Developer: Historia Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch [reviewed]
Released: October 19, 2021
Review code provided by NIS America
I wanted to enjoy The Caligula Effect 2. The pieces were there, but making them fit was another story entirely. An urban fantasy JRPG, centered around high schoolers awakening to powers rooted within their hearts… where have I heard this before? Sounds like it was custom made for my particular palate. Beyond an initial honeymoon period, as I psyched myself up with the (initially) intriguing battle mechanics, I mostly dreaded my time with this game.
χ, your Virtudoll companion, is one of this game’s bright spots. Very sassy and very kawaii.
You play as either a male or female high schooler, trapped in a virtual world known as Redo, populated by regret-ridden residents, and shaped by a team of eccentric Musicians led by a “Virtuadoll” idol named Regret. As more and more of your classmates awaken to the forged reality encompassing them, they band together under your leadership as the Go Home Club, as you fight against anomaly-averse Digihead adversaries, work to make mince meat out of the Musicians and rectify the reality roadblock that is Redo. Apparently, this was basically the plot of the first game as well, but I didn’t play that one, so I digress.
…So thick, you can cut it with a knife.
The story had potential, but dull writing and a lack of stakes sully it, like mold spreading through cheese. The characters are totally fine… on paper. Gin Noto, your “Yosuke Hanamura-esque” best friend is a good person, and I genuinely enjoyed interactions with him (particularly the overwhelmingly gay tension, which is always a favorite of mine). There’s another party member later on: a brilliant and incredibly condescending middle schooler, Ryuto Tsukishima, who I genuinely adored to pieces; his absolute befuddlement towards and dry, verbal evisceration of the other club members offer some of the best humor in the game. In their own separate bubbles, the characterizations can be rather decent, but like everything else, they’re squandered by witless storytelling. Each member has their own set of character episodes, which range from “meh” to “decent.” Towards the end of these episode arcs, you’ll learn a shocking truth regarding each member, and this is where the writing shines the brightest; providing genuinely unique circumstances that help to undercut the banality that is most of the narrative. None of this is helped by the Japanese VAs giving essentially zero energy to their performances, besides Takehito Koyasu (aka goddamn Dio Brando) as Bluffman, one of the central antagonists.
The combat is where my disappointment reaches orbit. The central mechanics of being able to stagger your action start times, so as to chain them together with your party’s attacks, were initially pretty unique and ripe with potential. However, any upside is soon piledriven (note: “piledriven” is not a word) by anemic difficulty (even on harder settings) and a lack of variety in enemy tactics and design. Just turn on auto-battle and let everyone go to town! The game will just play itself, and probably have more fun than you would. If you choose to actually bother chaining attacks and using buffs/items, you’re just prolonging the experience to no gain. HP and MP restore after battle and you can easily refill them mid-combat, so there’s no need to be stingy with either. Your members’ different skill specializations make little difference with a one-size-fits-all, blitzkrieg approach to combat. Even boss battles, with their more unique gimmicks thrown in, are still uniformly one-note and lacking in spectacle. At the very least, these encounters encourage the player to actually play the game, even if it just amounts to chaining together attacks to juggle an enemy in the air; which is fun the first few times, but played out several dozen times later.
At least the game is self-aware concerning its dungeon design…
The performance on Switch is mostly fine. Load times are surprisingly swift, and the game looks… alright; though the art style itself is rather dull, no matter the platform you play it on. However, in the more open hub areas, the framerate chugged worse than I did with the 12-pack it took to persevere through this game.
Now, now… it’s not all bad. The soundtrack is wickedly good stuff, if you’re sensitive to its allure. The dungeon themes are incredibly catchy Japanese idol pop, which I’m a huge sucker for, being an unabashed weeb. Seeing as the primary antagonists are Musicians and your main companion is an idol herself, it would’ve been especially embarrassing to screw up the music. In particular, “Eternal Silver” and “Swap Out” are my favorites, so give those a listen and skip the game. I was planning on dedicating a portion of this review towards begging NIS to put the OST on Spotify, but I actually just now found it there through sheer happenstance, so go nuts.
Ah, Koyasu-san… *melts*
This game isn’t broken or offensively bad by any means. What it is, however, is far more criminal in my eyes: offensively boring. No amount of mesmerizing melodies or offhandedly innovative character moments helped me to enjoy my time with The Caligula Effect 2. A banal story, disappointing combat, and a serious lack of style and ambition made this one a chore to play. I’m interested in seeing if The Caligula Effect 3 ends up being made, and whether the team will finally bring their A game. In the case of The Caligula Effect 2, however… it’s too late to Redo. I wonder if the devs have any Regrets.
There, I went through the entire review without saying “Persona” once. Apparently, this game was actually penned by Tadashi Satomi, the scenario-writer for Revelations: Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment; I really can’t fathom what went wrong here. Anyway… just go play Persona; it’s similar yet does everything better. If your only console is Switch, scream into the void until Atlus puts the series on the platform; it’s guaranteed to work.