Possibly one of the most bizarre RPGs to make it to the west. Considering the Vita’s catalogue of games, that is saying something!
Those guys over at NIS America are prolific in their localising and releasing of Japanese games for the west. They really are doing a great job of bringing not only big Japanese franchises to the west, but also smaller, more niche titles. And they don’t get much more niche than Criminal Girls: Invite Only on the PlayStation Vita handheld.
The Vita has become home to the quirky JRPG, giving fans of the genre plenty to fill their time. I am all for giving players choice when it comes to their gaming habits, and I applaud NIS America for the part they are playing in bringing over such a diverse selection of games. But when it comes to Criminal Girls: Invite Only, I have to ask why?
The player takes on the role of a prison warden, of sorts. Your first day on the job comes as something of a surprise as this is no ordinary prison, but rather Hell. And your charges all happen to be worryingly young looking girls who have died and been cast into this Hell, sometimes for no reason other than having criminal DNA. Your job is to guide these girls through a tower and reach the apex, whereupon the girls will earn the privilege of being revived into the mortal world.
However, these girls are delinquents and filled with sin, and it is down to the player to remove their sin through motivation. This is where things get a little sleazy.
The Motivate mini games will involve the player basically torturing the girls on a one on one basis. Whilst this may be a little distasteful in itself, the fact that the girls will be dressed up in cosplay outfits and strike sexual poses only serves to make it worse. Using the touch screen panels, the player simply must touch or drag the right place to whip, electrocute or otherwise discipline the girl. They will beg you to stop, they will squeal. It is all rather creepy.
These mini games, which will crop up quite regularly, are not just there to provide titillation, however. This is the method of improving your girls and having them learn new skills and abilities to use in the dungeons. Players will have to pay for the privilege of motivating the girls using currency earned during their time in the dungeon. There are various different ways of motivating the girls which are unlocked as the player progresses through the game, and each of these methods leads to a different ability or skill for each of the girls, and each method will require multiple sessions before the girl fully learns this new ability. Whilst they do appear shocking at first, the novelty shock factor wears off through repetition, so the player can get on with the important job of getting these girls through the tower.
Working through the main game is fairly standard, with random encounters, boss battles and the occasional side quest for one or other of the girls. What is most certainly not standard though, is the turn based battle system.
With a team of four girls, the player each turn is allowed to swap out one of the girls for another, make use of an item and perform an action. However, players do not simply delve into a menu system and choose the most appropriate action for a given situation. Rather, each of the girls in the group will suggest an action and the player will have to choose from those suggestions. It is certainly a novel way of doing things, letting the AI narrow down your options before letting you make the final choice from their proposals. In many ways, the AI does a good job of offering up exactly the move for a given situation, which then just leaves the player to choose the correct action from four offered. However, there are plenty of times when the action that I would have personally chosen is not offered up, making for some frustrating battles that took longer than they should because the options were not there.
It is an interesting idea which bucks the trend of many recent JRPGs which simply over complicate the mechanics. But it does feel incredibly limiting, especially in the early game when the girls have not yet been motivated into learning much by way of new abilities. Then, later in the game, once the girls have a range of possible actions, the chances of the action you actually want being suggested become less. I like the idea, but here it just isn’t implemented well enough to be successful.
In all, Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a strange little game. The girls have different personalities which develop as the game progresses, which is a possible reason to keep playing. The game looks nice on the Vita as well, so long as you don’t mind the mild titillation and really questionable suggestive nature of the motivation.
Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a very niche JRPG. I will not make any suggestions about what kind of player would enjoy this game, the sexualised torture of young-looking anime girls will make that suggestion for me. Mini game aside, the turn based battle system is interesting, but ultimately too simplistic, and the story is enjoyable, if not exactly deep. As a JRPG, there are plenty of other choices for the Vita which will offer more. However, if this is your niche, then I guess you are already sold.