A sequel to a game that premiered on the PlayStation Vita half a decade ago, The Caligula Effect 2 is out now for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, after an earlier release in Japan. We played it on a PS4, and briefly streamed it to the Vita for nostalgic reasons as well.
The Caligula Effect and its sequels have a rather interesting premise for a title in the JRPG genre. Part The Matrix and part The Butterfly Effect, it should definitely pique the interest of a particular group of sci-fi fans for that reason alone. As a high school kid, you figure out that the world around you isn’t real, but part of a virtual reality simulation where people live out their best lives away from the dangers and worries of the real world. Kind of topical in 2021 we think, and a narrative setup where we fully expect Mr. Anderson and Agent Smith to turn up at some point, since the bulk of people around you believe this world is, in fact, entirely real.
The fact that you’ve figured this out puts you in danger, and the VR simulation is looking to correct that little glitch in the system – yes, very familiar indeed. For a JRPG, the narrative unfolds at rather quick pace too – you won’t find the usual lengthy conversations here, nor are you with the same characters for a long time. New ones are regularly introduced, and before too long you join and lead a group that is akin to Morpheus’ resistance in The Matrix – a group of fellow students who want to escape.
This is still a JRPG though, which means you’ll have dungeons to traverse and plenty of turn-based battles to engage in. The story’s a highlight, as are its characters, with some well written dialogue to push the story forward and pretty good pacing that makes this is a solid choice for those who are usually put off by the length of other JRPG games.
The dungeon crawling and combat are a bit of a mixed bag though, for a few reasons. There are all the usual moves, combos, boosts and attacks to consider, but on top of that there’s a cool Butterfly Effect mechanic that lets you place these actions on a timeline but also lets you preview the effects of your next move – seeing how a special attack will turn out even though it’ll take a few turns to charge and execute. Using the same mechanic, you can also thwart an enemy attack or see him doing the same to you, which makes for a cool bit of time travel chess.
This foresight mechanic is undeniably cool at first, and a great break for otherwise generic dungeon crawling, but over time it starts to feel like it slows down the flow of combat a bit as well. What also doesn’t help is that The Caligula Effect 2 isn’t quite the audiovisual spectacle that the aforementioned movie is – character models, backgrounds and animations aren’t far ahead of what we got on the Vita back in 2016. This makes the game an interesting JRPG that’s very interesting on a narrative level and has some nifty combat mechanics, but is held back by a lack of innovation over what came before.