Monday, March 18, 2019

The Caligula Effect: Overdose (Switch) Review

The Caligula Effect is an RPG on the Vita that I played nearly two years ago and enjoyed.   I was surprised that it was not only getting an updated release, but also being ported to other systems.  I've played my fair share of remakes and re-releases, and what The Caligula Effect: Overdose adds is one of the best ways to do it.

First off, I don't think the combat has changed much.   This will be a deterrent to some people, but not me.  I mostly enjoyed the fights.  When you come in contact with an enemy in the dungeon maps, a fight will start right where you are.  Since it's a virtual world, it will also remove things like walls.  This is good and bad.  Good, because you won't be cramped, but bad because an enemy in another room might be close enough to be an unexpected part of the encounter.

The battle UI and menu have changed, making it easier to navigate.  It isn't as unique as it was, but overall it is a good change.  In fact, pretty much all of the menus had an overhaul, making them cleaning and more user friendly.  Skills have received an overhaul as well. For better or worse, it feels like there are less of them.  Plus, some don't feel as useful as they once did.  The main character's rapid fire, a favorite for juggling enemies, is slower and less accurate.  Kotaro's launch isn't as reliable, and his rapid punch is too slow to start.  I used to love hitting them into the air, then punching them on the way down.  Now, Kotaro can't even do the one thing I liked him for.  I didn't think they could make me use him less, but here we are.

However, the "super" attacks no longer have to be purchased with skill points and are available at the start.  You have to build up a bar to use them, but this bar is persistent, so I just save them for bosses and other hard fights.   Plus, they don't cost any SP!  Skill points can now be used to increase the level of the skill, from 1 to 3, as well as purchase new skills.  Increasing the level makes them stronger, and secondary effects (like launching, etc.) more likely to happen.  While it does make them stronger, I didn't notice a remarkable increase in the secondary effects.  It wasn't something I extensively tested though.

You will choose your action from a list separated into three categories.  Basically your attacks, support skills (buffs, debuffs, heals), and misc skills (moving and recharging your SP).   Each skill has an activation time and SP cost.  After selecting what you will do, the game plays out a shadow version of what may happen, called an "imaginary chain".  This allows you to tentatively see how much damage you may do, and coordinate attacks with your teammates.  You can set up to three skills in a row.  While useful for piling on the damage, be aware that your next turn will come up slower, since you have committed to a few attacks already.   In the previous release, the default setting of the confirm button was to end the chain.  Now it is to select another attack.  This makes it faster to use several attacks in a row, but slightly slower to smash through a selection when the enemy is really weak, or about to be finished by your friend's attack.

In a strange choice, defeated enemies can no longer be juggled.  Sure, it served no logical purpose, but it was fun to do on the last or lone enemy.  My guess is that since a defeated enemy would still be in the way, they disappear so as not to inconvenience targeting another enemy.  Of course, you will still attack the air where they were, so maybe not.  The extra experience for defeating an enemy in one turn is also gone.  Experience gain overall feels faster, so I don't actually miss this as much as I thought I would.

What is new is being able to get a preemptive strike.   If you attack an unaware enemy on the dungeon map, you will start the fight with the enemy's risk level elevated.  This in turn makes it much, much easier to risk break them, which allows for greater damage.  Mifue makes this incredibly easy, as one of her basic attacks increases risk by 1, guaranteeing a break on hit.   Before, the only similar function was to get the attention of an enemy.   In theory, you could separate one from a group, making the fights easier.   While I did use that occasionally, it wasn't nearly as useful as the current system.

The dungeons in the game make sense.  There's a school, the mall, the library, and other places that feel natural in an imaginary city.   Yes, even the hot springs.  The new bosses each bring a new location with them.  Each dungeon is fairly sprawling, taking awhile to navigate.  It does feel a lot quicker to go through them than the first release.  I attribute it partially to my previous playing, but mostly to faster fights and easier to avoid enemies.  Also, boss fights are much faster easier.

My main complaint with the dungeons is how each floor or area inside is largely identical to the others.  Sure, the library has a section with marionettes, but that doesn't help as much as it should.  I could rarely tell you what section I was in, and I couldn't get a grasp on their layouts.  I can follow the quest dots, but had trouble trying to locate the student request side quests.  Maybe if I had a better grasp of Japanese school layouts, but as it stands I could rarely tell one area or floor from another, or even how they fit together.

Speaking of the other students, befriending them has been streamlined.  Part of the UI redesign made the affinity gain much bigger.  It's also a lot faster, meaning you don't have to talk to people quite so much.  You will still need to invite them to your party to fulfill their side missions, which is something I kind of gave up on in the original.  Sadly, I wasn't too keen to try it again.

Now, on to the biggest changes.  Two new characters join the Go Home Club, and each bring a Musician counterpart.  Even better, you can go all Yojimbo and join the Musicians to work against the Go Home Club.  Both of these are very well woven into the existing story, and do not feel superfluous.  I was very eager to try out the new story line, but had to wait until after the second boss to start it.  Disappointingly, there isn't really anything you can even do at that point.  Once you beat the next boss, however, you will gain two Musician party members, and have a bit of story with them, setting up what you will be doing.  You can jump between the two, but as far as I can tell, you have to unlock a place with the Go Home Club before you can venture there as a Musician.  Even so, it's an interesting addition that I like.

Overall, I still enjoy The Caligula Effect.  The Overdose release has some significant additions, which are well integrated into the story.  That's the key thing that makes it worthwhile.  I'd recommend it to fans of the first release, and further to any RPG fans that skipped or missed it the first time.

The Good:
New characters and story line make a fun game even better.

The Bad:
Doing side quests is a chore.

The SaHD:
So your friends don't even notice the mysterious new Musician uses the same dual guns as you?

(Review copy of The Caligula Effect: Overdose was provided by the publisher)