The Caligula Effect: Overdose (Switch) Review

Persona-Lite

What if you could enter another world where your desires became reality and you could escape life’s biggest problems? The Caligula Effect: Overdose, a remake of the original 2016 title, is a JRPG that explores this scenario.

Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!

You play as a silent non-customizable protagonist, either male or female – the female option exclusive to the remake. The main character finds themselves trapped in Mobius, a virtual world where people can live carefree lives, throwing away any baggage from the past. It sounds like a great lifestyle, until you factor in Digiheads, lost souls who have become violently berserk. Your avatar meets up with a group of super-powered students who seek to return to normal life, dubbing themselves the Go-Home Club. If any part of this summary sounds like a Persona game, it may be no surprise that The Caligula Effect shares the same writer as the first few Persona titles.

The Caligula Effect Overdose Switch.jpg
A dungeon themed after a school – I’m reliving my nightmares.

This mature-rated game delves into themes that are often swept under the rug, like mental illness. I would caution that this experience may not be for those who feel uncomfortable around sensitive subjects. The Go-Home Club’s members, who comprise your party, all resemble typical anime tropes on the outside, but harbor deep, dark pasts. Full voice acting helped me to understand their emotions, though it’s only in Japanese. Their secrets shocked me, and their heartfelt recognition of their shortcomings resonated with me. This extends to the villains, including Mobius’ creator μ (pronounced Mew), a digital idol who seeks a distorted utopia. Your classmates’ revelations are relegated to character episodes between dungeons, similar to the Social Link system in Persona. Aside from these well-written segments, though, the “fake world” narrative is relatively uneventful.

The Caligula Effect Overdose Switch Review.jpg
Digiheads, digital heads, Digiheads are the champions!

The gameplay is also a mixed bag, but I’ll start by highlighting the strongest aspect: the battle system. Combat combines turn-based mechanics and real-time action. When you select an attack skill from the menu, you activate the Imaginary Chain, a projection of how your move will play out. This peek into the future matters because you can chain party members’ abilities to strike at the same time, forming wicked combos. For example, if your skill launches an enemy into the air, your teammates can all follow up with air attacks. Or you can chain two more of your own counterattacks. You have limitless time to form a strategy whether going all-in or running across the field to dodge. Once you confirm everything, everyone’s actions play out simultaneously in real time. It forms an exciting battle flow, topped off by the new Overdose skills, flashy finishing moves that recharge over time. With a handy battle timeline, you can orchestrate the upcoming fight as if you were a musical conductor.

The Caligula Effect Overdose Imaginary Chain.jpg
I wish I could set up Imaginary Chains to simulate all of my future choices.

The system isn’t perfect; you can’t switch between characters freely, which makes it difficult to formulate strategies. Plus, the entire projection can fail by random chance, or if your opponents counter your skills. For some, these problems may be considered positives, preventing your Imaginary Chains from being instant-win predictions. In a vacuum, the battle system is satisfying, particularly during boss encounters where carefully monitoring the projections is necessary. However, the vast majority of fights are against the same handful of high school student enemies, merely differentiated by weapon.

The Caligula Effect Overdose Battle.jpg
Battles look awesome when they play out your way.

Ultimately, the biggest issues in The Caligula Effect: Overdose are everything surrounding the battle system. The game is strictly a dungeon crawler. There is no overworld, and exploration is limited to a handful of areas. There is no rhyme or reason to the level design; they are literal mazes filled with endless hallways and aimlessly wandering NPCs. Each three to four hour dungeon is a slog. Sometimes there is a rudimentary fetch quest or basic riddle to complete. Otherwise, the sole objective is to walk towards the goal, occasionally finding equipment at dead ends. Even the battle system loses its luster amidst the tedious dungeon crawling. I eventually started using autobattle, trivializing the clever mechanics, just to grind experience and skill points.

The Caligula Effect Overdose Dungeon.jpg
One dungeon is a literal escape room.

The remastered visuals look nice but don’t mask the monotony. The dungeon backgrounds are detailed, but as you progress through, you begin to realize that the entire area consists of the same stock wallpaper plastered over every hallway. Expanding the map display is basically mandatory as it’s easy to get lost in the generic layouts. And if you’re playing undocked on the Nintendo Switch, the visuals end up blurry. On the auditory side, the game ingeniously layers the soundtrack so that while exploring, a background track plays; once you enter battle, vocals kick in to kindle excitement. As a fan of J-pop, I enjoyed the bubbly, upbeat Vocaloid music, but hearing the same song loop through a multi-hour dungeon drove me insane.

Beyond the main cast, you can befriend a whopping 500 characters and add any of them to your party. As neat as this sounds, these extra characters are all bland and are represented by mere silhouettes. Befriending them is also a simple matter of talking to them three times in a row and doing a fetch quest. You can continue this shallow banter through an in-game phone messaging app…but why? The Causality Link is a giant flow chart intended to show social connections. However, it’s near impossible to read or navigate, with no sorting tools and a convoluted interface. Completionists may enjoy reaping benefits from befriending everyone, but with such a strong core cast, I saw no reason to recruit these nobodies.

The Caligula Effect Overdose Musician Route.jpg
Hello Joker!

On a positive note, I like that this remake lets you play alongside the core villains, who form their own group, the Ostinato Musicians. The context for joining them makes little sense and involves the main character becoming a double agent against the Go-Home Club. Oddly enough, you have no choice between the hero or villain routes. You’re actually forced to play through both, and the villain path is more or less a retread of the same dungeons you’ve already visited. You only play through a portion, but it’s still overkill, considering the main hero path also has you repeating some dungeons. The villain backstories give them humanity, but there’s little substance to this route beyond an arbitrary choice point late in the game that alters the ending.

The remake also includes a few additional characters for both sides. With them come two new dungeons that incorporate interesting settings and novel scenarios. Most of all, they increase the playtime to about 30-40 hours, though it’s admittedly just more grinding. There is a New Game+, but actual replay incentive is low.

The Caligula Effect Overdose μ.jpg
μ (or Mew, not to be confused with the Pokémon)

Conclusion

The Caligula Effect: Overdose has a strong premise resembling a Persona-lite experience featuring a likable cast in a utopian Matrix. This Switch remake improves upon the original with enhanced graphics, novel characters and dungeons, and a new villain route. However, the gameplay ideas aren’t executed well. It’s a shame that such an innovative battle system isn’t complemented by an equally enticing overworld and progression. The Caligula Effect isn’t terrible, but with an overdose of bland repetition, I can only recommend it to hardcore dungeon-crawler fans or veterans who appreciated the original.

Score: 6/10

Note: A review copy was used for this article.

What do you think of The Caligula Effect: Overdose? Have you played the original? What are your favorite RPGs about high school superheroes or digital worlds? Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

12 thoughts on “The Caligula Effect: Overdose (Switch) Review

  1. Awesome review! Seeing this game makes me want to shout “Persona!” I’m a fan of JRPGs in general and I just recently got into the Persona series. I like the idea of uncovering your party member’s dark backstories, but I’m not a big fan of dungeon crawling. At least not dungeon crawling without something to break up the monotony. The repetition of everything would turn me off to wanting to trudge through this long game. The battle systems sound pretty cool and I wouldn’t mind dabbling in different strategies. Too bad having a new villain route doesn’t really affect most of the story in a significant way. If you’re going to have alternate paths, then make them count–like Detroit: Become Human! Now that game forces you to commit. Anyways, The Caligula Effect: Overdose looks pretty on the surface but seems like it lacks the depth that similar games have. Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your wonderful words of support and encouragement! It all truly means a lot! 😀 The Caligula Effect: Overdose definitely reminds me of Persona, and for good reason. But it’s definitely its own beast, and I really like the Imaginary Chain battle system. I wish everything else around it were better, but eh. Until Persona 5 hopefully comes to Switch, this is a decent alternative. Though once that hits, I definitely can’t wait to play through it since P5 for PS4 is still unfinished… Joker in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will satiate me… PERSONA!!! I mean, CALIGULA!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There goes my desire to buy the admittedly beautifil LE of the game. Still, I like dungeon crawlers, and if I got through Criminal Girls Invite only I should be able to enjoy this game. Thanks for the great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really like the character design, and if you like dungeon crawlers, I still encourage you to go with your heart on the LE. The Caligula Effect is definitely a repetitive game and ideas aren’t implemented as well as they could have been, but there’s still a solid battle system and character-driven story in there. I didn’t hate the game, for sure, but it did get tiring, so whether it will appeal to you is still ultimately up to you! You’re very welcome, and thank you for your kind words! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent review! We pretty much agree on everything, but I think I was a little more positive than you on this one :). I really liked the gameplay and totally forgot that I could auto battle so I grinded everyone up the hard way… I think most of the characters were really good and I only disliked a few of them, but the biggest disappointment is definitely the level designs. It’s just an endless corridor after corridor with some enemies thrown in there to mix things up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much man! I appreciate it! 😀 And yes, I said this for you as well but I don’t think I liked this as much as you, though we definitely had the same issues with it. I can’t imagine how I would have done without autobattle. I really do like the battle system, but I wish it were complemented by a better dungeon design and overworld. The level design is so bland and it was way too easy to get lost in the generic layouts. I was very dependent on the expanded map. It really is just endless corridor after corridor. Now I understand when people call some games “hallway simulators” haha.

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      1. Same here 😂. I don’t think I want to play many more hallway simulators lol. If I ever play this again autobattle will be my best friend. How was the performance for you? My game ran like crap half the time.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, there’s New Game+ hahaha. Autobattle isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done, unless you’re playing hard mode. Performance was okay for me. I had frame rate stutters from time to time but hmm, I don’t think it had horrible performance.

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  4. You know, Digiheads and all, I think I’d try to stay in Mobius. I like the characters, and clinical visual style, and would probably really dig this as an anime. It’s a shame it’s so repetitive, watching the video, I kept thinking it looked like the big team rocket level in every Pokemon installment but extended over an entire game. Speaking of which, I hope they do μ two in the sequel. (I bet I’m the 700th person to make this joke).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha I resisted so hard to do a Mew joke! (by the way, did you see that new Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution trailer with the 3D visual style?!) I like your Team Rocket comparison, and I imagine that one of these days, Giovanni will make his own Vocaloid Pokémon and let the entire cast live out their dreams. Then, Ash might actually become a Pokémon Master! In all seriousness, I overall liked where The Caligula Effect: Overdose was going but wish it weren’t so repetitive with its gameplay and design. Definitely look into Persona if you want similar themes, at least of high school characters overcoming their struggles. With Joker from Persona 5 coming into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it may be required playing for us all haha!

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  5. I really like the visuals here. At times I can see the screen getting a little busy with how much is on it, but I do think the designs look to have quite a bit of effort put into it. Sounds like a quick game, but definitely probably one without doing any replaying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the design and visuals of Caligula Overdose, but the dungeons are have generic layouts and backgrounds. The game took me about 30 something hours but it didn’t feel quick because of the repetitive gameplay. The battle system is pretty fun, though, and I will say that I never felt like I had to grind.

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