Takuya Yamanaka, Director of The Caligula Effect: Overdose

by Kim Morrissy,

Two years ago, developer FuRyu released a collaboration with Persona 1 and 2 writer Tadashi Satomi, The Caligula Effect, exclusively on PSVita. However, next year will be the opportunity to revisit this sci-fi psychological concept on Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam in the form of The Caligula Effect: Overdose. Since the game serves as the source material for this year's anime series, Caligula, we were curious about how he was involved and how the appeal of each version differs. To ask these questions and more, we sat down with The Caligula Effect game director Takuya Yamanaka.

What sort of feedback did you incorporate from the original The Caligula Effect release when you developed Overdose?

TAKUYA YAMANAKA: The very first The Caligula Effect on the Vita was ambitious, and fortunately it was well received by fans. The appeal of the story is that it's very psychological. The challenge for Overdose’s narrative was to put in more developments that would surprise players that think they know what to expect by now.

Both the anime and the game have a lot of talented music composers. Why was it important to have a variety of different composers?

You know of VocaloidP and Hatsune Miku, right? Until they became popular, the composers of music weren't as well known as the lead singers. Singers were like the main focal point, and people didn't really know who made or composed the songs. But because the Vocaloids always have a pre-set voice for the singer, fans began to look into who made the songs. I thought that was a really interesting phenomenon, and so I wanted to incorporate that idea of “who made the songs?” into the game as well. I took different artists and used their music to express the aspects of each character in the game and anime. Each character has a different type of music that they would write or compose.

This game had several Shin Megami Tensei people working on it. How did you make this game distinct from the Shin Megami Tensei series?

Shin Megami Tensei is a seminal work. Many people working on this game are highly influenced by it, and not just the people who came directly from SMT. Our entire generation has been influenced by that series, from the staff of The Caligula Effect to the players. Everyone understood that. So we wanted to spring off the psychological themes of SMT and create something that delves even deeper. That's why I wanted to get the help of people who worked on SMT.

So what do you mean by making a game that is even deeper?

I wanted to set the game not in a fantasy setting but in the real world - specifically modern Japan. I wanted to focus more on societal issues and the psychology behind the problems people deal with. Other games don't focus on issues like discrimination, so The Caligula Effect is more realistic in that sense.

How do you capture those psychological elements in the gameplay and also make it exciting to play?

The title The Caligula Effect comes from an erotic movie also called Caligula that was banned by the Japanese government. Ironically, the ban made people want to see it more. The “Caligula Effect” is a psychological term, where you want to do something that's considered bad or forbidden. The whole game is about finding out people's secrets when it's probably not the right thing to do but you want to do it anyway.

μ is a symbol of this theme. She's a vocaloid that wants to save people. She's very pure-hearted but you find yourself having to fight her as the last boss. So that feeling of guilt that comes from fighting something that's very pure is at the core of the combat. The storytelling and gameplay come together through these battles and it's very exciting.

But on the other hand, the anime has no gameplay or interactivity. You were involved in the anime, so how did you try to make that more exciting?

As you've alluded, the main protagonist of the game is you, the player, so you have the freedom to choose your next outcome. But in the anime, users don't have that freedom, so I came up with a different personality for the protagonist. In the anime, his name is Ritsu, and although he looks identical to the game protagonist, his anime counterpart is an entirely different person. He also has a lot of secrets that you won't find out about unless you follow the anime. I gave the anime a different outcome, and that's something you just can't get from the game. The idea is that even if you've played the game you'll get something new out of the anime.

Where did you come up with the idea for Ritsu's character?

The real identity of Ritsu is the biggest mystery in the anime, so I can't talk about it more deeply than that because of spoilers. The anime director Junichi Wada and I put a lot of thought into creating Ritsu, and we wanted to make sure that he has a solid character. Usually, game protagonists that are put into anime are like blank slates and very non-verbal, so we wanted to make Ritsu have a strong personality. In the anime, you can see that he's a very logical person who speaks for himself. That makes him very distinct from the game protagonist.

What sort of ideas did Wada bring to the table?

At our first meeting, Wada asked me if he could change the game for the anime. The anime would share the same setting and motifs as the game but have a different plot. I felt that Wada had something he wanted to say through the anime Caligula, so I trusted him and left that in his hands. That's why the two versions are distinctly different.

So when you watched the anime, did you feel like a spectator? Not a creator, but just another viewer?

If only. I was at all the anime script meetings, so I already knew what was going to happen in the story. Since I'm part of the production staff and am heavily invested in the anime, I got more suspense from seeing how the viewers react to each episode.

In the end, how did you feel about the reactions to the anime and the game?

I scrolled through Twitter every week when a new episode came out. There are 12 episodes in the anime, and for each episode I wanted to make it different from the game, so I really enjoyed looking through comments from people who had actually played the game and seeing them uncertain about what would happen next. It was my first time seeing all these reactions on a weekly level instead of just reacting to the final product.

Meanwhile, some people only watched the anime and didn't play the game. It warmed my heart to see them watch every episode and praise the anime in its own right. It was a risk making the anime so different from the game, but I'm glad it paid off. I don't really know how the anime-only viewers responded to the game, although I was able to see how many people who watched the anime bought the game, because the game sold copies while the anime was airing. However, all the feedback came in at once, so I can't really grasp all of it.

The anime was streamed internationally. Did you get the international opinions as well?

I haven't, but I'd love to hear them. The game and the anime are themed around gendai-byou, so I'm curious how people overseas will respond to that. Gendai-byou is like a disease, it's like psychological problems people face on a daily basis. I don't think there's an equivalent in English, is there?

The malaise of modern society?

Yeah, that would be very close.

So would you say you really want this game to be accessible in the West, and would that be why you're doing a PC release for Overdose?

YAMANAKA: Is that why?

HARUKA SONOBE (marketing and sales): This is our first time challenging the PC market and doing a Steam release. With the original The Caligula Effect, we didn't try to do that. It'll be a big turning point for FuRyu. So we're looking forward to people's reactions to the PC version.

If Overdose does well globally, is there potential for a sequel?

YAMANAKA: Of course. I'll do my best. If we made a sequel, it would be set in the same world but with a different plot and characters. The people working on Caligula would really love to make that game as long as this one does well.

So you still have lots of ideas?

Of course. As long as problems continue to exist in modern society, there will always be ideas for a Caligula story.

Additional questions by Callum May and Heidi Kemps. Thanks to NISA for the interview opportunity.

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