Escape the virtual world of Mobius in a dark JRPG with a unique battle system and a story that keeps you intrigued despite some missteps.
The Caligula Effect
Platforms: PS Vita
MonsterVine was provided with a code for review.
In The Caligula Effect, you play as a high school student who flees the school in a panic when he realizes there is something strange about his classmates. He is soon recruited into the “Go-Home Club,” a group of students who know the truth about the world. Their world is a virtual construct created by an idol named μ (pronounced “mew”).
Together with another idol, Aria, μ created Mobius so people could escape from their pain in the real world and have their greatest wishes come true. However, now she refuses to let anyone leave. Although Aria has lost the power to free the Go-Home Club, she gives them the ability to fight μ’s brainwashed supporters, and they set out to find μ and convince her to let them return to the real world.
The Caligula Effect’s combat system is a strange hybrid of turn-based and real-time combat. Once you select your actions for each party member, with the ability to chain up to three actions per character, they play out in real-time. Positioning, the enemy’s condition, and your timing all have an impact, and a system called the Imaginary Chain lets you watch a prediction of what will happen, so you can strategically plan your attacks.
This makes combat exciting, especially when you set up a massive combo and watch it devastate your enemies. However, not only does the frame rate take a hit during major attacks, but the combat system has a tendency to draw out even minor battles. If you find the combat tedious, it isn’t too difficult to avoid enemies by hugging the walls of dungeons, and for players who enjoy the combat, there are plenty of high-level enemies and optional challenges.
The maze-like dungeon design can be frustrating, but the biggest disappointment is the social system. The Caligula Effect prides itself on having 500 characters to befriend and recruit, but this results in a shallow experience where characters deliver generic, repeated, and lifeless lines of dialogue while your friendship meter rises. It gets even worse in the instant messaging system, where your three generic responses to any message mean your conversations become pointless and illogical. Befriending these characters lets you use them as temporary party members, and resolving their personal traumas rewards you with new skills, but this tedious system is better ignored.
Fortunately, the game handles its main characters much better. While you still need to endure bland dialogue to raise your friendship levels, each of the main characters has a series of Character Episodes that provide deeper insight into their pasts and the reasons they came to Mobius. The pacing is odd, as you’ll usually unlock several Character Episodes all at once, but these scenes are some of the most interesting and thought-provoking parts of The Caligula Effect.
The game’s title refers to a psychological phenomenon where being told not to do something makes you more tempted to do it, and both the main story and Character Episodes delve into dark themes. Learning more about the characters—protagonists and antagonists alike—and watching their stories unfold makes The Caligula Effect a satisfying journey.
Finally, the music deserves a mention. Since idols and musicians play an important role in the story, you’d hope for a strong soundtrack, and it succeeds. The dungeon themes are exciting and catchy, with a neat transition from the instrumental to vocal version whenever you enter combat.
The Final Word
As long as you aren’t here for the social aspects, The Caligula Effect is a worthwhile experience. Its strong story and main characters hint at what it could have accomplished if it focused on tighter interactions rather than attempting a 500-character social system, but they stand on their own nevertheless.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 3.5 out of 5 – Fair