In The Caligula Effect 2, the members of the Go-Home Club face trials on two different fronts: face to face with Regret and the Obbligato Musicians, as well as within themselves. We spoke with FuRyu’s producer and scenario-writer Takuya Yamanaka, illustrator Mr. Oguchi, and developer historia to delve into how these themes came to life in the creation of this reality-warping RPG.
The Caligula Effect: Overdose tackled themes of trauma and escapism. What themes and ideas did you want to capture in The Caligula Effect 2?
Like its predecessor, The Caligula Effect 2 explores themes of escapism and psychological complexes. That said, five years of development time have passed since the original was released. People's awareness of minorities and the way they are perceived by society have changed dramatically. As a story that we felt needed to be told in 2021, we wanted people who played it to feel it was “current” and relevant to things happening in the world today.
Unlike the previous title, which focused on “ideals,” in this title we focus on exploring the theme of “regrets” in a more authentic way. What events do people consider to be their turning points in life? Some may find that type of question difficult to answer, but we felt that depicting them realistically would be an interesting challenge for an RPG set in the modern age. For the second The Caligula Effect title, we felt we should delve into the idea of living vicariously through others in order to experience life in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Did you carry over any themes or ideas from The Caligula Effect: Overdose? How does the story and themes in The Caligula Effect 2 differ from the previous game?
In our previous title, we were able to shine a light on the complexes we all share by creating a world that focused on people’s dissatisfaction with the status quo and exploring their ideals. For this title, we created a world in which past regrets are undone--a world where the theoretical scenarios of “if only things had gone this way,” or “if only I had done that” that play out in the thoughts of every person all come true. We wanted players to experience the ripples caused by fulfilling these possibilities, along with the distinct feeling that, even after coming true, they still bring no salvation.
We believe that the issues faced by the characters and their surrounding environments have been updated to be more modern, making them easier for players to relate to. Even small-scale issues not usually focused on in RPGs can feel more important than saving the world to the person experiencing them, and we continue to focus on and explore those themes.
Vocaloid music and its cultural influence have a big presence in this installment. What made you look to Vocaloids for inspiration? Do you have any favorite Vocaloid artists?
Making a Hatsune Miku-type character for the final boss was one of the first ideas we had at the start of planning for the previous title. I was a university student when Hatsune Miku debuted, and I found it quite shocking when she became a smash hit. At the same time, I imagine it must have been pretty frightening for people unfamiliar with otaku culture to see so many fans raving about these songs that were quite literally devoid of life. That was that idea upon which The Caligula Effect was based. Hatsune Miku is the perfect otaku idol because, on her own, her words hold no meaning. She is a malleable entity that can be made to speak on her fans’ behalf, saying whatever they would like her to. One might call her a mirror to the human mind, which I felt made her an appropriate icon for exploring mental illness in our title.
Recently, I’ve also been thinking about how music can serve as an outlet for those who have trouble expressing themselves. I think the fact that I tend to prefer songs with stories that leave room for interpretation and imagination rather than spelling everything out may have also played a part. I would say that the idea of enhancing the game’s experience through song really became the backbone of the project.
At the end of the day, my favorite Vocaloid is Hatsune Miku. The music industry up until now had a tendency to focus on the singers, but I found the gimmick of completely consolidating the vocals and focusing on the composer's point of view quite interesting.
What makes this iteration of the Go-Home Club different from the first one?
In the world of the last game, everyone was made to become a high school student. But this time, there are no such age limits. The nature of their members may differ between those who have issues with their past and those who are discontent with their present. I hope we were able to express the delicate pains and woes of those who fall into the former, but still manage to carry on with what little perseverance they have left.
Due to the existence of the previous title, comparisons will inevitably be made, but we were determined to do better than simply evolve the series into something more grotesque or explicit.
Since this is a story that explores actual human psychology, we felt we should avoid taking that route for the sake of entertainment.
We decided to have the main concept be about granting salvation to those for whom the previous work failed to do so. It is about not just their hardships, but using The Caligula Effect to shine a spotlight on the people who live with unique circumstances, as well as those who suffer despite the good in their lives.
What makes the Obbligato Musicians different from the Ostinato Musicians in terms of motivation and threat to the player?
Their desire to maintain an ideal world is the same. However, the stakes may be different due to the existence of the previous world. The organization’s differences are a core aspect of this title, so please play it and see for yourself!
Which characters are your favorite? Do you relate to any of them personally?
I like them all! (Laughs)
Since we not only create them, but also think up all their individual circumstances and personal histories, we wind up feeling like parents to them. Part of that is because in many respects, we treat them more like human beings than characters in a game.
If I were forced to choose, I suppose I'd go with χ. The way she grows as she goes through life with each member of the Go-Home Club really adds to the title, in my opinion.
What challenges did you encounter when creating the scenarios for The Caligula Effect 2? Were there things that surprised you or were new to you when writing this installment?
To put it simply, the pressure was intense. I was the one who had pitched the idea for the original, so proposing new changes felt like I was messing with its legacy... A lot of people were going to be disappointed that Satomi wouldn't be doing the writing, and I think there was some worry that The Caligula Effect would change as a result.
The actual reaction after release seemed to indicate that the “soul” of The Caligula Effect did indeed come through, so I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and feel proud of our work.
Since I was also the producer, I was able to keep an eye on the overall balance of the scenarios through the end of the game, and I think that worked out really well.
As far as discoveries go, I suppose I learned how difficult it can be to make a sequel. It was necessary to create a story that players would enjoy regardless of whether or not they played the previous title.
Naturally, you'll find it more interesting if you are familiar with the first game, but we purposely added parts that those with prior knowledge might overlook or misunderstand, resulting in something even newcomers will enjoy. We hope those unacquainted with the series will also give the game a try.
Actions that were taken in the first game have had a lot of influence on the second, so I'm sure those of you who have played the previous title will be grinning quite a bit.
If you started with The Caligula Effect 2 and enjoyed it, you may find it worthwhile to go back and play through the original as well.
What games or music are you currently enjoying? Did any of these influence your writing for this game?
I intentionally avoided other RPGs during the development of The Caligula Effect 2. In recent years, there have been a number of titles that, like The Caligula Effect, explore modern human psychology. I wanted to be careful not to be influenced by them so as not to risk losing the "soul" of the series. It was for that reason that I wound up playing a lot of simulation games (like Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV) almost exclusively.
Moreover, because I was also involved with the music of The Caligula Effect, I listened to a lot of Vocaloid producers. Over the past five years especially, the main battlefield for Vocaloid producers in Japan has shifted from Nico Nico Douga to YouTube. We were careful to make sure we were caught up with those changing tastes and trends in The Caligula Effect 2.
Do you create the story scenarios by yourself, or did you collaborate with other creators for the story of The Caligula Effect 2?
I do write them myself, yes. In order to confirm the concept for the game was solid at the early planning stages, I asked Tadashi Satomi (who had worked on the scenarios for the previous title), Ryoko Seki (who worked on the novel adaptation), and Elephante (the scenario production company) to provide secondary support for the project.
In The Caligula Effect: Overdose, the characters had flowers incorporated in their designs. Do the characters this time around also have the same floral motifs? If so, what do those flowers symbolize?
Naturally, there is meaning hidden in the flowers and designs throughout this entry of the series as well, but since that gets close to spoiler territory, we'll just keep those things secret for now. Oh, but floriography in Japan differs from that of elsewhere, doesn’t it? ...I wonder how that’s going to pan out.
Another point worth noting is that neon pink and other fluorescent colors are frequently used as primary colors in this title, while darker colors were chosen for the Go-Home Club in order to help them pop. In the previous title, the chaste and innocent μ was pure white, while the rebel protagonists were gray. This title is a bit more developed than the previous one, with χ in pure white, Regret in gray, and the protagonists in black, making up the three core pieces of the story. We hope players will pay close attention to the colors utilized.
Is there anything you would like to tell the fans?
I would like to thank the fans for their interest in The Caligula Effect, despite there being so many other games out there. We remain committed to exploring issues on a smaller scale not usually seen in RPGs, as well as exploring themes centered around the idea that what an individual is personally going through may feel even more important than saving the world. This is a game that could be great for those players who were left feeling unsatisfied by other games. I poured my heart and soul into this title, and I hope you will give it a try.
It is also my own version of an “idol story.” I think we can finally get some closure regarding the theme of “killing your idols” from the previous entry.
The Caligula Effect series takes place in worlds that appear to draw from futuristic and shonen genres. What inspired the world of Redo?
We felt like traditional RPGs for young adults were starting to only offer the same types of experiences.
For the overall design of our game, we tried to draw our inspiration from design trends and things you'd see in the real world, rather than refer to existing forms of entertainment or other games from the same genre.
Although both The Caligula Effect: Overdose and The Caligula Effect 2 take place in similar dystopian worlds, each has their own unique visual style. What did you want to do differently with the designs in The Caligula Effect 2 compared to the first title?
In The Caligula Effect, flowers serve as a vital medium through which one’s humanity is expressed. That said, I did feel there were aspects we were unable to fully convey, so I personally spent a lot of time trying to do so in the newest installment. It was a lot of fun using flowers to create designs and patterns.
The Go-Home Club and the Obbligato Musicians have very distinct visual designs and fashion choices. What inspired their designs?
From the get-go, we've consistently tried to make the members of the Go-Home Club feel more realistic in contrast with the Obbligato Musicians, who are purposely meant to feel more like “characters.”
For the Obbligato Musicians specifically, we did our utmost to take their concepts and names as they were and express their ideals in a simple manner so that their internal complexities could be enjoyed by playing the game.
Both χ and Regret appear influenced by Vocaloid designs. What made you turn to Vocaloids for inspiration?
I had heard toward the start of the planning phase that they were meant to be similar to Vocaloids.
As opposed to μ who was created with a virtual idol in mind, Regret was created in the image of a more saintly figure, with an emphasis on kindness and intimacy rather than divinity. We envisioned her as the goddess of the world of Redo, as well as an ambassador for it.
As for χ, I created her as a sort of love child between μ and Aria in order to make her more apparent as their successor.
What challenges did you face when designing for The Caligula Effect 2? Were there things that surprised you as you were working on this title?
I became involved with a number of projects after the last installment, but I realized that The Caligula Effect was the only one where I got to try to create characters that didn’t feel like “characters.” Even if the game doesn’t wind up catching on, it was rewarding enough just designing this title. The game can be a bit challenging at times, but it’s definitely fun.
Is there anything you would like to say to the fans?
To me, the fun of this game comes from watching the characters’ hidden sides emerge as you progress, so I hope players feel the same way!
You never know how things will change from your first impression, and that's the beauty of it!
The first installment, The Caligula Effect, was developed by a different company, but now you are handling The Caligula Effect 2. What approach did you take to preserve the feeling and excitement of the first game in the second game?
Our company has been in charge of developing for the series since the last title, The Caligula Effect: Overdose (the PlayStation 4 remake of The Caligula Effect). In this installment, we changed the battles so that they are easier to play. With the help of a special shader, we are able to seamlessly expand the normal map into a battlefield, enabling players to concentrate on making combos in an even, level space. As a result, Auto Mode is both easier to use and easier to play in The Caligula Effect 2. Many more major changes have been added, such as a revamped menu and user interface, the ability to accept multiple Causality Link subquests, and a quest list.
As a developer, were there any parts of The Caligula Effect that you wanted to carry over into The Caligula Effect 2?
There were, of course, a lot of things we wanted to keep from the previous game, as well as things we wanted to add. The first entry of the series, The Caligula Effect, has many unique features that are emblematic of the series, such as being able to plan out your battles by predicting the outcome of your actions, or the fact that not only your party members, but each NPC has their own narrative. Though some aspects were changed in order to make The Caligula Effect 2 more enjoyable to play, the core concept has not. Most of the elements that were in the previous installment can also be found in this one.
How did you want The Caligula Effect 2 to differ from The Caligula Effect?
Since The Caligula Effect: Overdose, we have been using Unreal Engine 4 and have strived to improve both in graphics and the development process. We wanted to have music videos playing in the background in The Caligula Effect 2, so we had to develop a new system wherein the sound and videos would sync up. An interesting aspect of The Caligula Effect 2 is that when you are in the normal map, the music will play without vocals, but upon entering battle, the vocals are added seamlessly, creating a more interactive musical experience. We also included a feature called χ Jack, where the player can change the battle music to the song of their choice. With these elements in place, we carefully implemented a video synchronization system while taking care not to break the whole game.
Tell us about your partnership with FuRyu on The Caligula Effect 2. What made you interested in working with them?
Our first connection with FuRyu was when they proposed this one project to us, to which we promptly presented them with a prototype. Unfortunately, though the prototype was well-received, extenuating circumstances prevented us from working together at that time. After that, when The Caligula Effect: Overdose was beginning to emerge, they remembered our work from back then, and so we formed a partnership. Since the previous title strengthened our relationship with FuRyu, we were able to collaborate with them from the planning stages of The Caligula Effect 2.
What interested you about The Caligula Effect 2? What makes it stand out among the other titles in your lineup of games?
We have a lot of JRPG fans among our members. As a result, one of our goals as a team was to work on and lead the development of The Caligula Effect 2. Moreover, FuRyu entrusted us with a wide range of freedom on the project. The Caligula Effect series’ characters and scenarios are very appealing, and our team members loved them throughout the development phase as well. We ended up adding many elements to the system and graphics to further highlight their merits.
What would you like to share with the fans at this time? What do you hope to show them with The Caligula Effect 2?
The characters, scenarios, and song lineups of The Caligula Effect 2 are a product of our current era. The system and graphical aspects that we were in charge of are packed with gimmicks that were only possible because of the nature of the game. Compared to the previous entry, the integration of the musical thematics are amped up tremendously, so we hope that you all look forward to the game.