AfterPatch Review: Caligula Effect 2
Developer: Historia Inc, FuRyu
Publisher: NIS America
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
LUCID DREAMS! - Introduction
While I took a mental health hiatus from coverage, NIS America published three titles - Caligula Effect: Overdose being one of them. By the grace of Laharl and the Netherworld, I was given an opportunity to offer my thoughts, regardless of absent site backing. As reviews began streaming out, one commonality emerged - the unmistakable similarities to Persona. It wasn't easy to ignore, but it does enough to distinguish it from that franchise. Some of the mechanics implemented are intriguing, too, grabbing me by the throat and not letting go. I was engrossed and ate up their impeccable nature. Sure, I had my critiques, but good ideas here are waiting to flourish. Years have since come and gone, and a sequel is upon us. We’re no longer overdosing but now simply doing number 2, but the crucial question is, were criticisms addressed?
AN UNEXPECTED REVELATION! - Writing
First and foremost, as a second entry, there will be references to Overdose. Having the awful memory that I do, though, I can recall the bare minimum of details from that game. By proxy, I can reassure anyone with a goldfish brain that the core narrative never suffers because of my missing callbacks. Sure, you’d have that insider understanding if you come equipped with the necessary knowledge, but it isn’t vital to the enjoyment in the grand scheme of things. The big reason for that can be attributed to party members. While they follow a stereotypical stream of consciousness, there’s total commitment, leaning into the tropes. They’re intrinsically linked to the plot. Not to get into any spoilers, but eventually, a truth comes to pass, causing everyone’s demeanour to spark curiosity. Their mannerisms take another meaning, revealing a hidden facet not previously entertained - things aren’t what they seem.
TRIED AND TRUE! - Writing
One of my expectations for the literary prowess of JRPGs is immersion - is it capable of sewing a believable tale?
The answer for Caligula Effect 2 may not be a resounding yes, but there are elements where it counts. Characters are distinct, and I managed to muster a smile or two from my lips, with an ever-so-brief chortle under my breath. There’s a heavy emphasis on nailing individual quirks. The rambunctious girl is amped up to 11, maintaining her rebellious soul, while another is nurturing but naive. She sees the good in everything, going so far as to provide excuses for the villain's evil deeds - oh, that sweet summer child. My favourite aspect is the pair entangled in a bickering war, exchanging humorous quips and a healthy dose of teasing. It’s also damn charming. The insults take center stage, with Silly Little Strudel becoming a mainstay in my lexicon these days.
I adore the exuberance oozing from every person you recruit. It helps balance the frequent dives into subject matter, such as trauma. Caligula Effect 2 isn’t afraid to delve into the realm of psychotic fans or the parasocial relationships that birth frightening and, at times, murderous obsessions. It explores the world of bullying and the psychological damage that it can have on a person. Although, it’s worth noting that while it delivers a perspective on dark topics, it only skims the surface of how visceral they genuinely are. Nothing was triggering about them. It touched on just enough to drive home an extra layer to the storyline, preventing it from turning flat and monotone. I was interested to find out what troubled my companions. Giving each mini-boss a backstory also helps to provide them with not only another dimension but also a real motivation for their cruelty, thus humanizing them.
LITERATURE STUMBLES! - Writing
I want to take a moment and recognize the creativity behind taking technical limitations and explaining them away in a manner that makes sense to this universe. You see, not every NPC encountered is interactable. Upon reaching them, most vanish, and it’s just as well. The sheer number of models is staggering. Having to exchange dialogue with them all would quickly devolve into a repetitious slog. Unfortunately, that won’t prevent it from migrating elsewhere. The Causality Link system, Caligula Effect 2’s version of the social mechanic from Persona, while somewhat better than its predecessor, isn’t quite there. The side characters are basic as hell, having no semblance of identity. Worst off, they’re tied to side-quests, meaning they’re unavoidable if you intend on strengthening the Protagonist. It’s a shame that resources were dedicated to this lifeless portion when it could have gone into further fleshing out the cast.
Now, I don’t want to masquerade as if there isn’t, at least, an attempt to bolster those that fight alongside you. In keeping with the high school facade, cell phones are everywhere, meaning messengers are a primary communication method. Before I rant about any negatives that brings, let me preface it with a positive. It’s challenging to infuse tone into text without some form of body language to help translate the emotion behind words. That said, Caligula Effect 2 does that with a select few. Their cadence is unique to them and done consistently. It’s just a shame that extra meat happens to be relegated to an out-of-the-way mechanic that I, honestly, forgot more than remembered, rendering it pointless. Character development should be interwoven into the story and be in-your-face. Having it hidden inconveniently robs the player of grander investment potential.
QUEEN TO KNIGHT! - Gameplay
The combat will prove divisive, thanks to the intricacies that make it function. It deals in absolutes - either you love it or hate it. What influences that thought is there's no disputing that it can be time-consuming, but never egregiously so. An apt description is that it resembles a chess match - every action taken demands a systematic approach, forcing me to plan an effective attack meticulously. Having said that, it’s a goddamn blast. There’s this addictive loop to the strategy that tickles my fancy. Before initiating commands, the possible outcome of the impending action is shown. It’s not guaranteed that the foreshadowing plays out precisely as displayed, but it gives you a generalized look. Exploiting it to your advantage is the key to victory. With it, defeating enemies that are eight levels stronger is easily done. It’s easy to comprehend but tough to master.
Explaining the cogs that make this machine turn in a single paragraph is nigh impossible. There’s so much crammed in that makes it compelling. For instance, enemy maneuvers are also showcased. By carefully positioning your attacks, it’s entirely plausible to cancel theirs. If you can’t nail down the timing, dashing off to avoid receiving damage is also an option. This facet is when divisiveness begins seeping into the forefront. It can take 10 to 20 seconds before your foes even start charging toward you. The initial waiting around quickly adds up, making this system feel, at times, like a chore. Here’s the golden news that I hope can mitigate that blunder - since the system is structured in such a way, it cuts down on the need to grind. Sure, it still exists, but it’s substantially less. By battling everyone in your path, survivability is attainable.
I’m not ready to move on to another topic because my gushing capabilities know no bounds. See, and I know I’m not alone in this, but what’s annoying in JRPGs is when you’re about to heal an ally, they’re sometimes decimated. It often happens, all because the RNG decides to spit in your face, causing a critical hit to land. Any potion meant as salvation is then used up, benefiting nothing and ultimately going to waste. Well, that’s no longer a frustration because I could, realistically, sacrifice a character to get the leg up with another but then immediately revive them, thanks to the precise positioning of my actions. It slots in an intriguing wrinkle to something that’s already pretty bloody fantastic. It’s built around the ideology of manipulation, attracting the utmost engagement from the player. Hell, by carefully placing the pieces down, stun-locking foes is a possibility.
YOU’RE SO PASSIVE! - Gameplay
If I’ve failed to illustrate it, Caligula Effect 2 deals with trauma. More specifically, it toys with the internalized turmoil that humans tend to go through. After all, the world this adventure takes place in exists to escape the inner misery one suffers. As such, equipment isn’t the standardized armour or helmets; instead, everyone is outfitted in their emotional baggage - in this case, the stigmas surrounding them. A few have specified abilities tied to them, too, that slowly unlock as you ravage any hostiles. These are called Passives Skills and act as increases to the various stats of whoever is assigned it. Most are universally worn by anyone, but there are those exclusive to certain characters, showing the particular pain that plagues that one person. It’s a giant metaphor for the mental struggles we try to navigate every day. It’s ridiculously creative because it’s relatable, too.
CASUALTIES ARE DRAGGING! - Gameplay
The Causality Link is a mechanic composed of a web of NPCs scattered throughout areas. Some lead to, as previously mentioned, side-quests varying in difficulty but never truly testing your mettle. Their objectives are simplistic, and I adore how they try to meld the other facets of Caligula Effect 2 into it. For example, a few stipulate specific Passive Skills, such as Persuasion, if, say, you’re tasked with convincing someone for a favour. It’s interesting, but the issue is it hides the objective; it requires dredging through endless menus. It’s an unavoidable poison, too. It then creates an arduous cycle of having to continuously check manually, driving up the monotony to the point my enthusiasm fizzled. The thing is, implementing two quality-of-life adjustments would help stave those feelings off. Adding waypoints and on-screen tracking would shift this feature's fortunes to being favourable.
LOOKING LIFELESS! - Performance/Presentation
A washed-out, muddled graphical fidelity was one of many gripes with Overdose. I theorized that perhaps it was due to screen quality being subpar. Now that I'm the owner of an OLED screen, I can confidently say I was both right and wrong. The colours certainly have more allure, but the blurriness persists. To be fair, it isn’t as pronounced. Another issue that migrated over is character models look lifeless. It’s bloody eerie to see them having a strong reaction, but their expression remains stone-faced. The portraits that accompany the blurbs of dialogue, on the other hand, are fantastic. As a sweet bonus, they are lively. No one can dispute that it’s such a stark contrast to the deadpan looks their 3D bodies sport, though. Their overall designs are mixed, with a few seeming inspired, while others look bland - the Protagonist, especially.
DROP THE BEAT! - Sound Design
In the past, I’ve recommended headphones or any bass-boosting median for soundtracks, but that statement couldn’t be more valid here. Because the game’s villains are, once again, musicians, their background music is songs they’re performing. There are three variations: an instrumental, vocalized, and a remix that heavily leans towards dubstep. It’s phenomenal and upbeat, making waiting between move transitions all the more enjoyable. It was like the sharp notes were penetrating my ear holes. It’s, without a doubt, the most pleasing aspect of Caligula Effect 2. To add further intrigue, a page out of Mega Man’s playbook gets torn, and with it, yet another rendition is birthed and flourishes. None of it comes close to amplifying the emotional weight of a scene, of course, but having a banging sound makes up for that. The same can’t be said about the voice acting. Superb range, and despite no dub, cadence is adequate.
AND THE SIMULATED VERDICT IS…
Caligula Effect 2 is a decent game that’s marred by a poor Causality Link system, the implementation of which contributes to the monotony found within. The music is, unsurprisingly, a joy to listen to, and the dialogue helps guide the storyline forward without being troublesome. One aspect I can’t help but shake my head at is the Protagonist being mute. It’s a tired trope in JRPGs that can sometimes be used efficiently, but that definitely won’t apply here. What baffles me is how they feverishly gesture, twisting their head and hands, all while having a cold, blank stare, yet never speaking. Still, for the awkwardness that may bring to a session, the combat and music are enough to make me a happy boy. It’s an improvement from the first and a step in the right direction. I want to see it to the end, and that’s saying something.
While I recommend diving into this world, I must relegate it to the same fate as the first. The divisiveness of the battle mechanic, mixed with the lukewarm Causality Link system, has me saying to wait for a sale.
Special thanks to NIS America for providing the code used for this coverage.