Friday, June 2, 2017

The Caligula Effect (PS Vita) Review

The Caligula Effect starts with an interesting premise: students are trapped in a virtual world, and go through high school on a continual loop.  The thing is: many of those people want to be there to escape reality, and don't even know they are in a virtual world.  I don't know why anyone would think of high school as a paradise, but I digress.  Your main character is one of a select few who awakens to this reality, and sets out with fellow students to set things back to normal.  To do so, you have to find and stop the virtual idol, Mu (it's written as the Greek symbol).

Like most RPGs, you run around a map, get into fights, and solve quests.  The locations in the game are appropriate to the setting: things like school and the mall.  Enemies and NPCs roam around, and fights take place when and where you engage the foes, which can be problematic.  It's usually possible to sneak around enemies as they roam.  Aria does say the Digiheads (aggressive students who fight you) have bad eyesight, and boy, is she right.  Well, if you out level them anyway.  You will probably fight a lot of them anyway, and they do respawn.  Sometimes a bit too quickly for my taste.  Even if you avoid a lot of them while running around the dungeons, it can take several hours to get through each one.

Fights in The Caligula Effect are the game's most unique aspect.  When you select a skill, it shows you the likely outcome of that attack.  Things like damage, countering, etc. can be planned in advance to make the most of your turn, and destroying a target quickly.  The game actually rewards you with double experience if you can win in one turn.  Some skills are counter skills, which can cancel certain types of attacks.  I shouldn't have to tell you how useful that is.  Some skills launch a target, or knock them down.  Some will do extra attacks if the target's "Risk" is high enough.  Some skills will benefit from hitting targets in the air or on the ground.  The bottom line is: plan out your attacks to get the most out of them.

To facilitate this, you can delay the timing on them.  This is pretty useful, and has great synergy with the predictive function of combat.  Unfortunately, you can't skip or delay your full turn if you wanted to wait until another character is ready.  You can string together up to three attacks, each one costing a reduced SP cost, which will really pile on the damage, and take advantage of launch or otherwise indisposed targets.  It seems a bit more complicated than it ends up being, even though it does look really chaotic when you have four party members all attacking some poor sap at the same time.  Once you kind of get how the attacks work, you can set them and have a pretty good idea what's going to happen.  As such, a majority of my fights ended in one turn.

This is all well and good, but what about bosses and strong enemies?  Sadly, that's where the battle system is weakest.  Planning the small details of a turn and timing everything properly is great and all, but if the enemy survives it (or if they aren't launched)?  You are left just hitting them with stuff and hoping they eventually die.  If an enemy is a higher level than you, the damage you deal is cut down drastically.  You will probably run out of SP in a turn or two, depending on character, and then have to sit there and use the charge skill for it to come back.  It quickly becomes a chore to finish those fights.  I do really like the battle system overall, so it's a shame that it can crumble so quickly.

Equipment is also pretty unique.  Instead of more traditional stuff like armor, you gets "stigmas", which are more like personality traits.  They affect your stats and can even give different skills.  There is also a rarity scale to them, so you can get stronger versions of each one.  The skills you can use in battle have the normal range of attacks, defense, and support abilities.  Honestly, I rarely used anything that wasn't an attack, the SP recharge, or the occasional emergency barrier.  I never really had the need to.  The points you use to buy skills are earned by gaining a level, winning some fights, and finding discoveries.  They are also stored in a communal pool, so all the characters share the same stockpile.  This can make it harder to save for the ultimate skills, since you may want to flesh out each character's other skills first, but you can gain more by leveling up the NPC students if you are a bit low.

Even though you are mostly a silent protagonist, there are many times you can make a dialogue choice.  I'm not sure how much each choice actually affects things, though.  Well, except for getting through the library.  Anyway, you will also end up chasing fellow students around and talk to them to raise their friendship.  A lot of chasing, and a lot of talking (it raises slowly).  I did like seeing new people, but it is a bit daunting to have so many possible people to talk to, and multiply that by the number of times you have to talk to them.  Sheesh.  There are also little quests where they may want to meet certain people, or go to a certain place.  It doesn't sound that hard, but with 500 students, it's going to be a long process.  I'm not sure it's worth it just to be able to use them in battle.

The Caligula Effect isn't really a hard game, even on normal, provided you understand (or can at least use) the combat system.  I only really had trouble on a few enemies that were just above my level (because of the low damage), and for that reason I tended to avoid them.  You get most of your HP and SP back after a fight, so going through the dungeons wasn't too bad except for all the running back and forth you do.  The bosses are more difficult than normal fights, but not by much.  The story will run you over 30 hours, but there is a new game plus and some post-game stuff.

A lot of what The Caligula Effect has to offer is its unique battle system.  The story is pretty good, and I liked the dialogue, but the fights are what really set it apart.  They seem a lot more complicated than they ended up being, and I can easily see it turning off some people.  I'd recommend sticking with it if you can, as the game is pretty fun.  A solid RPG offering on the Vita.  One final note:  I've heard chatter of a bug that erases your save file near the end of the game.  I have yet to encounter it, and hopefully never will.  Make sure to back up to the cloud and be careful!

The Good:
A fun and exacting battle system...

The Bad:
That falls apart if a battle takes too long.

The SaHD:
"Archive of Regrets" is a great name for a location.

(Review code for The Caligula Effect was provided by the publisher)

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