Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a strange game. A very strange game indeed.
Beginning with your nameless "hero" (if you can call him that) being put in charge of a group of female criminals in the pits of hell, your task is to reform the ladies as you make your way up a mysterious tower so that they can be reborn as model citizens. How do you reform them you ask? Well, with a bit of playful torture of course!
The game doesn’t stray too far from the traditional JRPG template, with you exploring fairly linear fields to find the exit to the next floor whilst engaging in turn-based random battles. Criminals Girls' twist on the battle system, however, is that despite having four active party members in a battle, you can only issue a command to one of the girls per turn. To further complicate matters, you cannot select which action you’d like to use from any girl's repertoire of moves. Each girl will instead suggest an action, or even none in some circumstances, and it’s up to you choose which one to use. An element of strategy comes in the form of being able to swap one girl out of the party for one of the girls in reserve per turn. This refreshes the commands on offer which can sometimes enable you to turn the tide of battle.
In order to increase each girl’s pool of moves, you have to “motivate” them. Well, I say “motivate”, but what you actually do can hardly be seen as motivational in the traditional sense. Motivating the girls is achieved by forcing them to don skimpy outfits before "eradicating their sins" via very basic touch screen mini-games. Each instance of the mini-games on offer requires a set amount of "CM" to be spent (an unspecified currency that is awarded after every battle, and also found in some chests whilst out in the field). Various methods are used to eradicate sins such as spanking, electrocution, and tickling, but the act is very simple, not particularly rewarding, and could also be quite off putting for those morally opposed to the idea.
"Personally, I failed to be offended by anything this game threw at me and actually found its attempts to shock quite humorous in a cringeworthy way"
Criminal Girls' biggest issue is that it will quickly alienate a large number of players due to what many would consider to be questionable content. The girls’ suggestive poses whilst engaging in the mini-games and their derisive comments upon completing them insinuates sexual gratification as a result of their punishment, which is sure to disgust many. Personally, I failed to be offended by anything this game threw at me and actually found its attempts to shock quite humorous in a cringeworthy way.
Those who do stick with Criminal Girls will find that tone changes quite suddenly around halfway through the game. The first half of the game has a comical feel to it, with the girls portrayed as shallow, rebellious avatars for the player to punish via the "motivate" mini-games. As you approach the second half of the game however, you find that the story and characters develop nicely, and the "motivate" character development mechanic begins to feel out of place. I often found myself going out of my way to be nice to the girls and fulfilling their wishes, only to then have to subject them to some scantily clad water torture to learn new skills.
"The first half of the game has a comical feel to it... as you approach the second half of the game however, you find that the story and characters develop nicely"
Graphically the game is very basic with 2D graphics akin to that of a PlayStation One RPG. The only exception to this is the battle screens and the “Motivate” mini-games, where the native resolution of the Vita is used to show off some vibrant and well-drawn artwork. The audio I found to be quite pleasant throughout and often fitted the mood it was used in perfectly. It should be noted however, that all dialogue in the game is spoken in Japanese.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent playing Criminal Girls: Invite Only. Anyone looking for some old-school JRPG action should seriously consider picking this title up providing they can stomach the idea of the “Motivate” character development dynamic. The pleasing graphics and audio will ease you though an adventure that provides in excess of 50 hours of gameplay should you wish to play it to completion.