What they need is a good defense
We all know the PlayStation Vita is now the de facto home for all things Japanese. Ports, remakes, re-releases, and original content all trickle down similarly to the little handheld that could, and the Vita port of 2010’s PSP adventure Criminal Girls is one of the latest to join the fold. The original release picked up a subtitle on its way westward and found place in retail sales as Criminal Girls: Invite Only.
The Vita release is a strange amalgam of role-playing elements and simulated discipline that feels right at home on the handheld. These prisoners have been bad, bad girls, and it’s up to you to push them toward the road to redemption.
Criminal Girls: Invite Only (PS Vita [Reviewed], PlayStation TV)
Publisher: NIS America
Released: February 3, 2015
Criminal Girls pulls you right down into Hell with a brand new job ahead of you. You’re now Warden to a menagerie of young women who acted out during their time in the land of the living and are now suffering for it. Your goal is to push each one through a so-called “Redemption Program” so that they might become rehabilitated members of society. If they can complete the trials and tribulations ahead of them, they can escape eternal damnation. Not one of them like you, however, so motivating them or even getting them to do what you want can be a monumental task. As such, the girls act independently of you during pivotal game moments.
You’re given four of them to rehabilitate to begin with, and tasked with seeking out the rest as you play. There’s a very unique battle system in place as you navigate Hell, and to complicate matters further monsters and other nasties begin popping out that you must contend with. This means while you’re working on getting these wayward souls rehabilitated, you’ll have to deal with monster encounters as well.
When you’re thrust into battle, you don’t select which attacks you’d like for the girls to perform. Instead, they will suggest their own moves, and you can select the one that makes the most sense. While this could result in moments where one team member is in dire need of healing or damage isn’t dealt because there wasn’t a suggested offensive attack, most of the time it works quite well. You can choose from four different options each match as well, so you’re usually served up at least one action that makes sense in the context of battles. It’s not difficult or even a bad battle system, but there are some bizarre machinations in place you’ll have to work with in order to be successful, and that stems from the “Motivation” sequences you’re required to take part in.
As previously mentioned, your new female charges don’t like you very much. Motivation finds you dripping things onto the girls or even prodding them with cattle prod-like devices in order to get them to cooperate. The girls will assume sexually suggestive poses, though they’re mostly enshrouded in a strange pink mist (I’ll call it the adult fog of war) and stay silent while you “motivate” them using the touch screen to simulate a BDSM-style punishment.
These sexual mini-games are comprised of several tiers, though the girls are never completely nude in-game. As you complete your motivational tasks, each girl will come to you with a specific Order that you need to complete. Basically, you’ll be asked to find an item, a piece of equipment, a snack, or other special item the girl would like from you.
You’ll want to do all you can with this system in order to earn new moves, combos, and other useful mechanics for use against the game’s plentiful enemies. In short, motivational moments are completely necessary, and while the game is actually a very competent role-playing game without these segments, as always, it will be touted as completely inane and unnecessarily sexual.
The time you put in with Motivation games, fighting off enemies, collecting specific Order items, and getting to know the girls is extremely rewarding, however. Throughout the course of the game you’ll come to learn more and more about each of the diminutive delinquents, like why Ran’s such a little firecracker or why some of the girls have diffficulty chatting with you at all.
The beauty of it all is you can experience character growth while still enjoying a title that’s simple to pick up and put down with little fanfare. It’s perfectly at home on the Vita, though it’s clear that many of the backgrounds and areas you must explore were in fact recycled from the original PSP version of the game. Not too big of an issue, but it can clash a bit with the emotive and vibrant anime-styled character portraits.
Completing the compulsory mini-games may be uncomfortable for some players, but Criminal Girls: Invite Only is very much a competent game and deserves a look, especially if you’ve all but converted your Vita at this point into a waifu-collection machine. That’s basically what I’ve done. The edits to the original Japanese version are tasteful, the girls are witty, and the battles are engaging in a very “mobile game” sort of way. You can decide how you feel about motivating these young women on your own, but for me? It feels right! I’m going to make upright citizens out of these ladies yet.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]