The Caligula Effect launches digitally on the Playstation Vita later today, and Atlus has been kind enough to provide me with a review code. So be sure to give it a read if your interested. Those with little time can find a very brief overview of my general thoughts at the very bottom.
The Caligula Effect is a Japanese Role Playing game developed by Aquaria for the Playstation Vita. It stars a group of high schoolers who have to track down and defeat a group of musicians in order to escape a virtual world. It offers turn based combat, but with a cool twist, and social link gameplay akin to Persona. It has it's ups and downs, but it is certainly not something RPG fans should ignore.
The combat of The Caligula Effect is really where this title shines the most. It is built on a combo system where each party member is simply a piece of a larger puzzle. In many RPGs, each party member will mostly act on their own, save for healing, etc. But in The Caligula Effect, thinking of your party members as a whole is key to success.
For example, some actions are only effective when the target is thrown up into the air, and others won’t land at all if the enemy is on the floor. I will often have my first party member execute an action to knock the enemy up into the air. After that was set, I followed with my two heavy hitters using actions that did more damage if their target was airborne. And to finish, I set my final party member to use a move that would land when the enemy had fallen to the floor. It feels awesome when pulled off correctly. And the neat thing about all of this is that I was able to punch in all of those actions, and then hit confirm to watch it all play out at once. Meaning it has the depth of your standard turn based combat, but the flash of a live action title. It is actually very satisfying to watch.
But the battle system is not without it’s flaws. It does have the depth that makes it rewarding, but some aspects can also make it frustrating or confusing. Like I mentioned, the whole system revolves around using every party member’s actions in a way that allows them to combo off of each other. This means that the order in which they are actually used is very important. I normally had no issues, but there were moments when things started to get a little messy. To be specific, sometimes the order in which I set my party members to act gets thrown off, which is made worse by the fact that their arrangement can't be changed in battle. And because of how important the order the skills are in, things quickly fall apart if the player is unable to combo correctly. There are some tools provided to help with this problem, but they are often not enough.
Another touted feature of The Caligula Effect is the social element. As a high schooler, the protagonist is in contact with plenty of other students. Players can talk with all of them in the game, with an exception to enemy characters, to develop a bond. The concept of this is great, and when done correctly can be very compelling. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. Talking to other classmates is a very generic experience. In most cases they all just say something very similar to each other, and then their social meter goes up. That is it. Full conversations are few and far in-between. What makes this worse is that the overall character design, including the main characters, is fairly dull. I feel quality over quantity would have worked much better for this game, and maybe been more of a motivating factor in recruiting new people.
I won't go into too much detail regarding the story, as I don't want to spoil anything, but I certainly enjoyed the story a lot more than I thought I would. I'll be honest, the whole "singer idol" theme of the game isn't really my style. But I was able to look past it and enjoy a story that is actually a little dark.
The Caligula Effect has it’s fair share of weaknesses, but they weren't so glaring as to ruin the experience. The deep battle system, and intriguing story do more than enough to make up for the missteps. I will say however, that will a little more polish, The Caligula Effect could have been something really great. It’s no Persona, but it is definitely something worth looking into if your a fan of the series and looking for a reason to dust off your PS Vita.
My favorite thing about The Caligula Effect:
The battle system. Yes, it can get frustrating at times, but it offered a good amount of depth and was very satisfying when working correctly.
My least favorite thing about The Caligula Effect:
Social links. I really liked the idea of being able to interact with other students in a meaningful way, but The Caligula Effect simply doesn't pull it off. Talking with other characters is very uninspired, and has an almost lazy implementation.