It’s great when games can be distinct and innovative. When they have something that pulls you into them. The Caligula Effect wanted to be like Persona. But a lot of elements weren’t quite there, and the resulting game ended up a bit generic and tedious. It tried to do something new, borrowing the Sword Art Online trope of being trapped in a virtual world. Yet the personality and story weren’t there to back it up. The Caligula Effect 2 tries to go a bit further. While its story and locations are handled a bit better, it still is riding Persona’s coattails.
Second verse, same as the first. As with the original game, The Caligula Effect 2 features people in a virtual world attempting to go home. The “daughter” of one of the original Virtuadoll Vocaloids from the original game is mad that her mom is being blamed for Redo’s existence and Regret offering this “escape.” As such, she’s awakening the Catharsis Effect in people who picked up on something not being quite right. I.e., people having nightmares. She’s bound to the player’s avatar, and gradually the new roster of Go-Home Club members grows as you meet new classmates. But while you and your allies want out, Bluffman and the Obbligato Musicians are bound to protect Regret and Redo. They consider you malware and are ready to wipe out bugs.
Admittedly, things seem a bit more cohesive this time around. There are some diverse locations. More attention seems to be paid to your allies and enemies. Especially since you’ll see both multiple times before the chapters focusing on them. I’d almost say the sequel learned more from The Caligula Effect anime and attempted to draw pacing and characterization ideas from it.
Though the premise is the same, the places you’ll explore are constructed quite differently. Each area in The Caligula Effect 2 has thought put into it. Dungeons can have mechanics that must be observed while exploring. You’re in the train station? Sometimes you’ll need to get keys for turnstiles. Visiting the botanical garden? Water canal valves need to be opened or closed to proceed. It’s a lot easier and more fun to get around. And should you be in an area like the school or shopping center, those feel more manageable to explore. Not to mention X Express acts as a hub for meeting up with allies. When you’re there, you can see from the list if there’s a supplemental or story-advancing quest at another space.
Meanwhile, the turn-based battle system is largely the same. You have an element of foresight to it. When you select an action, you can see how the fight will play out after choosing it. This allows you to potentially avoid risky situations and maximize damage. Which is great for boss fights and battles against stronger-than-usual foes. Neither happen too often. That means for the most part, I only directly controlled my avatar and let auto-battle handle the other three party members. The “defensive” and “offensive” selections seemed pretty capable. And as before, you collect and equip Stigmatas, based on character traits, to bolster stats and impart buffs and passive abilities.
While the music is original in The Caligula Effect 2, we also have a situation where, like in the original, it’s the best part of the game. The songs are all composed by Vocaloid composers and producers. So you have people like Ayase, cosMo@Bousou-P, Kairiki Bear, kemu, Neru, and Nulut. The tracks are incredible. They have catchy choruses. The atmosphere tends to suit both the Obbligato Musician connected to it and, in some cases, the dungeon where it plays. It’s handled quite well.
Editor’s Note: The following paragraph contains spoilers alluding to one The Caligula Effect 2 character.
I felt like Furyu behaved insensitively when it came to a member of the cast. One person in The Caligula Effect 2 is questioning their gender identity. While the game makes a habit of alluding to a person’s actual age in the real world compared to Redo, since everyone appears as a high schooler, it feels like this character gets singled out to point out this secret from the start. For example, outside of battle and during conversations, this character is portrayed as masculine and he/him pronouns are used. During a fight, the person suddenly dons high heels, uses similar animations as feminine allies, and the Catharsis Effect looks like a binder. Conversely, the party member who is revealed to be elderly doesn’t behave any differently in battle. They don’t use their weapon as, say, a cane or appear hunched over. I didn’t feel it was necessary to single out the transgender party member.
Spoilers aside, outside of battle this character’s role is prominent and he feels like one of the more fleshed out party members. While I feel that element is insensitive, the character is generally handled well. I just wish the in-battle behavior and appearance had been handled differently. This character is treated better than another questioning their identity in the original game.
Speaking of characterizations, I actually miss an element from the original The Caligula Effect. Like the original game, The Caligula Effect 2 has a Causality Link system. You can see how many party members and NPCs connect. The NPCs you can interact with can have side quests. But while the first game let you essentially “recruit” to the Go-Home Club, making it feel like everyone is trying to get back to the real world. Here, all you get are fetch quests or situations that require you to make sure you acquired a certain “skill” so you can talk to someone. Also, like the original, the NPCs don’t have much personality. Which means there isn’t much motivation to run errands.
Even the personal Character Episode quests can be rather lackluster. Each one does offer some gradual insights into the party member. You’ll also typically get a new WIRE question to find out things like “haven’t you ever used a smartphone before” and “what’s your favorite thing besides sneakers.” They’re brief and, after the ninth one, give you a new ability for that person. But they feel like a pale facsimile of the Persona Social Links.
I suppose it also fits a bit that the characters look a bit generic and bland. Some NPCs are scenery. Approach them in an attempt to talk, and they’ll disappear. Enemies tend to have basic, humanoid looks. They aren’t especially memorable or striking if they aren’t an Obbligato Musician. At least players’ allies and enemies have a bit more care put into them. Their character models’ facial features are more distinct. So are their uniforms. I get that the main characters would get more attention. But that the difference is so vast is a bit frustrating, especially when playing on the Switch.
Like its predecessor, The Caligula Effect 2’s greatest sin is that it is entirely average. The soundtrack is incredible, to be certain. Progress is clear, given that the dungeons work so much better. The general story feels stronger as well. But the supplemental elements, generic enemies, and need to only take advantage of the tactical parts of battle when facing bosses leave it feeling a bit lackluster. It’s fine and even has its moments, but I suspect only FuRyu fans or people who loved other games in the series will really connect with it.
The Caligula Effect 2 is available on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 in North America. It will come to Europe on October 22, 2021.