I’ve a PSVita and love it to bits. There I’ve said it. I’ve played so many JRPGs and titles I’d never usually enjoy whilst sitting in the garden or commuting. It’s quite a surprise to me I never got to play The Caligula Effect the first time around but I was more than looking forward to it coming to the PS4. It’s not your average port from the PSVita with added additional content and a coat of paint that brings it up to what you’d expect from a big budget release. The Caligula Effect Overdose now stands as a PS4 title that many will be seeing for the first time and that well of content is deep but is the water worth drinking or does it need to be boiled first?
At its heart Caligula Overdose is an existential matrix story as if told as a generic anime. You’ve woken in high school with no recollection and a handful of other people who loosely remember things are not quite right. A group of musicians are doing their best to keep people happy and compliant and 2 god-like Ai characters are opposing each other and also trying to keep everything running. The strange thing about Caligula Overdose is that the story starts off in an obvious “these musicians are evil” way but then switches tack and drives you to play as one of them. This is some of the additional content written in and the problem is that they never really develop the characters enough for this switch to be more than an option for repeating content. The writing has a nasty habit of bashing on a few tropes that really doesn’t do it any favors. Every time the story starts to get somewhere a character will throw out an insult that will borderline on making them sound like the villain a little too often and Caligula Overdose only gets away with it from time to time by tying it into the characters development.
Caligula Overdose is an interesting mashup of standard JRPG mechanics, you do spend most of your time running around an area revealing it as you go, occasionally finding hidden items and unlockable equipable perks typically guarded by powerful digihead enemies. More than a few times you’ll need to be careful jumping into battle as there are a few super powerful guards to rarer items around blind corners and closed doors. More than once I’ve run into battle only to realise the enemy was 20 levels higher and mashing RUN hoping to get out in one piece. You heal immediately after any combat encounter and this feels like a fix for the combat being the main drive for everything and to stop the gameplay loop from feeling unfair but it makes the combat encounters very samey.
The combat system for Caligula Overdose is both a blessing and a curse. You essentially choreograph a battle by choosing an attack or support action, seeing how it would pan out, adjusting the time when the action will take place with a success % of it hitting and then seeing how everything plays out. It takes a bit of getting used to and when you have party members that use the risk an enemy gets from being hit multiple times there’s another layer to it. When the combat comes together and you parry an attack to have your party queued up to do additional damage it’s fantastic. The super attacks are incredibly brutal, can be chained together across the party and work as an overdrive to build up before bosses. The problem comes from the amount of combat you’ll find yourself doing. Almost every corridor has 2-3 encounters you can’t avoid and you can expect many more between every story encounter. The AUTO option for the AI becomes a godsend when you start grinding through the weaklings just to progress further but it’s far from a perfect solution.
When a game is typically ported from PSVita to PS4/PC you very rarely get much more than a resolution bump but Caligula Overdose has had a lot more work to bring it up to a visual standard you’d expect from a big budget JRPG.
Small areas have been made wide and long to hide the technical limits and lot of short loading screens crop up from time to time but the overall presentation is polished and everything runs smoothly. The artwork is fantastic and really shines throughout with every main character given well-defined characteristics. There’s also a lot of text to read but subtitles are easily readable even if some of the combat shouts aren’t translated.
One huge massive caveat for Caligula Overdose is its music and sound effects. On the PSVita there are obvious hardware limits for music and I’m sure in small doses the games short looping tracks aren’t that much of a bother. On the PS4 you’ll start out by loving how the game syncs in vocals to the backing music when you jump into combat but after a while you’ll be beyond sick of what sounds like a 2-3 minute loop throughout the entire stage. The voice work is thankfully worth listening to and the acting throughout does make the experience a lot more interesting. It’s a shame then that Caligula Overdose has some of the most annoying battle sound effects ever made. The annoyance is compounded further by the fact you have to keep repeating each section of a battle to queue up the right attacks. You can expect to hear the BWRRRNGG noise far too often and Suzuna Kagura’s weapon sounds like someone scraping glass.
As you explore the world of Mobius (not that one) in Caligula Overdose you can talk to the mostly generic NPCs as you pass them, learn their reasons for being there and how you can help unlock their potential. This in turn unlocks a power or upgrade for your character similar to the sphere system in FFX. These side quests are typically simple tasks such as equiping a rare item or leveling up someone specific but the system doesn’t really give you the tools to easily navigate all of this extra content. With a ridiculous number of characters all linked together in different ways it is an interesting system, it just feels like a lot of it’s there to bulk up the gameplay. Talking to your party members throughout the story can further the plot with a surprisingly large amount of choice that affects the dialogue as you go but there’s too much to really get any specifically amazing moments. There are so many side quests each with so many things it all becomes far too nebulous and you’ll skip over a large amount of it just to carry on the story.
Remember when you last bought an epic? I mean literally picked up a game, book or series knowing fully well it would last 50+ hours. When people give their opinion on Final Fantasy 13 they always tend to say, “it gets really good 20 hours in” Caligula Overdose has a lot of similarities. The first few hours are pretty rough and the leveling up, exploring and content is just as huge and diverse. All of it gets boiled down to long linear corridors with nothing much to do than grind at enemies and hope to bump into someone you can investigate and get to learn more from or a plot point to progress the story. Caligula Overdose always feels like it’s trying too much and is never quite refined. It’s surprising how many times it comes dangerously close to being an “avoid game” and utterly impossible to enjoy, yet they manage to hold it off with a plethora of quality of life fixes all over and a plot that always manages to keep at least one interesting question going. There was some real potential for something truly amazing here but frustratingly Caligula Overdose never quite manages to reach it.
5/10 – Infinitely caught between two worlds.
Code provided by EU Partner Relations – NIS America Inc. Check out NIS here