When I began the review process for The Caligula Effect I wasn’t completely sure of what to expect from it, which is probably one of the factors that added to why I enjoyed the game as much as I did. This was because there were numerous issues with the Japanese version that have been fixed in this version, and had I just read reviews of the Japanese version prior to playing the game I may have been influenced negatively by them.
The Caligula Effect’s main story isn’t the most complex or inspiring, and the gameplay can be a bit overly complex, but what it does it does well enough to keep you engaged throughout it (80+) hour main plot.
So what’s the game about?
Well, you begin the game with your character going through an orientation process in a Japanese styled school. During this orientation, your character is required to represent their class on the stage, which they do, but during the process they start noticing some weird anomalies. Sort of like pixel glitches that one would find in a game. Your character runs out of the auditorium, and in counters a cute idol type girl singing on a stage. Her name,” μ” (pronounced Myu). Myu explains to the protagonist that they are in a virtual world of her creation, and that she will grant any desire they may have.
Of course I choose the “I want a girlfriend” option, but that turned out to be a lie… like the cake
You know what I mean…
My terrible jokes aside, after meeting Myu, you also meet another character who looks like a fairy. She informs you that you’re trapped in Myu’s world, and that she’s going to help you escape. Along with some other students that are able to see the glitches, dubbed the “Return Club”, you will attempt to find a way out of Myu’s virtual world.
So basically the plot of Sword art online…
Well, sort of….
The games plot has its own hidden complexities that set it aside from everyone’s favorite MMO anime, especially when accounting for the side stories related to each of your companions. It doesn’t have much in the way of side plot outside of these characters, so I’d recommend sticking to the main plot, and your companions as much as possible, and ignore that shiny object in the corner. You don’t need it, and no need to talk to random bloke #56 either. Those other students in the school are devoid of much personality, so unless you need to talk to them, to progress, I recommend avoiding them all together.
Plot aside the game is pretty much a never ending dungeon crawler set in a town. It ran pretty smooth on the PSVita. I heard rumors that the Japanese release would drop frames in battle, and some other stuff, but I didn’t notice any of that in my time with the game. It ran pretty smoothly all the time, while looking pretty good at the same time. The game also has an amazing soundtrack in the form of some epic JPOP during battles, and instrumentals when not in battle. This music is also woven really nicely into the game’s lore, which I must say is quite interesting. It may be set in a common MMO styled theme; however, the way in which it is presented, and the fluff that surrounds it makes great efforts to exceed the conventions of that theme.
Now this game does have a few gameplay related issues, but they’re more fundamental things that turn out to be annoyances more than anything else. One of these is the battle system. I found it to be unnecessarily complicated, especially it’s layout on the screen. The system is turn based with multiple ways to approach different enemy types, chain combos between characters, and spacial awareness. In this system you are able to decide how, when, and where your characters will make their movements during their turn. In theory this seems like a simple enough system, but it’s filled with so many layers that need to be completed every time you make a decision, that you’ll very likely find yourself wishing it were just a simple button press during the late game. This is because once you level up your characters to a respectable level, and work out a combo routine that’s most effective, the battles become mundane. Like fighting level 5 Zubat over and over with a level 50 Pikachu. You know you’re gonna win, and you just want to get it over with as soon as possible. Heck you want to avoid them so much that you start using insane amounts of max repel, and in the case of this game, just running around enemies.
It’s necessary, but annoying….
Another aspect of the gameplay that bothered me was the slow start which was prolonged even further, by the by the game’s many tutorials. Remember the complex the battle system is? Well they need to explain all of that to you, and then some. Some systems are so complex that they are broken up into separate tutorials, and given to you every time you make a little progress, what seemed like a couple in game feet. This added to the time you spent in the early parts of the game, and may greatly affect the enjoyment for some players that just want to get into the thick of it.
The final, and probably the least important annoyance I had with the game was a lack of variety of environments, and character colour pallets. During the game you spend your time in a few locations that have similar colour pallets. Add to that the look of the characters, who don’t carry the regular anime style of having uniquely colored hair & outfits, and you have a game that can look a bit old, or should I say gets dull quickly. This isn’t a deal breaker, but as I said it was a bit annoying for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled by bright, colourful anime inspired JRPGs for too long, maybe.
The Caligula Effect is not the best JRPG you can play on the Vita, that crown belongs to Persona 4 Golden, but it managed to scratch that JRPG itch in quite a pleasant way. The game may be a bit too complex for those new to this this genre due to the complexities of the battle system, and the constant interruption to the flow of the story at the begin, but vets should be able to find an enjoyable experience in the game if they take their time to savor it.