I will admit, I did not go into this game with high expectations. I played and reviewed the first and was not a fan. So with the sequel, I expected more of the same – but got something actually kinda better?
Starting with the gameplay. One of the big draws of the first game was its unique timeline turn-based combat system – kinda similar to Grandia. All moves occur along a timeline and you are able to freely time your attacks by sliding them left and right alongside it. This allows you to really get crafty with it, interrupting enemy moves as they are activated or dodging them at just the right time to avoid damage.
It plays almost identical to the first game, but with one major change: χ-Jack. This is a special ability that is charged over time and can be activated to reset your entire party to the front of the timeline and boost their abilities at the same time. It is mega handy for boss fights and can even be upgraded using a special currency to increase its effectiveness.
It’s an excellent change to an already excellent combat system. I had a lot of fun figuring out different combos, trying out each party member, and generally just trying to dissect this massive thing that is Caligula’s combat. The only complaint I have here is that they seemed to have removed the ability for enemies to wander into your battle while in-progress, instead cutting out an arena that basically freezes time outside of it. I kinda liked the way it worked in the previous game, but it’s a minor complaint all things considered.
I also like what they did with character equipment. Now, instead of just giving straight stat upgrades, you’re able to level up individual “stigmas” to unlock passive abilities that usually grant the same effect as the equipped stigma. It’s basically a way to “teach” your party members certain upgrades that can then be equipped in a separate menu – I passed around the 10% EXP gain stigma, for example, until each of my party members had learned its passive and no longer needed the item itself.
It’s a cool system, but it does unfortunately introduce a good chunk of micromanagement, as you’ll need to constantly shuffle around these stigmas to make sure you’re not wasting potential stat upgrades. Granted, you find so many of them that you’ll need to swap out the old ones anyways. So a bit of good, a bit of bad with this new system.
And since I’ve already talked about my favorite thing from the first game – its combat – I should discuss my least favorite – the side quests. They were absolutely terrible in the first game and unfortunately just as bad here, just with a nicer coat of paint on them. Like, NPC dialogue does not seem to be as recycled, but the quests that they give you are the usual JRPG garbage. “Go here, talk to this guy, buy this for me, give me this item,” there is nothing really noteworthy about any of these quests and they felt more like filler than actual game content.
The game literally gives you hundreds of these too, enough so that even talking to the NPCs to acquire the quests becomes a chore in itself. It was bad enough that I opted to just ignore most of them as I got later into the game. The presentation is better, yes, but they did not fix the core to the issue – that the quests themselves are garbage. And as this is a massive chunk to the game, it is unfortunate to see.
Then there’s the story – which, in the first game, had some good points, but was ultimately a disappointment. Caligula 2, on the other hand, makes notable improvements across the board, enough so that I would have no problem calling the story decent and I’m going to try to explain without spoiling anything. And for those wondering if you can start from this game and skip the first – the answer is yes, but be prepared to miss out on a lot of the references.
So, the structure is mostly the same – you got your virtual world full of people with their own mental issues that are uncovered as the story progresses – but more time is spent exploring these issues and giving characters proper time to develop.
The first Caligula did this to an extent with its character episodes, but the second is easily miles better – I actually cared for a couple of the characters this time, which is much better off than what I can say for the cast from the first game. The pacing is managed better, the tone doesn’t jarringly shift as much, and the dialogue just flows better, even if it may still be a bit wordy. Granted, the second game is helped out A LOT from its increased length – around 30-40 hours long, which is roughly 40% longer than it took me to clear the first.
Of course, this means there’s a lot more dialogue. The game often goes off on 20, 30, sometimes 40 minute story scenes and I won’t deny some of them can drag a bit. The musicians – the bad guys, basically – are also a notable downside. They are not given the same time to develop like the main cast and some of their stories are just dumped on you during their introduction, leaving their motivations as these simple, surface-level things. The first game had this whole “musician route” to kinda expand on this, but the second does not, so it’s an unfortunate side effect.
That and this game continues the trend of meaningless choices – when you are prompted to select a dialogue option during a conversation and the result is the same regardless of what you pick. There are some choices that matter, but the vast majority do nothing outside of changing the next few lines of dialogue.
All of that said though, the story is still quite interesting. It comes from the same scenario writer as Persona 1 and 2 – so if you’re familiar with those, the vibe is similar here (granted, I liked this story WAY more than the mess that was Persona 1). It’s not perfect, but again, much better than the first game.
And of course, I gotta mention the music. The whole theme of this game is built around music and it shows. Instead of the traditional, instrumental background music – Caligula 2 uses a bunch of vocal tracks sung by the in-game AI, and pretty much all of them slap – definitely something I’ll be listening to outside of the game. That said, the music carries over the same problem from the first game – the fact that there’s little variety. You get your one vocal track per dungeon and that’s it, so you’ll be listening to that same track on repeat for upwards of a couple hours or so.
Graphically, I can’t really say I noticed a difference between this one and the original Caligula. Neither of them looked bad, so I guess not too much of a complaint, but it’s definitely a PS4 game and the graphics reflect that. And as for performance, I played through it on PS5 and had no issues. It maintained a constant 60 fps without any drops or stutters of any kind – I didn’t even run into any bugs.
Another minor complaint I have is with the quality of life. This is a turn-based JRPG where you cannot speed up battles, cannot skip animations, and generally just does not offer some of the nice features we’ve become accustomed to with other modern JRPGs. There’s auto-battle, for example, but it appears to only affect AI teammates and I could not find a way to have the protagonist do the same. Maybe a future PC port can add some of this stuff, but for now this is what we are stuck with.
The Caligula Effect 2 is a notable improvement over its predecessor, with better writing, better characters, and – to a lesser extent – better combat. Still, it does continue some of the same faults from that first game, like its completely garbage side quest system and lack of decent quality of life features. And while the story has improved, it still has its issues, like the occasional bad character and the overuse of meaningless choices. Regardless, I’m glad I gave the sequel a shot in spite of my problems with the first and would give it a light recommendation if you’re a JRPG fan.
Quote: The Caligula Effect 2 is a notable improvement over its predecessor, with better writing, better characters, and better combat. Still, it does continue some of the faults from that first game.
The Caligula Effect 2 retails for $50 USD on the PlayStation Store and is also available on Switch
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.