Have you ever wished that you could live in a virtual world? With the recent launch of VR gaming, this fantasy has run rampant across various games and anime series. From Sword Art Online and Log Horizon, to .hack// and Fate/EXTRA, each series has had its own interpretation of this fantasy. Joining the ring is Atlus’ latest JRPG, The Caligula Effect. Written by Persona veteran Tadashi Satomi, the game traps players in a world essentially ruled by Hatsune Miku. While it isn’t actually the Hatsune Miku -Project DIVA- protagonist, it still brings to life such fantasy. But is this Persona clone worthy of its spiritual successors, or is this VR-inspired fantasy destined for the virtual bargain bin?
As a concept, The Caligula Effect sounds like a dream come true. The Caligula Effect takes place in Mobius, a virtual world ruled by its very own Vocaloid, μ. During what starts off as a normal school assembly, the silent protagonist, who will now be known as Joker, begins to notice a literal glitch in his surrounding area. Startled by his “Matrix-esk” revelation, Joker abruptly exits stage left. He isn’t on his own for long, however, as he quickly bumps into a beautiful girl. The girl, of course, just happens to be the Vocaloid and ruling goddess μ, not to be confused by the μ’s. Though her words mean well, her music appears to almost brainwash her listeners. This theory is proven without haste as some of her raging fans take no time in attacking the non-believer. Luckily Joker isn’t the only one to see through the lies as a member of the “Go-Home Club” comes to his aid. It is then that said club member, Shogo Satake, helps Joker better understand the world of Mobius and the tyranny their Vocaloid overlord.
Despite the plethora of recent VR-themed stories in recent years, the idea of The Caligura Effect is one of the more thought-provoking. As an avid Vocaloid fan, it is hard to deny the interest in a virtual paradise filled by Hatsune Miku. With ever-growing Vocaloid fandom in not only Japan but across the globe, the concept practically writes itself. With wanting only for people to hear her music, it is hard not to like the supposed antagonist. Ironically, she is one of the more likable characters of the game.
With its Persona-style of gameplay and virtual setting, The Caligura Effect, is strangely reminiscent of PSP classic, Fate/EXTRA. Where as Fate/EXTRA replicated Persona through its strict deadlines, The Caligula Effect instead imitates the latter with the use of its own Social Link. Seeing how few games outside of the latest 3 Persona have accomplished this feat, that by no means an easy task. Unfortunately The Caligula Effect is not one if those few games. Persona has always taken inspiration for a Tarot Deck, never including too few or too many types of characters to understand. Rather than picking and choosing relevant Player and Non-Player Characters, pushes players to interact with hundreds of NPCs. The result is a world full of generic small talk that makes it painfully obvious that Mobius is little more than a virtual world. While some of the Player Character motivations deserve a nod, it never really makes up for the majority of text that the game has to say.
In terms of design, The Caligula Effect’s most effective asset is found in its character designs. Whether gazing at the 2D static art or the dynamic 3D models, the main characters all look pretty cool. Like many SMT spin-off titles, The Caligula Effect takes place in a high school setting. Because of this, pretty much every character, aside from the Vocaloid, all follow the same dress code. What makes each character unique is the way they wear each school uniform. That, and how they each look when they transform. They all look pretty cool, looking something between a Guilty Crown protagonist and Haseo from .hack//G.U.
Outside of the character designs,The Caligura Effect is something of a mixed bag. For a handheld, the world of Mobius all looks pretty good. The school and city surrounding it are all structured and detailed in a believable way. While they all look nice in terms of architecture, they lack variety in terms of level design. With the game played as a sort of third-person dungeon crawler, as opposed to the first-person dungeon crawling found in the original Persona, the game’s dungeons lack any real variety expected by fans of the Role-Playing Game genre.
As mentioned above, The Caligula Effect is a dungeon crawler RPG played in third-person. Think more Persona 4 than Persona 2; which is a bit ironic all things considering. During each part of the game, players navigate Mobius searching for the various composers supplying μ with her music and, indirectly, her power. Each scene is filled with its fair share of NPCs. These vary from friendly to hostile with little warning as to which. Due to the unstable nature of μ’s fans, any seemingly normal classmate can attack without much notice. When they do, a battle commences. After a load time or two that is.
The Caligula Effect makes use of an in-depth turn-taking battle system. Each character offers a plethora of different attacks. These skills range from shield breakers, launchers, and attacks on downed enemies. When properly planned out, each battle can feel considerably more strategic than the average dungeon crawler. Interestingly the system is so complex, that it can be played as a button masher a majority of the time. Due to the slowdowns during battle, it is pretty tempting to just execute the default option for each character attack. Since most enemies are a dime a dozen, very little planning is required for a good 90% of the enemies crawling in each dungeon. Unintentionally, the complexity of the game simplifies things.
The soundtrack of The Caligula Effect is without a doubt the game’s strongest feature. As expected from a game about music, it holds nothing back in its sound department. The game’s tracks are expertly composed by industry veterans such as OSTER project, 40mP, 164a and cosMo@Bousou-P. Considering the sheer number of beloved Vocaloid composers involved with The Caligula Effect, the music is not only beautiful but fits the game perfectly. Should the game ever produce a series of its own, a rythem spin-off game might make the perfect addition.
Overall The Caligula Effect is an ambitious game that tries to be like other Atlus games before it. It creates a fantastic idea in the heads of Vocaloid and VR fans. But between the load times, slow downs, and one-dimensional characters, it never really captures the spark of games it tries to imitate. With that said, the result is a niche game that could be a worthy addition to any PS Vita Library; just not a necessary one.
HEY! HEY!! LISTEN!!! gives The Caligula Effect 6.8 vocal synthesizers out of 10.
An Aspiring Idol
Pros: Original concept, character designs, music. Cons: Story, congestion of characters, slowdowns, an overly complicated battle system for simple combat.