Review: Criminal Girls: Invite Only

Release Date
3rd February 2015 (US), 6th February 2015 (EU)
PlayStation Vita
Publisher / Developer
NIS America, Inc. / Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.

Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a re-mastered Playstation Vita exclusive, originally released in Japan on the Playstation Portable as Criminal Girls. It now features brand new content and is even compatible with Playstation TV. So does earning 0.00 per hour, being slapped in the face constantly and spending your time babysitting delinquent girls sound like your dream job? Then Criminal Girl: Invite Only is for you.

Seven delinquents, seven sins, your job is to guide these hard to handle girls through the four trials of the Redemption Program. Motivating and learning as you progress through this hellish prison; the ultimate goal is salvation and a second chance at life. With seven female delinquents to manage it’s a daunting task, thankfully you don’t have to handle all seven from the get-go as they’re each introduced as you progress. Apart from a few differences, such as being the only male in an almost all-female cast, the game plays like any other JRPG.

Exploration during the four trials follows a dungeon crawler formula, with random encounters and save points known as the Infirmary. The game also introduces some puzzle elements into its dungeons, which can either make exploration more enjoyable or ridiculously frustrating. The battle system at first glance appears to be your standard JRPG fare, but it has a unique twist that doesn’t feel shoehorned in. Each of the four girls in your party will offer an action that can be performed; be it attack, magic or guard. Being allowed to choose only one of these options has a great impact on the flow of battle and your ability to work out an effective strategy. To throw a spanner into the works the girls can even choose to slack off during battle, fantastic, proper motivation is needed to avoid this happening.

The Motivation feature in Criminal Girls is certainly the main attraction for most and essential to progress through the game. As mentioned before, to even use the girls in battle requires them to be properly motivated. You motivate the girls through different ways such as “Maintenance”, “Edgeplay” and more, with each one using a unique method to motivate. Maintenance sees you taking a whip to beat out the temptations of your criminal companions, while Edgeplay employs an electric stick to aid you in your kinky punishments. The rest of the motivations take a more gentle approach coinciding with the girls eventual opening up to you. Initially, I was quite worried about this feature, as you can imagine it would take a while to explain this to someone without looking like some kind of perverted weirdo. While the actual motivating may want to be done behind closed doors and not on a bus while trying to avoid awkward glances. The feature has come under some controversy with fans over censorship, while some changes have been made to the amount of fog during the motivating it does not detract from the feature as the fog decreases as you level up through motivation. The biggest change though is the removal of the Japanese audio during the motivation scenes. This of course was done not as a way to appeal to a larger audience, but to fit within the guideline set by various rating boards, so the game can actually see a western release.

“CM” is the game’s currency and is also used to motivate the girls which can turn the game into a grind fest at times. Annoyingly, Skills are only learnt through motivation as well and even that has its own level system. This really makes you wonder why they didn’t just remove the standard level system or even use the experience gained through battle instead of CM for the motivation. When you also consider you need to buy items with CM it’s probably not the best thought out system.

Being an updated version of a PSP title the in-game graphics aren’t all that great, but it’s really the visual novel element of the story that shines. Full of nonsensical conversation that comes hand in hand with this motley crew of criminal girls really helps to break up the humdrum of dungeon crawling. With each girl vastly different from the next it’s easy to quickly gain favourites and just as quick to find ones you don’t care about.

The game is fully voiced but only comes with Japanese audio and English text, probably a preference for many with this genre. Loading up the game you are treated to a rock number that fits the image of this title but sadly for the rest of the game a largely forgettable soundtrack.

Criminal Girls: Invite Only may offend some with the Motivation feature, that being said enough has been done to tone it back to fit within the 18 rating it’s been given. While I think it would easily fit within a 15 it’s obviously the notion of the feature that throws the games acceptability into question. It’s pretty simple as far as JRPGs and dungeon crawlers go, maybe underwhelming for some. The real interesting feature is the battle system, never before have I played a game where I couldn’t actually choose from a characters skill set, but was forced to use whatever that character felt like doing. While sounding odd it really stands out and makes for more strategic and fun battles.

Criminal Girls: Invite Only may not appeal to many at first glance but if you can look past the small amount of fan service, then underneath it's a pretty enjoyable little game.