The Caligula Effect’s major selling point is that it was written by Tadashi Satomi, whose claim to fame is that he developed the scenario, characters, and setting of the original Persona games. Considering how beloved those games are, and how widely they’re praised for their stories and characters, it’s easy to see why some people would be super-hyped for his return to world-building.
Of course, it’s worth noting that some people have stated that Persona didn’t become an essential franchise until Persona 3, which marked the first game in the series after Satomi left. Perhaps even more importantly, even if Satomi had some ground-breaking ideas 15 years ago, that was…well, 15 years ago. However revolutionary Persona may have seemed then, it’s safe to say that what once seemed innovative and new now seems pretty standard.
And such is the case with The Caligula Effect. It’s a bunch of teens saving the world from some mysterious evil, and fitting into neat character boxes while doing so. If you’ve ever played any JRPGs set in a high school, you’ll be well-acquainted with everyone you encounter here — a fact that goes not just for the main characters, but also the NPCs. This is worth emphasizing, since the game makes a bit of a big deal about the fact you can befriend any of the 500 or so NPCs scattered throughout the high school. I mean, you can if you want to, but seeing as they’re all pretty much the same, and you have the same few pre-canned conversations with all of them, I don’t see why you would.
As for the scenario, it’s not much more modern. True, it’s doubtful that games like Persona 2: Innocent Sin or Persona 2: Eternal Punishment would’ve focused on a vocaloid, but it’s not like the Evil Hatsune Miku who serves as the antagonist of The Caligula Effect is so unique that she couldn’t have been replaced by a stand-in for the trendy techno-panic of the year 2000.
Maybe the worst thing about The Caligula Effect’s generic story, though, is that it makes it easy to overlook the fact that it’s got one heck of a battle system. I’ve never made any effort to hide my disdain for turn-based battles, yet The Caligula Effect’s are sufficiently fast-paced that I have no problem getting over that, to the point I actively sought enemies out. The game gives you a plethora of battle options to choose from, and those only get more varied and interesting as you slowly fill out your party. On top of that, the game makes chaining actions together a breeze: you pick one, then the next, and then a third, and then it quickly does all of them. To round things out, as you’re picking your actions, the game gives you an on-screen visualization of how they look and their impact, which makes it easy to decide what you want to do next.
It’s important to note that The Caligula Effect’s combat is just about the only interesting thing about the game — and even there, it has some issues. For starters, the camera sucks. You’re battling your way through narrow hallways and in classrooms, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself suddenly staring at a wall as your character rips into enemies offscreen.
The occasional annoyance of wonky cameras, however, are nothing compared to the constant annoyance that is the game’s soundtrack. If you’re into Hatsune Miku-style J-pop, you may not have a problem; if you don’t like it (or even if you were previously indifferent to it), The Caligula Effect will feel like torture. The constant, thumping beats and over-produced vocals never end, to the point that you may even want to mute the game to get away from the barrage of noise.
I’d say that it’s easy to take in small doses, but The Caligula Effect isn’t really designed for those, particularly once you start exploring a level. Save points are few and far between, and you often need to hunt them out. I suppose if you have literally nothing else you want to play, you could just put your Vita to sleep and pick up right where you left off, but otherwise, this isn’t a game that makes stopping and starting very easy on you.
In the big scheme of things, though, the lack of save points is just minor gripe. The Caligula Effect’s combat is undoubtedly a major point in the game’s favour, but when you stack it up against a forgettable story, terrible music, and a camera that doesn’t want to cooperate, it’s hard to say that it’s nearly enough to make the game worth checking out.