. The main enemy is a Pop Idol too, so there are many catchy tunes to listen to based on this theme during gameplay. The effects during combat were also hefty and authentic, especially the different types of gun sounds. 

But..you knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you? 

The game did all it could to literally drop the player into this world from the start with scant direction. One of my personal JRPG bugbears are games that thrust a multitude of tutorials at the player far too early for them to digest or even experiment with before giving them the next. The Caligula Effect: Overdose is the complete antithesis of this. It doesn’t give you nearly enough information early on at all. For example, one of the best moves you can make in combat is to launch each character’s signature power move. You have the ability to use this right from the very start. It was only six hours in, during the second chapter, that you finally got a tutorial on how to get this move. 

Even more egregious was the fact that, again, right from the start, you can attempt to talk to NPCs to learn about them and their traumas and befriend them. It seemed a pretty pointless thing to do for a long time as you would engage in a couple of conversations then nothing would happen. Finally, and only until you get eight hours in towards the end of the second level, do you get a tutorial to explain the correct way to interact with NPCs! I honestly shouted at the TV, “Well, why didn’t you mention this before?!”.

Up until this point, it is obvious the game was designed for you to be social with the world around you for reasons revealed later in the game. Until they explained what to do though, the game felt slightly frustrating as though you were constantly missing out on something. 

The RPG element of the game also felt underwhelming, bordering on pointless. Each character can have items assigned to increase their base stats in various ways, and some of these items can be found by exploring the dungeons further than the intended mission. I never felt the reward for getting these items was worth the time or effort to do so. In some of the fights to get them, my team would be wiped out. To add insult to injury, not only did this send you all the way back to the last save point to have to repeat getting back there, but it also completely threw you out of the entire game! Back to the load-up screens, back to the load-in option, everything. It felt like the game mocked you for even trying. Defeating enemies on the run to the mission icon often rewarded players with items to add for buff effects anyway, again negating the need to go off the beaten track.

Lastly, we come back to the question of why was this game re-released. There were few discernable improvements the game had over its PS4 counterpart, other than sharper visuals and smoother gameplay. As nice as these aspects are, it’s not a game that had a massive amount of movement like an action-adventure game in the style of God of War or needed smoother graphics like Uncharted holding it back in the first place. Even more perplexing is that if you currently have the PS Plus Extra subscription, the PS4 version of the game, complete with some free DLC, is available to those with that service for no extra cost. There is no Haptic Feedback and hardly any other current-gen hardware advantages to warrant buying this game for those that have played the game before. As great of a game as it is, some haptic feedback or even the use of the controller speaker would have helped, but there is literally nothing. 

 

Final Thoughts

The Caligula Effect: Overdose is very much a slow-burning diamond of a game. It’s very frustrating and confusing for the first few hours simply due to the game not explaining its world or how to interact with it very well. Repetitive missions also felt like needless and irritating padding. It also has very little for anyone who has played the game before to warrant purchasing a specific PS5 version.  

However, if you can get through the early grind and frustration, like a flower blooming, suddenly everything starts to shine and come together. The game has some outstanding stories to tell and brilliant voice acting alongside some excellent and unique combat. It’s simply a case of whether you can gut it out long enough to get to that point.

Developer: Aquria/Historia

Publisher: FuRyu

Platforms: PS5

Release Date: 30th May 2023

 

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