The Caligula Effect 2 Soundtrack, Various, 2021
Expectations were running high for 2016’s The Caligula Effect – no surprise, given its pedigree. With the involvement of writer Tadashi Satomi and composer Tsukasa Masuko, who had worked on several Persona and Megami Tensei games, the connections to that beloved franchise were strong. Unfortunately, critics’ reaction to The Caligula Effect was tepid. Still, the game made enough money to warrant an improved remake in 2018 and finally a sequel in 2021, developed by Historia. Its plot seems like an almost straight reprise of that found in the first Caligula Effect. An almighty virtuadoll has created a utopian virtual reality (a high school setting) that offers refugee for wounded souls looking to flee reality. A group of students is trying to escape this simulation after one of them has his memories of the real world restored by another virtuadoll. This time, reviewers were more enamoured with the game, but only slightly.
For the The Caligula Effect 2 soundtrack, the developers took a similar approach to the first game, pairing Masuko with a group of Vocaloid composers, each writing one vocal cue, while Masuko created the instrumental underscore. Historia also carried over some of the Caligula Effect compositions for the successor. Unfortunately, things get messy with the soundtrack’s album releases. There are a full four of them – three of them made available around the time of the game’s release in Japan, while a complete score finally saw the light of the day when The Caligula Effect 2 hit store shelves in the US. The first three albums are relatively short compilations of some of the game’s vocal tracks, written for the game’s boss battles. These releases are, of course, made entirely redundant by the complete score album.
That album has its issues too, though. Almost every vocal song is included in no fewer than three renditions: one for each of the two seiyuu voicing the respective virtuadoll, plus a remix created by Japanese DJ TeddyLoid (it’s these remixes that form the basis for this review). In other words, it’s a bloated album that requires some serious trimming to make for an ideal listening experience. Masuko’s compositions, unfortunately, contribute to this impression – his underscore written is a bland affair that never matches the songs’ ambition and creativity. One final word of warning – as this review was written before the complete album’s release, some of the songs in the playlist below carry their cryptic names derived from the game rip.
Thankfully, all of these complications matter little once you listen to the music. The large team of artists responsible for this kaleidoscopic creation did a fantastic job. The songs on the The Caligula Effect 2 soundtrack hit listeners with the force of a freight train at full speed, each one a maximalist manifesto that piles truckloads of textures, hooks and rhythms on top of each other. There is so much going on in these songs, and the music possesses such sweep that you might well describe it as a techno-pop opera that almost constantly plays at full intensity. What’s impressive is how the score gets away with this assault on the senses, thanks to two things: the outstanding songwriting that smoothly connects the myriad ideas running through the music – and the composers’ knack for catchy vocal melodies that hold everything together.
Those vocals also pack a punky energy that sharpens the contours of these songs and makes sure the compositions register as visceral rather than overblown. All songs come in two versions, one for each seiyuu – Mayu Mineda and Arisa Kori. There are few – if any – variations between the arrangements used for the two vocalists. Since both artists deliver sterling work, it’s really down to personal preference whether one opts for Mineda’s lighter, girlish vocals or Kori’s deeper alto delivery. What both artists have in common is their impressive ability to hold their own against the full-throttle arrangements. Mineda and Kori are capable of spectacularly twisting their voices in nervy, agitated fashion while adding subtle emotional shades at the same time. Take “Miss Conductor”, where the vocalists’ borderline-manic performances ride the crest of a tsunami wave of frantic, head-spinning breakbeats leading into a euphoric chorus.
Thankfully, the The Caligula Effect 2 soundtrack finds several ways to tackle its wall-of-sound vision, keeping monotony at bay. Jazz plays a significant role in the score’s vast palette of styles. Take the drumming on “Alter Garden”, merging jazz and metal influences, or the jumpy piano lines on “Designed Desires”, which turns into lavishly arranged jazz-pop that also incorporates gritty guitars. The nervous energy of these jazz rhythms translates well into the lighter, playful environment of “SINGI”, with its layers of tinkling metal percussion and spaced-out synths. Other tracks like “SW” and “xxxx/xx/xx” hew closer to highly technical heavy metal stylings. The latter shows the composers don’t just indiscriminately throw everything and the kitchen sink at their compositions and instead always maintain an ear for details. Listen to that cyclical guitar riff mixed into the background, finally making its full, enormous impact once combined with a dissonant, claustrophobic synth progression.
Other cues like “DOC”, “KDN”, “KUR”, and “PDR” present whirlwind mixes of various genres of electronica, cycling through multiple sections full of extremely detailed instrumentations – before diving head-first into massive EDM choruses. This is music that gets high on its own inventiveness, bursting into enthusiastic club bangers. Once more, Mineda and Kori astonish with their performances. “KDN” sees particularly Kori going through a tour de force as she covers the entire spectrum from deep-throated swagger to childish innocence in one coherent performance. Another way the soundtrack reaches maximum altitude is by adding orchestral elements. Given the The Caligula Effect 2 soundtrack’s unrelenting nature, it’s not surprising to hear strings and a choir topping off the soaring chorus on “Eternal Silver”. “MKN” is more intriguing still, building its mid-tempo beats around an almost Baroque-sounding woodwind ostinato, before using elegant string orchestrations to add a touch of classiness.
And then there are those compositions that opt for all-out warfare. “BUR” opens the hunting season with gargantuan synth pulses and vocals that might well be doubling as air raid sirens, before the cue crashes into hardcore techno stylings that back barely controlled vocals. Hardcore techno again raises its abrasive head on “WIC” – supported by wiry, gnawing guitars – and on “Suicide Prototype”, whose chorus sounds like suns exploding. “Distorted Happiness” and its mix of discordant electronics, metal guitars and catchy pop melodies recalls some of metal wizard Devin Townsend’s works. “Q – Love – Señorita” presents a similar mix of sweet singalong qualities and punishing metal sounds, while adding in a wild, disorienting piano solo before the cue accelerates into a blazing finale. It’s a beautiful encapsulation of the The Caligula Effect 2 soundtrack – a brazen work that ceaselessly demands attention, but rewards such efforts with an absolutely exhilarating experience.
- 01 - Alter Garden Various 3:31
- 02 - BUR Various 3:49
- 03 - Designed Desires Various 4:53
- 04 - Distorted Happiness Various 4:19
- 05 - DOC Various 4:37
- 06 - Eternal Silver Various 4:11
- 07 - I'm Just Praying Various 3:42
- 08 - KDN Various 4:01
- 09 - KUR Various 3:12
- 10 - Miss Conductor Various 3:25
- 11 - MKN Various 4:29
- 12 - Orbit Various 2:49
- 13 - PDR Various 3:41
- 14 - Q - Love - Señorita Various 3:38
- 15 - SINGI Various 4:19
- 16 - Suicide Prototype Various 3:52
- 17 - SW Various 2:36
- 18 - WIC Various 2:56
- 19 - xxxx/xx/xx Various 3:55