Video Game Review: The Caligula Effect: Overdose
Like so many recent releases for the Nintendo Switch, The Caligula Effect: Overdose began life on another system. In this case, that system was the PlayStation Vita where it launched (as simply The Caligula Effect) back in 2017. It seemed to overtax the Vita’s technical limitations, however, and the result was a decidedly uneven experience. Now, Switch owners are being treated to an enhanced version that proves to be much more than just a quick port.
There are three core elements at work: exploration (read: dungeon crawling), social interaction and combat. Those dungeons take the form of a city as you run through hallways and streets, encountering “digiheads” (your fellow Mobius residents whose minds remain closed to the truth — more on that below) that you’ll battle with. The transition to these fights sees the world melt away, exposing an arena-like setting.
Overdose retains the hybrid turn-based combat system of the original while also streamlining and cleaning up the user interface to make everything much smoother. The most unique aspect of the battle system is the ability to preview actions, allowing you to run through potential tactics before unleashing your attacks. It’s not foolproof, however, as sometimes enemies have tricks up their sleeve to short circuit your best laid plans.
There’s a good amount of depth with the system, and soon you’ll be using your characters’ strengths to knock enemies into the air and execute hard-hitting combos, countering would-be attacks, buffing your attributes and more. As good as it is, the balancing feels off on the default difficulty setting, making things too easy. Given that the battle system stands as Caligula‘s best feature we’d recommend ratcheting up the difficulty at least one notch.
As good as the combat side of things are, the other two core elements don’t fare as well. Going through the world feels repetitive — something that isn’t helped by the soundtrack, which, while very good, loops the same song throughout lengthy dungeons — and bland. For as much time as you spend running away, more variety in the level design would’ve been much appreciated.
Then there’s the social element, dubbed the Causality Link, in which you can interact and build relationships with 500 other “students.” It sounds interesting on the surface, but in practice it offers little. The actual interactions are monotonous, and once you eventually unlock them to join your team they’re invariably hopelessly underleveled. Any passive bonuses you gain aren’t worth the trouble, either. It’s a definite miss.
Overdose looks significantly better than the Vita version but still underwhelms visually, looking decent when docked and rather blurry when viewing it on the Switch’s screen. Character models are solid, and the new user interface is slick, but the repetitive environments and issues with the framerate make it feel like more time should’ve been spent bringing the presentation up to par.
Voice acting is entirely in Japanese with English subtitles, which is fine. The performances are good, and the game’s willingness to delve into more serious issues than many titles help its secondary stories to stand out. The soundtrack is quite good as well, and the idea of only having lyrics swell up during combat over otherwise instrumental tracks is a clever one — if only those tracks didn’t repeat quite so liberally.
You play as an unnamed protagonist (Overdose adds the option to choose a female lead) that knows that something isn’t right in the world of Mobius, which is in fact a Matrix-like simulation in which everyone is represented by their ideal self within a never-ending representation of high school. At the head of this would-be utopia is Mu, a virtual idol that wants to maintain a place where people from the real world can be happy and problem free.
While that may be a noble charge, your character decides that’s not for them, and with the help of the rest of the Go-Home Club — each of whom has also come to the realization that Mobius isn’t real — you’ll now work together with the goal of, you guessed it, going home. Of course, Mu won’t give up on their happiness that easily and isn’t inclined to let them simply leave, so she’ll send the Ostinato Musicians, a group of elite bodyguards, to stop them.
To combat the digiheads you’ll get a little help from Aria, another idol that will introduce you and your club to the “Catharsis Effect,” granting you supernatural powers with each character forming a unique weapon. There’s nothing all that original here, and the main plotline is a bit of a dud, but the character-focused side quests and strong battle system should be enough to see you through the lows.
Overdose brings plenty of new tricks to the table as well. In addition to adding a female lead, there’s also a new story path to follow that significantly stretches the run time with the option to play as Lucid, who sides with the Ostinato Musicians against the Go-Home Club — if nothing else this gives the villains some substance as they’re a mostly anonymous group if you stick to the main story.
With more content, an overhauled UI and improved performance, The Caligula Effect: Overdose is superior to the original in almost every way. Some core issues persist that continue to hold the game back, however, most notably a lackluster story and suspect level design.