The Caligula Effect is a Japanese role-playing game that focuses on a group of high school kids looking to escape a false reality within the digital world of Mobius. While the game borrows different elements from other popular role-playing series, the combination never comes together and is held back by a number of distracting technical issues and poor presentation. The battle system is unique with an interesting approach to turn-based battles, but never stands out amongst the terrible camera and lackluster enemies you find along the way.
The story of The Caligula Effect will appeal to some fans of Japanese role-playing games, but its characters and setting won’t resonate with everyone. Characters you meet throughout the story lack any charm or emotional connection that players will latch onto. You can interact with more than 500+ non-playable characters throughout the experience, but you seldom do so enough to become engaged with who they are or they’re individual stories. The interactions with each character you meet become related to stats for your own character, but they lack significant impact beyond being strictly statistical. The main story itself centers on many philosophical questions about reality and identity, but is never presented in an interesting way outside of dull dialogue and a lackluster series of events.
The presentation is where The Caligula Effect suffers the most. The terrible camera becomes a hindrance in almost every situation in and out of battles. Exploring dungeons can become annoyingly difficult when the camera is obscured by objects or nearby characters. The environments themselves are basic and look dull in most instances, with a few noticeable texture problems with objects in the background.
Character models can look monotonous, with a few exceptions, and difficult to tell the difference between enemies and friendly characters you find. There’s a hologram effect around most enemies, however the afterimage doesn’t always appear right away when you have a character within view. Running into enemies can also feel a bit inconsistent at times, with some enemies ignoring you entirely as you walk in front of them.
The battle system is traditional turn-based combat with a mix of active time elements for utilizing timed strategies against stronger enemies. Each character in your party can chain three actions during their turn and manipulate the timing of each in order to combine them with other party members’ attacks. This opens up enemies to big chains that deliver large amounts of damage.
Adjusting the timing of your attacks is a cool approach to turn-based combat, but it can be tedious. Launching an enemy into the air may set them up for extra damage from a follow-up attack, but if your timing is wrong, the next action will miss entirely. This makes some battles a little frustrating and drawn out for far longer than they should be.
The layout during combat is a real mess. Every action you have is placed on a panel the left side of the screen and stretches upward, making the screen feel incredibly cluttered. You can move the camera freely while selecting attacks, but everything is often blocked by either text or attack panels on the screen. You sometimes will find yourself looking at a lot of text or even a wall when attacks play out one after another. This only gets worse when the frame rate of the game slows down as more happens on screen. The same thing can occur while exploring outside of battle, making both character movement and camera movement slower.
The Caligula Effect has many problems that outshine the interesting ideas it presents. Adjusting the timing of attacks during the turn-based combat is unique and offers a new approach to a staple of the genre. The presentation however is a huge detriment to the overall experience. The camera has many problems, most of which make even the most mundane parts of the game annoying and frustrating. The story is mildly interesting, but isn’t a strong enough point to overlook many of the issues that are present throughout the game. Unless you really like Japanese role-playing games about high school kids saving the world, you won’t miss anything important by passing on The Caligula Effect.
This review was based on a digital review code of The Caligula Effect for the PlayStation Vita, provided by ATLUS.