Nippon Ichi Software is back with another instalment of Criminal Girls for those of us ready to jump back into another round of verbal abuse, violence and pure hell. Criminal Girls is another game in an ever-growing list of recent titles from Japan that have faced issues with censorship in the west. Regardless, the first Criminal Girls game, Invite Only, was, aside from all the over-sexualisation, a solid little dungeon crawler/RPG and I hope that Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors can replicate that enjoyment.
Thrust into the role of Program Instructor yet again, we’re tasked with guiding a brand new group of Delinquents through the Reformation Program. Only this time around there’s a slight twist in that your group of six delinquents have turned into seven, one being a dangerous convict. Without knowing exactly which member is the real convict the seeds of mistrust and suspicion are sown early, leaving it up to you to keep your group together, convict and all. The journey through the Hell Spire to rehabilitation is long and hard but along the way, you’ll uncover each of the girl’s unique stories and help them realise their redemption.
I have to admit that I was rather excited for Party Favors after having really enjoyed the story and mechanics of Invite Only. However, it becomes very clear from the outset that the story of Party Favors doesn’t have quite the same kind of spark to it. While I may not have liked every girl from Invite Only, I felt invested in their characters, pushing me to complete a game that is very repetitive solely to advance the story. Party Favors, while it does have some stand-out characters from the off, the story feels a little lacklustre in comparison to its predecessor.
In terms of gameplay, Party Favors sees some minor improvements over Invite Only but not really enough to make it appear any different from its predecessor. The dungeon crawling aspect is unique in that it’s top-down and you’re not forced to follow a grid layout which is nice. The dungeons themselves are very linear but also come with their own interesting twists and quirks to keep things feeling fresh.
The battle system has been left untouched, thankfully, as that was one of the elements that really drew me in during my time with Invite Only. Like most RPGs, you control a party of four in a turn-based system, however instead of each of your party member having their own turn they only get one turn as a whole unit. Each girl will offer a choice of attack, keeping your team motivated will produce better options, and you pick one that suits your current situation. I love this system as it takes the traditional turn-based system but adds an element of randomness to it. This can make boss battles particularly challenging as coming up with an effective strategy can be difficult at times. I will even go as far as to say that I think Party Favors has increased the difficulty of boss battles, still offering an enjoyable experience nonetheless.
The Motivation feature makes a return, of course, as it is the main attraction of the Criminal Girls series however much I dislike it. If you’ve played Invite Only then you’ll know what to expect here but note that the touch controls have been updated. If anything lets Invite Only down it was the Motivation scenes and not just because they’re the kind of thing you’ll want to keep private but how frustrating they were to play. The iffy controls made it a chore to motivate your team which became increasingly frustrating as that is how they learn new skills. Thankfully, Party Favors has improved upon the controls during motivations making them less of a chore and relatively frustration-free. There is an option to change the control settings to buttons instead of touch, which I immediately went for based on previous experience but trust me that is not the way to go as it makes it a hundred times harder.
There is also a new skill tree in Party Favors which allows you to pick between two different options when learning new skills. The S and M paths you can take pretty much allow you to decide whether you want a specific character to focus on defence or offence. You’re not locked to these choices so don’t fret; they can be changed freely but it definitely makes developing a strategy more interesting.
Visually, Party Favors doesn’t look all that different to Invite Only, aside from some new dungeons, which isn’t a bad thing as it certainly has a unique charm. There’s a great use of vibrant colours throughout and of course some very risqué character designs. Like Invite Only, the game uses a Live 2D system which I enjoy seeing in games as it adds some life to the character portraits although here it’s primarily used for the Motivation scenes. Like its predecessor Party Favors comes with Japanese audio-only and features an initially interesting soundtrack.
If you played Criminal Girls: Invite Only then Party Favors will offer you more of the same with a few minor improvements but a slightly less engrossing story to pull it along. With less frustration from the Motivation system gameplay is only made more accessible, it just comes down to whether that makes up for a slightly inferior story. However, there still remains a very solid and enjoyable RPG at its core that should easily please fans of its predecessor.