- Turn based combat
- No random encounters
- JP voiceovers only
- Silent protagonist—can choose gender and name
Developed by Historia, The Caligula Effect 2 (CE2) is the sequel to the first game released in 2016. Back when the first game was released, it was poorly received. A remake titled The Caligula Effect: Overdose (both first games will be collectively referred to as “CE1”) was released shortly after, and despite the improved graphics, content and some changes, it did not fare much better.
While the game had many issues, CE1 had some unique aspects that stood out, which include the battle system, vocal songs, and the exploration of psychological trauma and other social issues. CE2 is more of the same, but with streamlining and changes to some of the mechanics for a better experience.
Written by Tadashi Satomi (the main writer for the Persona games, prior to Persona 3), CE2 follows the main character, who is enjoying their school life until they suddenly start to experience strange dreams. Not long after, they come into contact with χ, and are subsequently attacked by several classmates that have been transformed into monsters. With the help of χ , the MC awakens to a power that allows them to manifest a pair of knives and defeat monsters.
χ explains that the world they’re in, Redo, is a virtual world where thousands of peoples’ minds are currently trapped inside. Their real bodies are still back in the real world in a comatose state. Due to their regrets, they were subconsciously brought to this world where they can undo their regrets, but without any memory of themselves or the real world.
Redo is ruled by Regret, a “virtuadoll”, and her subordinates called the Musicians. “Virtuadolls” are virtual idols (like Hatsune Miku), that have been mysteriously given sentience. Regret controls Redo’s order with the help of her Musicians. They compose various songs for her to sing which brainwash the world’s inhabitants. The MC and χ then establish the Go Home Club with the goal of destroying Redo and returning to reality.
The game’s premise is interesting, with a lot of terminology thrown in right away, but it does not have a complex story. Other than the introductory chapter, the story doesn’t advance much until about three-fourths into the game. Prior to that, story progression feels formulaic and episodic—each chapter serves little but to introduce new party members and reveal a bit of their backstory along with the Musician of the chapter. The three-fourths mark of the game is where the story ramps up, but ultimately reaches an anti-climatic ending.
My issue with the story is that it’s not that interesting for most of it, and when things start to ramp up, it’s already near the end. The fact that it’s so similar to CE1’s story doesn’t help either, so it feels like a rehash in many ways. There are only about two plot twists within an otherwise straightforward story.
While the game is a direct sequel to CE1, you don’t need to have any knowledge of that game to understand or enjoy CE2. CE1’s ending is vaguely spoiled early on, but no particular important detail is revealed. There is interesting character development that relates to CE1 and greatly enhances the experience if you at least played it, though. Other than that, the game’s story is solid as a standalone for people new to the series.
Much like CE1, the characters are interesting and written quite well. The exception is the MC, of course, who is a typical silent protagonist. For what it’s worth, the MC does have a lot of dialogue options.
As a group, the Go Home Club has good chemistry, and they bounce off of each other pretty well. They certainly do feel like they become good friends as the story progresses, which makes them more likable. This is in contrast with CE1’s Go Home Club that could sometimes be described as volatile.
All of the party members have solid depth and come with their own set of issues and regrets. Just like real people, you won’t know everything about a person just from what you see on the outside. The beauty of the game’s premise and the world of Redo, is that it really messes with your perception. Like an avatar in an online game, characters’ appearances here do not reflect their true ones; their ages could also be different from what you see. How they act may not be how they usually act in the real world either so it can be surprising or even shocking when secrets are revealed. It’s an interesting approach to developing and exploring characters that’s relatively unique within the JRPG genre.
The game’s theme of regret is what ties most of the characters’ backgrounds together. Each party member has their own regrets from the real world that ultimately brought them to Redo. The portrayal of their issues and problems are quite realistic, although not always easily relatable. I thought the exploration of their issues was good, especially compared to many JRPGs out there, but I didn’t like how some of it was executed.
The characters’ past and issues are often not explored enough through the main story itself. It is for some characters, but for others, they are only briefly mentioned and there’s no proper development or closure. Instead, most of development is done through the game’s optional bonding mechanic akin to Persona‘s “social links”. Called “Character Episodes”, the MC spends time with one party member in a hangout setting. Many of the earlier episodes are lighthearted and provide small hints of their issues. Once you reach one of the higher episodes, you get to “dive deeper” into their character ultimately revealing their main issue and regret.
These “Character Episodes” usually don’t include other party members either so it’s common to have just the specific character, the MC and χ talking things through. This is a missed opportunity when the group dynamic was already great, and could’ve contributed to a better group development and chemistry. The writing in the “Character Episodes” isn’t all that bad at its core, but having the silent MC pick appropriate responses from dialogue choices, with χ providing some support, does lessen the writing impact.
Serving as the other major group of characters and the Go Home Club’s antithesis, the Musicians are somewhat decently developed. Like the Go Home Club members, the Musicians have their own reasons to be in Redo which stem from their real life circumstances. They have some depth, but I thought they were underdeveloped as a whole. The game gives them the most attention when they serve as the chapter’s Musician, but even then, their development quickly comes and goes. There’s not enough time to properly flesh them out and their subsequent appearances in the game do them little favors in that regard. You get an in-depth view of their background at some point in the game, but when that happens, you’re essentially reading something like a character history page on Wikipedia instead of it being properly integrated into the story.
What was revealed about the Musicians was interesting, but not quite as interesting as the examples from CE1. This isn’t just an issue with the Musicians, but also with the Go Home Club members. The social and psychological themes as a whole were quite lighthearted in comparison to some of the darker and uglier ones that CE1 covered, which can even get uncomfortable at times. I think it’s a missed opportunity to make the game even more memorable.
GRAPHICS AND ART DIRECTION
CE1’s graphics were one of its weak points, and with CE2, the graphics haven’t improved much unfortunately. It’s better, but still on the weak side, which isn’t all too surprising considering the game’s low budget. The textures on the environment are simple, without a lot of details. The character models saw the biggest improvement overall, and do look pleasing to me most of the time, but I would hardly call them great. It’s a shame because the character art looks great, but the in-game models don’t do them justice.
Character animations are better too—especially battle animations. My biggest complaint with the animations are that the mouth movements during cutscenes stick out; they don’t appear to be synced perfectly with the voiced dialogues.
One of The Caligula Effect 2‘s highlights is its music. Composed by several people including a Vocaloid producer, all of the game’s battle tracks notably have vocals. Each dungeon has its own battle track, and outside of battles, the instrumental version of the song is played in the dungeon.
I’m not too familiar with most of the composers, but the music director is Tsukasa Masuko who was also credited with many of the old Shin Megami Tensei games. That said, these vocal tracks don’t really remind me of those games. Consisting of pop songs, cutesy songs and some goth songs, there’s a good variety like in the first game. I think the songs are more catchy this time around, and better overall, even though none are as good as CE1’s Peter Pan Syndrome, for me.
Although not evident to non-JP speakers, the lyrics are also a reflection of the specific Musician’s background and character. It’s a nice touch that gives more meaning to the song itself. NISA has conveniently translated the songs and provided lyrics online for those interested.
Other than dungeon and battle songs, the remaining soundtrack isn’t as special however. Instead, I found it to be mostly forgettable and generic, unfortunately. The one exception is the main town song which happens to be another vocal track.
Overall, the soundtrack is still quite solid, since the dungeon and battle tracks are heard often and this makes it stand out among other JRPG soundtracks.
The Caligula Effect games have a number of unique gameplay aspects. One of them includes the “Causality Link” system which serves as the game’s major side quest mechanic. The game has a very large number of unique NPCs that are connected to a number of other NPCs. A visual representation of the links can be seen in-game and the details are revealed after their friendship level reaches max level three. Increasing friendship bond consists of talking to a character once to initiate the relationship and reveal their name. A second conversation starts a side request. The friendship level then gets maxed out upon completion of the request.
The quests typically either require retrieving a specific item, accomplishing battle related conditions like “use an item x amount of times during battle”, or just maxing out a friendship level with a specific NPC. While they seem basic overall, I found them oddly engaging and got satisfaction when each friendship reached max level. Fortunately, most of these quests are easy to do, with the main obstacle being barred by story progression. The requests that involve adding an NPC to your party and fight a few battles with them have been removed, despite being an interesting concept.
The rewards from maxing out these friendships include items and equipment which are helpful, but probably the best reward is that each of them permanently increases one of the MC’s stat growths. The stat growth starts out at C- for each, but eventually becomes A+ across the board if you complete every side quest. If you do this as early as possible, you can see the MC’s stats eventually dwarf everyone else.
Other than the individual side quests, there are few group-related ones that are of higher quality. Unlike the solo standalone ones, the group ones follow a series of connecting quest lines. Some of them include the workers of an item store, members of the journalist club and ones related to the cafeteria. These stories tend to be quite interesting and deeper than the short standalone ones. While progression is mostly just talking to the right people with the right passive ability equipped, the developing story is enough to play through them.
Compared to CE1, I found the side quest and “Causality Link” system more interesting this time around—and well worth trying. It also helps that instead of 500+ individuals to track, CE2 only has about 150—still a large number, but not nearly as overwhelming and much more manageable. Despite having many shared character models between NPCs, there is some degree of uniqueness to them. They all have a short bio, and their real life information is revealed once you max out their bond. Even their profile pictures are unique.
There’s also the “Wire” mechanic, which serves as the in-game messaging app. You can text party members and even NPCs about various topics. You can unlock more subjects and topics which makes for an interesting mechanic, albeit this is no gameplay benefit whatsoever. Some of the responses are amusing though, and it helps make them feel more like real characters. With that said, the conversations are very one-sided, since the MC is only asking questions and never follows up with any of the responses.
EQUIPMENT, SKILLS AND ITEMS
The equipment system here is similar to other JRPGs, despite using unique names for them. Called “Stigmas”, they are further divided by attack, defense and amplifications which are basically the accessories in the game. These can be obtained from shops, enemy drops, and as quest rewards.
The dungeons in this game are straightforward. It’s ultimately basic in design and the dungeons don’t stand out much compared to other JRPGs that take place in the modern world. There’s the school, park and a hospital to name a few. I wasn’t too bothered with it for the most part, but this is an area that could still use some work to make them more unique and exciting.
Dungeons are, however, on the long side. Many of them have multiple areas that require looping around after finding a key or hitting a switch. It wouldn’t be quite as long if it weren’t for the abundance of enemies that are scattered all around. Assuming that you fight every enemy on your way, then each dungeon will feel long, and even a slog at times. Fortunately, there are no random encounters, so you can avoid them if you want.
The combat system has seen some changes from CE1, but it still retains some of its unique aspects. The “Imaginary Chain” system is still in effect, which gives you a preview of how certain actions will play out before confirming them. The one drawback is that the preview assumes every attack will hit so it may not play out exactly as shown. Also like before, you can tweak the action order by delaying it as far out as you want (up to about 4 seconds). This is great to not only match the timing with your party members for combos and chains, but also to get the right timing for counters. It can also be used defensively as well. For example, if an enemy attack would intercept and cancel your attack—then you can simply choose to do a quick guard or move out of the way instead. Those that enjoy extensive planning and strategizing would enjoy this aspect of the combat system.
Some skills have counter effects built into them such as the MC’s “High Disturbance” skill. This skill has an added effect that will counter ranged skills. A successful counter for it will instantly launch the enemy into the air. With the specific passive that upgrades this skill, the MC will do a follow-up air attack after launching the enemy.
The “Risk System” returns without any changes, from what I’ve noticed. Every enemy has a “Risk” gauge that is similar to a stagger gauge in other games. Once you deal enough damage to their “Risk” gauge, they enter a temporary stunned state where they’ll take extra damage. Unlike other games with a stagger gauge, however, some attacks are enhanced when attacking an enemy in a “Risk” break state, which is usually some added attacks. There are also some skills that deal more “Risk” damage, allowing for more unique party combinations and chemistry.
A new change with the combat system is that every character now only gets one action per turn. This is in contrast to CE1 where they allowed you to input up to three actions per turn. The new system takes away some of the potential chains and combos you can do, but I ultimately thought it makes battles flow moved quicker and smoother. This isn’t a pure tactical game, so I don’t want to spend too much time in the menus.
The auto-battle option still exists, but it will no longer apply to the character you’re controlling. You can adjust A.I. settings on a party scale anytime you want, but not for any specific character, unfortunately.
“Overdose” skills make a return. These skills are essentially a character’s super move, which include support-based ones as well. These are only usable when a character’s “Stress” gauge fills up to the max. Attacking and receiving damage will increase the gauge. They aren’t as powerful as they were in CE1, where a chain of four “Overdose” skills alone can defeat most bosses.
New to CE2 is the χ Jack system. There is a “Voltage” meter that fills up as you deal attacks, successfully counter, get damaged or by defeating enemies. Once it fills up completely, you can have χ sing a song that provides bonuses to the party members. It is essentially a party-wide power up mode. Attack, defense, SP cost, turn action speed and Risk damage are all increased during this state. The bonuses are small early on, but they can be enhanced significantly as you progress, making it a very powerful tool. Even difficult bosses can be quickly burst down once you enter χ Jack.
One nifty quality of life carryover is that your HP and SP are completely recovered after every battle.
Overall, I found the battles to be pretty fun, even against random mobs, once I got access to more skills and counters. Unfortunately, that also made the game easier as well. Other than the first few hours, the game is quite easy on the normal difficulty. Most of the challenge comes from bosses and some special enemies that are considerably higher level than you at the start. Even then, χ Jack system trivializes many of the fights.
The Caligula Effect 2 has a lot of improvements over the first game, which have made it more enjoyable to play through. While I found the mostly re-hashed story lacking, it still made for a solid sequel. I would recommend this game even to people who didn’t enjoy the first game.