As a teenager, I used to have a habit of watching controversial, socially irresponsible movies. Yes, I was that guy that fell victim to clickbait listicles of the most “Top 10 Banned Movies” and the like. I sought out movies that did more than just shock, but instead crossed the line between what was right and what was wrong; movies that showed that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. The more taboo a movie was, the more I wanted to watch it.
Isn’t that the way it is for most of us when we’re young? We all fall prey to eating the forbidden fruit at one time or another. Some people directly disobey what an authority figure says to do, while others disobey what society says to do. It seems that the more we’re told not to do something, the more we desire to do it.
This concept forms the foundation of The Caligula Effect. It’s an interesting basis full of potential, but unfortunately, the game stumbles so many times in so many areas that it ends up falling flat on its face completely. Make no mistake; The Caligula Effect is, simply put, not a fun game.
The premise involves a group of high school students coming to terms with themselves and gaining special powers from their inner-selves that they can physically manifest. Sound familiar? It should, since the story was penned by Tadashi Satomi, a veteran writer for the early Persona games. Despite the similar setup, The Caligula Effect does arguably carve out its own identity and comparing it to the Persona series, while inevitable, is a bit unfair.
These students are trapped within a virtual reality by an artificial idol named xcexbc, who is a Vocaloid in all but name, and who wrongly seems to think that high school is the best part of a person’s life. As such, the virtual world is stuck in a perpetual time loop. Students that come to realize they’re trapped in a simulated reality end up forming the stupidly named Go-Home Club and set out on a journey to get back to the real world; students who remain oblivious to this, meanwhile, run the risk of becoming hypnotized by xcexbc’s music and turning into monsters known as Digiheads.
In order to fight the Digiheads, members of the Go-Home Club have to vent their negative emotions, which then break out of their hearts and manifest as different weapons in a process called The Catharsis Effect. It’s here, in the battles, that The Caligula Effect shows that it tries to be something original. It’s just a shame that an original battle system doesn’t create enjoyable battles.
The game features a mechanic known as The Imaginary Chain, which gives you a preview as to how your actions will unfold based on the skills you choose while time is frozen, and lets you adjust when to execute your attacks. Juggling enemies and maximizing damage through teamwork and combos is your main goal. For example, you may see that an enemy is going to land an attack before you can, so you might have a character block to protect anyone behind them while you have another dash out of the way. You may then have a character launch an enemy into the air and then use a skill to hit airborne foes, while you have another character focus on hitting the enemy once it’s downed by prolonging their first attack until the they hit the ground. There’s a sense of pride you get from executing a great combo and seeing the game grade your battle as “Stylish” (for those interested, my record is 138 consecutive hits).
However, sometimes things don’t go the way The Imaginary Chain shows it. This renders the inclusion of this concept completely useless. Additionally, battles tend to feel like a slog, slowing down your pacing to the point you may choose to avoid battles altogether. I was never underleveled throughout my time with the game, and towards the end, I realized that trying to fight every enemy I saw was hindering me. Mind you, I wasn’t bored because I was trying to grind; I was simply just trying to get through one of many poorly designed and uninspired corridor dungeons.
These problems are made worse by being coupled with a poor script. On top of the story just being plain boring, there’s dialogue in the game that’s absolutely cringe-worthy and bonkers. There’s a ton of fat “jokes” that are downright insensitive (a few overweight girls literally oink), which makes rooting for any of the characters extremely difficult. It doesn’t help that characters feel extremely one-note, either; everyone seems to fit some anime stereotype, and as the game progressed, none of the characters seemed to grow. You can learn more about the main cast through specific Character Episodes, but there’s no real reward for doing so.
The game prides itself for featuring 500+ characters outside of the main cast, but these recruitable characters aren’t a necessity. You can completely ignore these party members and get through the game just fine, again making a touted mechanic feel useless. The characters may have their own profiles, but they don’t have any sense of personality to make them feel fleshed out.
Ultimately, to say that I didn’t enjoy The Caligula Effect would be an understatement. I actively disliked this game the longer I played it. Its uninteresting cast, repetitive music, poor dungeon design, and tedious battle system created an experience that I sincerely detested. There’s no doubt that some will enjoy the game, but I doubt most will. The Caligula Effect may not be unplayable, but that doesn’t mean that it should be played. The dozens and dozens of hours that I sunk into the game weren’t enjoyable at all. After reading this review, you may fall victim to the titular Caligula Effect and want to see just how bad it is for yourself—just don’t say that I didn’t warn you.