Initial release date: June 23, 2016
Developers: Aquria, Engine Software
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4,PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Microsoft Windows
Composer: Tsukasa Masuko
Publishers: FuRyu, NIS America
"Review Copy Provided By NIS America"
The Caligula Effect: Overdose is a classic case of a "marmite" game; it divides its audience into two clear camps - the ardent admirers and the fervent detractors. The cause of this division lies in the game's initial opacity, which can lead to a lot of head-scratching and exasperation before its true brilliance gradually starts to unfold. Originally conceived for the PlayStation Vita, then subsequently upgraded for the PS4, this particular iteration has been re-released on the PS5, likely in a bid to sidestep the imposing shadow cast by the genre colossus, Persona 5.
The adventure unfolds through the eyes of a high-school student endowed with latent powers, a protagonist that, on the surface, bears similarities to the Persona series. The narrative, however, takes a different turn, venturing into a world reminiscent of The Matrix, where the reality is a construct, and escape is the ultimate goal. Players find themselves in Mobius, a city that represents a utopian escape from the real world's hurts and pains. As the protagonist becomes self-aware, they form the "Go Home Club" with other like-minded students, setting the stage for a moral quandary: should they awaken others to the harsh truths of their real lives or let them continue in blissful ignorance?
As the narrative unfolds, it delves into deeply authentic and relatable themes, often uncomfortably so. Yet, the game's initial hours do a disservice to what follows by failing to adequately explain the world or the mechanics of interacting with it. This lack of guidance is particularly evident in the combat system. While unique, rewarding, and a highlight of the game, it suffers from a steep learning curve exacerbated by the game's reluctance to offer tutorials until several hours in. This approach leads to unnecessary frustration, as players are left to grapple with the mechanics, often feeling like they are missing out on something crucial.
The RPG elements, unfortunately, feel underdeveloped and sometimes superfluous, as the rewards for exploration and combat often do not justify the effort required. The game almost seems to mock the player for trying, as certain battles can result in a team wipeout, sending the player back to the last save point and forcing them to retrace their steps, only to face the same enemies that had merely respawned.
Visually, the game is a treat, boasting clear and crisp graphics, stylish and flashy combat animations, and excellent 2D character designs. The audio, delivered entirely in Japanese, manages to convey a range of emotions even for those who do not speak the language. The main antagonist, a pop idol, ensures a soundtrack filled with catchy tunes that accompany the gameplay. Yet, despite these positives, the PS5 re-release leaves much to be desired. Aside from sharper visuals and smoother gameplay, it offers little improvement over its PS4 counterpart. The absence of PS5's haptic feedback or controller speaker utilization is particularly disappointing. Considering the PS4 version is available at no extra cost for PS Plus Extra subscribers, it becomes challenging to justify purchasing the specific PS5 version.
In conclusion, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is a hidden gem that, unfortunately, is marred by its initial frustrations, underwhelming RPG elements, and a questionable re-release strategy. If players can endure its initial shortcomings, they will discover a captivating story, brilliant voice acting, and unique combat. However, this journey is not for the faint of heart; it requires patience and a willingness to overlook early frustrations. Despite its flaws, for those who persevere, the game offers a rewarding experience that delves into deep and often uncomfortable themes, set against a backdrop of stylish visuals and a catchy soundtrack.