One of the smartest RPGs of the year, The Caligula Effect 2 isn’t without flaws. But it’s easy to overlook a bit of bloat when the main storyline is this enchanting.
Platform: Switch, PlayStation 4
Publisher: NIS America
Release date: October 19th (US), October 20th (EU), 2021
Availability: Physical & digital delivery
Language: Japanese voice, English subtitles
One of the principal debates in gaming revolves around difficulty. While there’s a segment of players who favor a light challenge, others argue for sadistic tests of fortitude. Although the topic makes for spirited discussion, it’s rather puzzling that there is little advocacy for smarter games. Franchises like Persona ground their storylines in subjects such as subconscious desires, exploring societal underpinnings and weighty ethical dilemmas. While there’s appeal to the turn-based action and cultivation of social bonds, delving into the psyches of party members and antagonists was arguably the series’ greatest strength.
Like its 2017 predecessor, The Caligula Effect 2’s script was written by Tadashi Satomi (Revelations: Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment). Expectedly, it’s a brilliantly cerebral work, referencing everything from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to Jungian theory. Like The Matrix or the Persona series, enjoyment requires no knowledge of Greek philosophy or analytical psychology. Since it essentially revisits the same concept as the original Caligula Effect, playing the first game isn’t compulsory either. But if you favor a bit of intellectual exercise, the game’s symbolism will be immensely satisfying. Appreciating the references is just a bonus.
Yes, Regret Rules This World
Caligula Effect 2’s plot revolves around a virtualdoll (who is more control freak pop idol than figurine) named Regret who reigns over a world named Redo. It’s an ersatz utopia that offers its populace the relief of escape from guilt and wrongdoing. But early on, we witness Regret and the group of musicians who serve as Redo’s ruling body act like authoritarians, convening and plotting when a murmur of insurgence appears.
That unrest arrives with a literal crack in the sky, introducing χ (pronounced “Ki”) into Redo. The self-proclaimed daughter of μ (Mu) from the first game, she fuses herself to the main protagonist. χ explains that she wants to avoid the idealistic, but ultimately flawed, world envisioned by her parent. Fascinatingly, her presence functions like a virus, slowing releasing skepticism into Redo. As a character, χ is a lot of fun, injecting the button-down realm of Redo with a dose of spirited cheekiness.
But the setting of Redo is the hardly the only metaphorical element in The Caligula Effect 2. Music can transform people into digiheads or puppetheads who attack the adventuring party on sight. Alternatively, songs also play a key role when you are in combat. Fill up a meter, and χ will deliver a driving track with vocals courtesy of the original voice actress. Similarly, Regret delivers her own refrains. If you enjoy contemporary Jpop, the game’s soundtrack will probably enrapture your ears. Do yourself as favor and play The Caligula Effect 2 with a respectable headset. After clearing the first dungeon, you’ll have access to the game’s music splendid tracks.
Envisioning Each Encounter
Pleasingly, The Caligula Effect layers innovation over its traditional turn-based battles. As with most genre entries, when characters grow, they’ll earn new abilities. Much of the enjoyment stems from learning how to harness the potential of these capabilities, which each have their own inherent strengths and shortcomings. But innovation arrives in the ability to predict outcomes and oversee events.
After selecting attacks and skills for up to four party members, you’ll be able to witness the entire offensive maneuver play out. On the game’s lower difficulty settings or against subordinates, there’s little need for micro-managing. You can even select from different types of AI behavior, favoring an offensive, defensive, or character-driven approach. But when approaching higher-level foes, you’ll want to invest time tweaking individual behaviors.
This is accomplished through a system that feels like a simplified video editing system, where you can adjust the scheduling of each attack. While an unmodified assault will induce damage, you can maximize impact by staggering your strikes into a punishing combo. It’s especially satisfying to delay attacks until enemies are adjacent to each other, maximizing the efficiency of each character turn.
Yes, you’re able to foresee the enemy’s attempts and react accordingly, providing an opportunity for a counter. But your prediction isn’t foolproof. and a critical or missed attack can disrupt any hopes for a textbook combo. Pleasingly, Caligula Effect 2 keeps things fair, with items able to regenerate the points you use for attacks during battle, and completing restoring health and energy after each confrontation.
Cancel that Trip to Lawsun’s
The Caligula Effect 2 imagining of a rather austere Tokyo keeps the framerate steady, but it means environments can look a bit drab. While retail stores and konbini beckon, they’re just adornments on the game’s labyrinthine maps. Sure, metropolitan-themed dungeons are routinely mundane, here they’re dull affairs, with only the scatterings of items in breakable crystals and more rarely, stat-boosting stigmas to encourage gentle exploration.
Additionally unrealized potential is rooted in the game’s social system. While the conversations on the LINE-knockoff messaging app (“Wire”) are mildly amusing, its Causality System remains a mixed bag. At its best, the component provides backstories for members of The Go Home Club, a common moniker for students who don’t opt for an extracurricular activity. Given Redo’s avoidance of guilt, it’s not surprising that you’ll encounter some poignant stories if you provide the correct responses.
The Causality system also tracks conversations with the game’s myriad of NPCs. While there’s an interesting and assistive visualization of social connections, the number of people tracked still feels over bloated. As such, there’s quite a bit of dialog with minor characters that uninteresting or provide any new perceptions. The sheer number of secondary characters provides Caligula Effect 2 with plenty of opportunities for side- and group quests. However, the number of thankless fetch quests will undoubtedly fatigue completionists.
Despite the stain of padded play time, The Caligula Effect 2 is an accomplished role-playing experience. Bolstered by a stimulating combat system and one of the smarter allegories in recent gaming, it might be one of the best role-playing franchises that you’re missing. If you have been overlooking the series, you might want to examine why, and listen to more mutinous voice.