Lucifer isn’t the bad guy most people portray him to be. If popular opinion is to be believed Lord Satan will do anything to coerce victims into parting with their souls. Not so in Criminal Girls: Invite Only available to buy for the PlayStation Vita. In this NISA published Japanese role-playing game a group of seven girls have been banished to Hell for leading sinful lives. Instead of being condemned to an eternal fiery damnation the party of gals are given the opportunity to save themselves by participating in the underworld’s Redemption Programme. What does the scheme involve? Perhaps performing community service to repent for their misdeeds? Nah, this is an RPG from Japan after all. To return back to the mortal plain the Criminal Girls will have to battle through various dungeons, populated by monstrous convicts, in addition to playing a kinky mini-game.
At first glance Criminal Girls appears to be your typical JRPG. Gameplay consists of ambling through mazes seeking the exit that will lead to the level’s next floor. Your party of heroines each specializes in a particular role, which will become relevant whenever a random encounter is triggered. Kisaragi is the rogue who can pilfer items from foes in addition to poisoning them. Ran is the tank who protects her comrades by taunting enemies and performing defensive manoeuvres. In battle Sako focuses on melee combat whilst her sister Yuko mends the party with healing skills. If magic is what you need then Alice the spell caster has you covered along with card shark Shin. My favourite lady is the damage-dealing samurai named Tomoe… partially because she is endowed with big boobies.
Were Criminals Girls differs from other games in the genre is the manner in which encounters play out. The turn-based battles only permit a sole girl to perform an action per round of combat. The commands you can issue are limited even further to whatever action the girls suggest for that particular turn (possibly because teenage girls are not known for following orders.) I imagine that this system may frustrate some players, but I rather enjoyed it as it forces you to adapt to any given situation rather than spamming your most powerful attacks ad nauseam. The combat mechanics will also give you a better appreciation for all the characters, as it will require tactical switching between fighters rather than depending on a core squad of four girls.
The actions the Criminal Girls propose in combat are restricted to whatever skills they have learnt. New abilities can be taught by spending the CM, earned from killing monsters, on participation in the title’s controversial Motivation Mini-Game. In order to “stimulate” the girls into acquiring new powers the player is required to use the handheld’s touchscreen to whip, electrocute, water board, tickle and massage the ladies in a bonus game that reminds me a little of Monster Monpiece’s infamous rubbing segments. Although the game carries an eighteen-age rating and contains no nudity (only suggestive poses) NIS America have decided to censor the motivation game for the western release. The moaning sound effects have been removed and portions of the screen are concealed behind pink fog. Oh man, what a tease.
My rating for Criminal Girls: Invite Only is five stars. Perhaps I am being a tad generous with my assessment, but I feel the game deserves some slack to counter the plethora of negative reviews I have read online. I feel that the title unjustifiably gets a bad rap due to the motivational mini-game. If people feel that strongly against torture then fair enough, but where were these critics when GTA V was getting universal acclaim? If you overlook the mini-game, which is only a small portion of the Criminal Girls experience, you’ll find that there’s a solid RPG ready to be enjoyed. Graphically it may not be a tour de force, as it’s an enhanced PSP port, but I thought that the chibi character designs looked cute. In terms of gameplay I estimate that it took me around seventy hours to earn all the trophies on offer, which is tremendous value for money.
My only complaint with the release is my usual bugbear – needless censorship. The cuts subjected to the European and US versions ultimately accomplish nothing. Naysayers who accuse the game of being sexist will not be appeased by NIS America’s token gesture whilst on the flip side buyers, who were looking forward to fondling anime girls, will feel nothing but disappointment at having to make do with a watered down product. I hear that some gamers are boycotting Criminal Girls to voice their discontent, which is a terrible shame. Although I sympathise with their sentiments I would like to caution that poor sales will only harm the chances of future niche games getting localised. Candyfloss fog and the absence of passionate moans is a small price to pay to get this top-notch dungeon crawler in our territory.