Hello everyone! It’s been a while since my last game review. I bought this game last month and, since it’s quite long, I decided to do a ‘first impressions review’ rather than a full one. I wanted to get this out of the way since there are other games I want to play and I didn’t want to get to them before writing about this one. Then, I’ll be able to resume Ashen Hawk.
What’s the story about? Basically, you’re someone who gets trapped in a virtual world called Mobius, created by
Miku Hatsune two virtuadolls (Mu and Aria), together with a bunch of other people. In Mobius, people can live freely as the “best version of themselves” in a high school setting (meaning, no matter their age in the real world, they’ll be high schoolers in Mobius) while they escape their painful lives. The protagonist, however, wants to return to the real world, so she joins the “Go-Home Club”. However, there’s also another group, called the Ostinato Musicians, who support Mu and see the protagonist and the Go-Home Club as traitors.
For those who don’t know, The Caligula Effect was actually released for the PS Vita in 2017 (2016 in Japan) but it had a remake made (The Caligula Effect: Overdose) for the Switch and PS4 (which was released last month). Apart from the different platform, the main add-ons are a female protagonist and a “bad route” where you can choose to side with the villains (aka the Ostinato Musicians).
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the first two dungeons so read at your own risk. Also, this review is for the Switch version since I don’t have a PS4. And… as always, be prepared for a lot of
Man, where do I even begin…
From the first moment you enter the game you can tell there are some problems already: the 3D visuals are FUCKING UGLY.
I don’t know about you but, in my opinion, usually, when a game has a remake made for a new console, it doesn’t only focus on the new content but also on POLISHING things that didn’t look and/or work well on the game they’re trying to improve!! I didn’t play the Vita version but I’ve seen some videos and images of it and, while the quality of the visuals isn’t that good, it’s still somewhat acceptable for a Vita game. However, when you remake or remaster a game for consoles that are much more powerful, you can’t just be lazy and ignore the quality of the visuals!!! It’s not just the characters’ and NPCs’ sprites, it’s the backgrounds, it’s almost EVERYTHING!!! The graphics in this game are hideous!!! Not to mention the horrible hoooorrible 2D cutscene-animations that make the Ace Attorney anime look like a masterpiece. Okay, I admit I shouldn’t have bought Caligula going by the 2D sprite visuals (these are gorgeous) and the premise of the story (which is quite interesting) alone but, seriously, come on!!! A game that costs 50 (YES, FIFTY) fucking dollars should NEVER EVER look as unpolished and ugly as this one. I can even forgive the awful 2D animation from the cutscenes, where the developers basically said “fuck anatomy and smooth movement” and hired the worst possible animators to do the job. What I cannot forgive is the 3D graphics looking so outrageously bad with animations that look stiffer than a board and with absolutely NO personality. To put an example, all the girls (both main characters and NPCs) are animated with the SAME FUCKING ANIMATION when they do the “🙊” expression.
Anyway… back to the actual plot of the game…
After a small introduction à la Pokemon where Mu becomes Professor Oak for 60 seconds, the game starts with a “graduation ceremony” inside a high school. Soon after the protagonist (let’s call her Ritsu, just like her male counterpart) gives a speech, she starts to see everyone “pixelating” in front of her (as if she wasn’t already pixelated enough on her 3D sprite lmao). Ritsu tries to escape by running away from the school only to notice that (GASP!) she can’t. Almost immediately, she’s approached by none other than one of the creators of Mobius, Mu, who tells Ritsu that she erased her memories and that she can’t nor should leave Mobius, since it’s a wonderful place where basically “all your dreams come true”. After Mu leaves, a bunch of her fanboys give Ritsu shit for having a different opinion and we’re also introduced to Aria, the other virtuadoll who created Mobius but has a rather chibi-like appearance
and a fucking annoying voice due to Mu having the most power at that time. A dude named Shogo comes to save Ritsu but is basically useless lmao 😆 since Aria “awakens” Ritsu’s power by making her spit out the reason why she wanted to escape from the real world in the first place. This is where we’re FINALLY introduced to the combat mechanic, which is probably one of the best things this game has to offer.
As you might have noticed, Caligula has a lot “music vibes” going on, the most obvious ones being the virtuadolls and the Ostinato Musicians. Added to these, we have the combat system which allows you to “compose” the battles as if you were handling a music sheet. It combines the traditional RPG turn-based combat with real time by adding a feature called “imaginary chain” which allows you to see a kind of “prediction” for how the attack combo would work as well as tell you the hit rate. The “prediction” is not 100% guaranteed to happen, though, but the greater the hit rate the greater the chance. It’s a bit tricky to get at first, but you get used to it quickly.
Unfortunately, after the first battle (a tutorial at that), the game takes AGES to get to the gameplay. I’m not joking, take the tutorial battle away and it takes around 50 MINUTES for you to begin playing. Is this game seriously trying to tell me that it needs that much time cutscene-wise to get to the fucking point? It breaks the main rule of writing for every freaking piece of fiction ever: SHOW, DON’T TELL. But I guess it’s better to make the characters get together inside a classroom to talk for 30 fucking minutes, where 15 are used for an info dump, 10 for stupid shit and only the last 5 are actually useful. “Character development” is not even an excuse, I mean, it’s barely the first hour of gameplay so all you really need is to present the characters and put the conflict in motion. But noooo, gotta spill a bunch of info all at once to avoid telling the story through more interesting methods; gotta add stupid dialogue that’s supposed to make me laugh and that leads fucking nowhere, yay!! ಠ_ಠ That’s not all. A lot of characters, but especially Aria, have the necessity to explain every single thing as if you were a 3 year old.
When you finally start to explore the first dungeon (the school itself), you’re told of other mechanics in the game. You can help other students with their traumas and, after you maximize their friendship, they can be added to your fighting team as well (and you may get special items); some need to be unlocked first in order to talk to them though. There’s also a feature that lets you talk with your teammates and student NPCs with a chatting app on your phone called WIRE (which is most probably LINE with another name). When it comes to your teammates, you can chat about their opinion on several stuff such as likes and dislikes, etc. NPCs chats, on the other hand, are mainly to ask them their location in case you need to find them and some other stuff that I’m not recalling. All of this seems pretty cool and interesting… yet the way it was implemented in the game was very bad. First of all, the amount of NPCs in the school you can talk to is OVER 500. This can be fun if you like challenges but the way it’s organized is so messy that it’s pretty damn difficult to find a specific NPC; especially when they all look almost the same and who you find is completely random. Added to that fact, the chats you can have with them on WIRE are extremely generic and pretty one-sided. You just ask them questions and they answer. I don’t really mind for NPCs but the fact that this is true for the main characters as well is fucking disappointing. The idea was good yet the game doesn’t give us a chance to bond with our teammates through the chats. The only time when they write several messages that aren’t merely answers to your questions is when they use the group chat; where, by the way, you as the protagonist can’t even participate unless it’s to ask Aria for info.
The game starts being more fun when you reach the first boss: Kensuke Hibiki. At first, this guy is part of the Ostinato Musicians and wants to destroy your team because, even though the Go-Home Club claims others shouldn’t be concerned with what they wanna do, if students started to join them and wishing to… well, go home (lol) then Mobius would perish. Kensuke believes the real world is merciless and, no matter what you do, in the end, all your efforts are always in vain. People take advantage of you and no one really accepts you. Though he did get a bit intense here and there, I actually thought many of the things he said had a point. People constantly strive to survive in society’s system and it can get so hard that, sometimes, you feel like there are barely any rewards for doing your best. The problem I had with Kensuke is that, after all that longish speech where he explained his reasons for hating reality… when you defeat him, he joins your side too quickly. I mean, I understand that he was confused and that he could have changed his mind and all that jazz but the way it was handled was so abrupt that it made his previous speech look like mumbo jumbo ಠ_ಠ. Yes, he does mention that he’s still not sure if he wants to leave Mobius but, apparently, he’s left with no choice but to join the Go-Home club because the Ostinato Musicians won’t forgive him for losing since he’s a new member… This would be a valid point if only, on the very next scene, the Ostinato Musicians didn’t mention that Kensuke was the one who betrayed them instead by joining Ritsu and co. 😆 lmao. Basically, I think that, if he had just ran away from the Go-Home Club after his defeat, the Ostinato group wouldn’t have considered him a traitor. I guess it’s easier for Kensuke to blame them ಠ_ಠ. Still, even though there are a few inconsistencies, Kensuke’s fight was quite enjoyable and I like his character.
What truly spices up the game is the introduction of the Ostinato Musicians. Except for their leader, Thorne, the rest are shown in shadows to avoid revealing them too soon. Of course, they decide to deal with the Go-Home Club so that Mobius will continue existing. Each of the members has a particular character from Ritsu’s team (except for Kensuke since he already had his time to shine as the first boss) that they want to fight especially. The Ostinato Musicians’ cutscene also has good atmosphere (the color palette changing to a red one also helps with this) and gets to the point pretty quickly (unlike the insufferable cutscene from the Go-Home Club) so it doesn’t feel very long and it’s quite enjoyable.
After the first dungeon is beaten, you gain a map mechanic that lets you travel to other places in town apart from the school. Also, you can now grow closer to your teammates through the character-scenario mechanic by talking and spending time with them (I think there are around 9 scenarios). The bad news is that, most of the times, Aria participates in the events as well and kind of ruins the experience ಠ_ಠ.
Let’s move on to the second dungeon. The 2nd boss in Caligula is someone known as Sweet-P, who is a girly girl who loves cute stuff. She’s in a department store and your group has to reach her by going to one of her tea-parties. This dungeon was rather annoying and disgusting, and I’m not saying this because of the boss but because of a certain character: Mifue. When it’s decided that she’ll be the one to infiltrate the tea-party, the Go-Home Club discovers that they actually need a letter of recommendation from 3 chubby girls. It’s already bad enough that the game indulges in fat-shaming “jokes”, but what’s even worse is to have a character be utterly nasty towards overweight people. I understand that it’s for character development, but even then it doesn’t work.
Apart from all the insults Mifue spats everytime she sees a chubby person, when she and Ritsu finally manage to infiltrate the tea-party, the game deliberately tries to make Mifue “lose it” by depicting a veeeery exaggerated and unrealistic scene where the three chubby girls fight for food and scarf down every possible cake. All of this for the explicit purpose of Mifue being able to “prove her point” by telling them that they are eating like pigs. Not to mention the fact that Sweet-P is conveniently made to be a fat guy in real life who wishes he could be a little girl, so that Mifue can insult him and tell him he’s a “disgusting fatso”. What the fuck is this shit? To make matters worse, this dumb bitch’s fat phobia issue isn’t even resolved when they beat Sweet-P.
As if that weren’t enough, the game also tries to make us sympathise with Mifue IN SPITE OF ALL HER BULLSHIT. That said, I think the only characters who didn’t insult and/or make fun of chubby people were Kotono and especially Suzuna, who actually told them what they were saying was wrong and, just for that, she’s my favorite character in the Go-Home Club (well, Ritsu didn’t say anything bad either but she doesn’t really count since she’s a silent protagonist). I’m not saying that you can’t have a nasty character in a story, but the way you deliver it is very important. It’s true that at least Mifue had an ounce of human decency to apologize for the things she said, but you just can’t expect others to sympathise with someone who’s nasty to fat people just because she or someone in her family is or used to be fat; in the sense that this is the “tragic backstory” which will supposedly make players feel sorry for her. Yeah, no. I used to be chubby when I was in my teens but I definitely didn’t act like this cruel bitch. Personally, I think this 2nd dungeon could have been a whole lot more interesting if things hadn’t been so overly exaggerated.
After this fucking nightmare is over, we’re back to the interesting stuff of the game. You guessed it. Of course I’m talking about the Ostinato Musicians. When you beat the second boss, Thorne finds you on the street and tells you that Shogo (one of your teammates) is taking advantage of you. Apart from that, after taking you to her and her allies’ hideout, she gives you, together with Mu, the opportunity to experiment being an Ostinato Musician under the alias of Lucid. This way, you can choose which path you want to follow. I loved this because, instead of throwing her ideals at your face, she gives you a choice to decide for yourself what you think is the best path for you.
In conclusion, I have to say this game leaves a lot to be desired. Particularly when it comes to the graphics and the way in which the story is implemented. It may have good ideas but, most often than not, they are poorly managed. The Go-Home Club characters, not counting Suzuna, are either annoying or insipid. Even their design is bland. The Ostinato Musicians, on the other hand, offer a much more interesting possibility to the narrative. Their designs are definitely more interesting as well as their whole atmosphere. Unlike the “good team” I WANT to know about these people. I want to learn about their stories and what made them decide to live in a virtual world to escape reality. With the Go-Home Club… this just doesn’t happen.
Really, if it weren’t for the Ostinato Musicians, I probably wouldn’t even bother to finish this game. Though making a full review of it… I dunno. I’ll have to think about it.
That’s all folks! Thanks a lot for reading until the end, feel free to comment and see you next post!! (≧∇≦*)/