Monday, October 31, 2016

Trillion: God of Destruction (PC) Review

Trillion: God of Destruction is part sim and part strategy RPG, combined together in a game I rather enjoyed on the PS Vita.  You take control of the Supreme Overlord, and must train your chosen vassal to make them strong enough to defeat the underworld eater with one trillion hit points.  It's a very daunting task that has you managing stat growth, rest and attacking the beast in short bursts to whittle down its massive HP bar.

The game is divided into two main parts: training and battle.  Training is basically selecting things from menus to increase your experience in one of 6 areas.  This experience is used to purchase stat upgrades, active skills, and passive skills.  Each training increases fatigue, which in turn increases the chance for getting a bad result from training (either lower experience gain or even injury).  So, you have to balance getting stats and resting, while also juggling the time limit before Trillion eats its way through the Netherworld.  What, you thought it would wait for you?

Battles are all grid-based and resemble strategy RPGs, or more accurately, mystery dungeon style games.  All turns are taken at the same time, depending on speed.  So, if you are fast enough, you can move twice in the span others move once.  You can move or attack in the eight adjacent squares.  Each character also has special attacks that consume MP when used.  Besides the fights against Trillion itself, there are smaller fights in the Valley of Swords and the mock battles against Mokujin.  The latter is very useful in figuring out how best to battle Trillion...except for the final form.

Time ticks down for every choice, from training to resting.  There is a constant counter on the menu that shows how long you have left before Trillion moves.  However, you can flee the battle with the mighty beast and buy yourself more time.  There is a limit to this, so you can't do it indefinitely.  When Trillion does inevitably destroy one of the overlords, another steps up to take her place, and even inherits some of the experience to make it easier the next time.  Easier does not mean easy, as it is very much possible and probable that you will lose your first run through the game, even with its numerous extensions.  Still, future runs are easier with new game+, so you can eventually win.

I played a few hours of the PC version on my i7 with 16GB RAM.  The game looks its best on the PC, and the frame rate was really smooth in battle.  However, there were two separate times the game soft locked on me.  Both times it was trying to load up a tutorial message, and got stuck on a black loading screen.  I'm not sure why that is, since many other similar messages happened without incident.  Since the game is not very action heavy, the keyboard and mouse works fine for the game, but I still prefer to use a controller.

Trillion: God of Destruction is a game I very much enjoyed on the Vita, and this version looks slightly better.  I had a few hiccups when playing the game, but it is still a game that I would recommend to JRPG fans, as it is a very unique offering and worth trying out.

The Good:
Best looking version of a game I enjoyed playing.  Very unique blend of training sim and mystery dungeon RPG.

The Bad:
Very easy to fail your first run, too many random events.

The SaHD:
The third form of Trillion is really a pain in the butt.

(Review code for Trillion was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

MegaTagmension Blanc VS Neptune + Zombies (PC) Review

MegaTagmension Blanc VS Neptune + Zombies is certainly a mouthful, but also a spiritual sequel to Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed.  As such, it is a 3D action game where you hack and slash your way through groups of enemies and tough bosses.  After reviewing the PS Vita release, I have come back for seconds with the PC release on Steam(here).

The game follows the Gamicademy movie club as they seek to make a zombie movie to help out their school.  They quickly enlist Blanc to write, direct and star in the movie.  It's a very silly story, frequently lampooning the zombie apocalypse genre.  To make your way through the game, you take on a series of 'cuts' (basically missions) that go through the film club's ordeals while making the movie and saving the day.  It's fairly linear, which is an improvement over Action Unleashed, but still has good replay value.  Some scenes are slightly different depending on who you choose to use.  Each mission is short, but overall you get several hours of gameplay spread over the 12 chapters.

The action in the game is solid, although I prefer the previous game's special move system to MegaTagmension's cooldown.  The tag mechanic works well, but I rarely ended up needing it.  There's a weapon upgrade system that has a combo of being confusing and not very useful, ensuring that I almost completely ignore it.  The multiplayer can thankfully be done by yourself, and offers some very unique boss monsters to fight for their loot.  It's a fun addition that lets you play with other people (still strangely no local co-op).  I only tried online a few times, and it worked really well for me when I eventually found a game/had people join me.

While it is probably possible to play the game with the keyboard and mouse, that is no way to play an action-heavy game.  The Xbox 360 controller comes to the rescue once again, and it feel really good.  It ran flawlessly with the game, and I think it plays better than it did on the Vita, and certainly better than on the Playstation TV (Vita TV for those in the know).  The game also looks better in this incarnation, as would be expected, and runs really smooth on my system (i7, 16gb ram).

MegaTagmension Blanc VS Neptune + Zombies is a fun action hack and slash game.  It is more focused than the previous offering, and I would recommend it for fans of that game or any of the Neptunia series to try out.  It isn't that hard, and you can play with your friends (or strangers) online.  It's not going to replace the main series, but it is a very fun diversion for 10-20 hours.

The Good:
Fun hack and slash action game, good character selection, fun story.

The Bad:
Bosses can be much stronger than the stage level suggests, ignorable crafting system.

The SaHD:
Still hoping for the Vert themed game... (although Iffy's was fun)

(Review code for MegaTagmension Blanc was provided by the publisher)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 (3DS) Review

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 brings back the run and gun action of the previous game, but adds a much appreciated extra - a whole new character.  The formula is similar to last time, you pick a stage, run through it trying not to get hit, and beat the boss at the end.  Copen, the added player character, will fight the same bosses, but in a different order, giving players a different experience in his journey.

Gunvolt is an adept with lightning powers, and his abilities are near identical to those from the last game.  As such, his gun isn't his main source of damage.  It still does a tiny bit, but its main purpose it to tag enemies.  By default, he can tag up to three enemies (or even stack them on fewer targets), which will focus his lightning attack onto them.  This attack is much stronger than just using his voltage field, but that has its own uses too.  Since it is a field around him, it can destroy physical projectiles, making a useful shield.  It's also used to power occasional things in the environment.  Using his powers drains his EP meter that you can let refill slowly on its own, or press down twice to charge it up quickly (but you are open to attack during this time).

Gunvolt can also dash and jump, but cannot dash in the air without an item (bummer).  If he still has power left in his EP meter, taking a hit will drain some of that instead of doing health damage.  This is paramount to your survival in the game.  There are plenty of times where you can't avoid damage, and have to use the shield to avoid HP damage.  When he defeats some of the bosses in the game, Gunvolt gets a different shot type for his gun, which can make it easier to tag some enemies.  Lastly, Gunvolt has three SP marks in the lower left of the screen that allow him some special attacks.  The default is a strong attack, and he quickly learns a healing one.  This was very useful to me, but it is a very weak heal.  There are other SP skills he learns, but I didn't end up using any others, since I needed the heal so often.

Copen, Gunvolt's rival, is also playable in this game, and plays differently than his blue counterpart.  For starters, his gun does more damage, and is his main source of attack.  Copen also has an air dash.  However, his air dash consumes a refillable resource called Bullits.  These also power his anti-damage shield, called prevasion, like Gunvolt's.  There are a few times where I ran out of Bullits when air dashing around, causing me to fall in pits.  One of the hazards of trying to rush through a stage combined with old habits.  If you dash into an enemy, it marks them so Copen's attacks will track the target.  This is a really useful function that I discovered on accident, since I didn't see the game point it out.  It is hidden in the Help section, but I doubt I would have looked there if I didn't stumble upon it by accident.

Where Gunvolt gets different shot types from bosses, Copen can somewhat mimic their attacks.  This is yet another meter he has, but it really feels natural to me as an old Megaman player.  In addition to the nice attacks and damage they cause, Copen can still use his gun while using the boss attacks, meaning he can dish out some serious damage in short order.  It's one of the big reasons I had much more fun using Copen than Gunvolt.  The other was the difference between their prevasion shields.  Using Copen's takes away from your mobility (air dash), where Gunvolt's takes away from your attack (can't use the voltage field).  However, I had the same problem charging both of their respective meters.  Pressing down twice to charge didn't always register, regardless of which pad I used to control them.

Overall, the game wasn't too hard for me.  There were a few tricky spots, especially with Gunvolt, but I was able to persevere through them.  With Copen, I was able to dispatch all the bosses without dying, thanks in part to his playstyle and stronger heal.  Admittedly, I think the game would be better if you could dodge all the attacks the bosses have.  There are several that hit the entire screen, or enough of it to effectively do the same thing.  It goes against my Megaman/Monster Hunter instincts, but you are supposed to abuse the anti-damage shields for both characters to get through without taking damage.  Still, I'd rather all attacks be avoidable.  Especially since most bosses have cheap hits that are hard to survive even with the shield.

Gunvolt also has some RPG elements.  Killing enemies gives experience that will level you up.  Levels grant more health, so the game becomes easier as you play through it.  Also, there is equipment that you can craft.  The pieces necessary to craft them come from the bonus game at the end of every level.  It takes a lot of luck or grinding to get most of the pieces.  By the time I had finished the game, I only had enough pieces to make one thing for each character.  Copen's was a skill chip I really wanted, which is nice, but if I got that far without it, I probably didn't need it at all.  If you do want them, then replaying levels and attempting the challenges is the only way to go.  Too bad you have to replay a stage to attempt the challenges for it.

The missing mid-battle dialogue was such a big deal after it was removed from the first game.  While on one hand I am glad to have it included in Gunvolt 2, on the other hand it is useless.  If the game stopped so you could actually read it, it would probably be better.  As it stands, your character banter while the action is going on, meaning you either take lots of damage to try and read it, or just ignore it.  To make matters worse, the dialogue box and character portrait takes up valuable screen space, making the fight even harder.  It's sadly better to just turn them off.

It only takes about 3 hours to make it through one of the characters' story, so double that for the whole package.  Even so, it's a game that I can see myself replaying, just to get better at fighting the bosses, and figuring out which weapon is best for each.  I wouldn't want to replay the levels just for material drops, but that would happen as I was re-playing through the game, and it is certainly an option to other players out there.  There are also challenges to try and complete for extra items, but you unfortunately can't get most of them your first time through the stage.

Overall, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is a very fun game.  It is very reminiscent of the old and awesome Megaman X games, while being different enough to not be a copy.  The game isn't very long, but there are reasons to replay the stages, and having two different characters is always a plus.  The prevasion shield is a useful mechanic, even if I think the game relies on it a bit too much.  I had a ton of fun playing as Copen, so I hope he continues to show up in the game.  I would definitely recommend the game to fans of the first Azure Striker Gunvolt, Megaman games, and side-scrolling action games.

The Good:
A fun and challenging side-scrolling action game that I can see lots of potential in learning enemy/boss patterns in order to improve.  Playing as Copen was a lot of fun.

The Bad:
Have to replay stages/grind to get drops to make equipment you don't really need.  Some enemy attacks unavoidable.

The SaHD:
The ice/slippery level is really annoying.  Can we as a gaming community just stop doing these kinds of levels?  It was cute the first few times, back on the NES, but they just aren't fun.  Do any players actually enjoy them?

(Review code for Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 was provided by the publisher)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Azure Striker Gunvolt (PC) Review

After a successful launch on the 3DS over a year ago, Azure Striker Gunvolt has come to PCs via Steam, and brings improvements to address some of the problems players had with the initial release.  It returns the mid-battle dialogue, voices and updated translations.

Gunvolt himself is a lightning septima, hence he can generate electricity and attack foes with it.  He can also dash, jump and shoot his gun.  Although his gun does damage, the amount is very little.  Its main purpose is to tag targets.  Normally, Gunvolt's electric powers are a field around him.  However, if you use it while a target is tagged, the attack will track them and do a lot more damage.  This is his main method of attack, and you can do it as long as you have EP, the semi-circular meter under Gunvolt.  It can refill decently fast on its own, but you can also quick charge it by pressing Down twice.

Additionally, if you get hit, it deducts from your EP first, as long as you have enough.  This can only happen if you actively aren't using your EP.  Unfortunately, this means in order to defend yourself, you have to give up most of your attacking prowess.  Also unfortunately, the game seems built upon your ability to abuse this mechanic.  Finally, Gunvolt also has SP skills, denoted by the card-like icons in the lower left.  These are slow to charge up, but offer special effects, like a powerful attack or heal.  The heal was very useful, and the one that I used 90% of the time.  Too bad it isn't a very good heal.

There's a good variety to the ten stages, as some have some sort of gimmick that uses Gunvolt's lightning abilities, whether they are used to move platforms, operate switches, or float with magnets.  These parts are kind of neat, but I feel they were used just a bit too much.  To get through all the areas, it takes about 3 hours, and more if you want to get all the hidden gems or complete the challenges.  You are likely meant to grind the stages since the extra levels would make things easier.  Unfortunately, you will also fight all of the bosses at least twice.  Other than that, there is a speed run mode, and endless attack mode, and an easy and hard difficulty modes to give you more bang for your buck.

Killing enemies gets Gunvolt experience, which is used to level up once certain experience thresholds have been reached.  This gives him more HP, so it is possible to grind a bit and get more health to make the game easier.  Plus, every time you complete a level, you play a bonus game to gain materials.  There is a very rudimentary crafting system in the game, and the gear you make can provide you with some bonuses or extra abilities.  Trouble is, you either have to grind out the stages multiple times and complete some optional challenges to get enough loot to actually make something by the time you are nearly done with the story.

The difficulty level of Gunvolt feels closer to the old school, but with some new sensibilities like checkpoints.  I did die a few times, but not as much as similar games from back in my youth.  The stages definitely had parts that were difficult, but the bosses felt more like they relied on cheap hits to get damage.  More than one of them has an instant kill move that is nigh unavoidable.  Fun.  I can definitely see room for improvement, as the goal is to get through the stages without getting hit rather than just get through it.  It's pretty hard, at least for the bosses.  It's not overly hard to not take damage (most times), since the prevasion anti-damage shield helps out a lot, but that won't help you keep your score if that is of importance to you.

Since the game was adopted from the 3DS release, there are a few strange holdovers.  For one, the menu in-between missions is presented as closely as possible to the original, so you have two smaller screens on the screen.  I get why that is, but it does look weird to me.  Second, Gunvolt's SP skills are mapped to F1-F4.  I don't see a way to map them to something much easier to hit on the controller.  As it stands, I would have to move my hands quickly and accurately to the keyboard, because there's no way I would play a game like this without a controller.  Seeing how responsive the Xbox 360 controller is with this game, I see no need to try otherwise.  One last holdover from the 3DS release would be exiting the game.  In the game, there is no menu option to exit the title.  Instead, you hit ESC, which just immediately closes the game out.  It works, but it's jarring and I didn't see that listed in the controls, so it took me a bit to realize that's what exited the game.

Azure Striker Gunvolt can be a fun game.  Blasting through the levels, tagging opponents and using lightning powers is a lot of fun.  The difficulty is uneven at times, and bosses are plagued with cheap hits to mar the overall experience.  It's still worth playing for side-scrolling action game fans, and old school fans of the Megaman franchise.

The Good:
Familiar type of game with some very unique mechanics and different ways it is used in the stages.

The Bad:
Relies too heavily on the prevasion mechanic to avoid health damage.  Bosses can have some ridiculous attacks.

The SaHD:
I can't tell if the different shot types you get just aren't very useful, or if I'm missing what makes them so good.  The standard shot worked the best for me through the whole game.

(Review code for Azure Striker Gunvolt was provided by the publisher)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls (PS Vita) Review

The latest entry in the expansive Neptunia series of games stars IF as the protagonist this time.  In Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls, IF sets off to find a long lost library, meets a new friend in Segami, and the two travel through time to fix whatever has turned the world into a wasteland.  In this strange mix of Groundhog Day and Chrono Trigger, the goddesses will clash with their properly named counterparts.

In dungeons, the game plays similarly to Neptunia ReBirth and its sequels.  You move around a 3D plane, jump up ledges and can attack to get the pre-emptive strike in battle.  This time, there are coins and baseballs to collect...for some reason.  The symbol attacks have been tweaked yet again, meaning returning players have to learn the timing and distance to actual pull them off instead of getting yourself thrown into an ambush (even if you are behind them...sigh).  Anyway, more movement options have been added, with ladders, rope lines and crawl spaces to traverse.  They work fairly well, except for the character's disposition to jump off a ledge if they are close to it, rather than letting you walk to the edge.  The crawl spaces seem more for fan service than any other reason, though.

Battles look very similar to previous entries, but have some big changes.  When a character gets her turn, there is an action gauge that fills up with each action.  Any movement takes a chunk, but you can move as much as you want for the same cost, until you take another action.  Each attack raises the gauge.  There is also a charge attack that sacrifices the rest of the meter for a powerful attack, and the more the meter is filled, the longer it takes for your next turn.  It's not a terribly unique system, but it does work well, and adds some strategy to fights.

SP, used for special attacks and transformations, has to be built up by attacking enemies.  This is a double-edged sword.  On one hand, as long as you are using characters, they can fuel their abilities.  On the other, it doesn't pay to swap characters around a lot, since you will have to slowly build up the SP again.  I ended up just saving the SP to transform during boss fights, with the occasional AoE attack to clean up a normal battle quickly.  Other than that, it just sat there, as normal combos and charge attacks seemed to do the job just fine.

Landing attacks in battle will fill up a Fever meter.  Once it is filled, a special star gem appears on the screen.  If you jump into it, the battle enters Feter Time.  This allows your party to keep taking turns until it runs out, effectively locking the enemy out of doing anything.  This is very important to abuse on bosses, since they are overpowered damage sponges.  Also in Fever Time, your characters can sacrifice a chunk of the meter to use their EXE Drive for a lot of damage.  Fever Time is definitely a nice mechanic, and worth learning to make the bosses less of a pain.

For better or worse, the game is pretty much entirely mission based.  You take a mission, complete it, then turn it in.  Some missions involve dungeons or boss fights, and some are just dialogue.  They do a good job of moving the plot forward.  However, they are timed.  There is a number next to each mission, and every time you do one, the counter goes down by one.  If the counter on a mission runs out, it is destroyed by the Time Eater, which in turn powers it up.  It's actually a well-thought out mechanic, even if I'm not usually fond of time constraints in video games.  While you cannot complete every mission available in time, there is a built-in mechanic to recycle them for you when you run out.  If you have seen Groundhog Day, then you should understand the basic premise: keep trying until you can win.  You still need to make choices about which missions you should complete and which to leave, so there is strategy involved.  Plus, you will want to find time to do the missions for new classes and skill slots.

I was able to get to the final boss of the true ending route in about 21 hours.  I didn't get a chance to complete every mission, and I did have to grind for almost another two hours just to be able to beat the boss.  There is thankfully a very good new game +, which allows you to keep pretty much everything, except access to the characters.  They will retain all their levels and skills, you will just have to re-equip them.  There are a few endings to get, too.  The game didn't feel short, but was short enough that I could see myself going through it again, at least to do all the quests.

Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls is a fun RPG.  I really liked playing through the whole game, save for the grinding to beat most bosses.  The mission structure is fairly non-linear and forgiving.  I actually really liked using some of the new characters, and I'm sad they likely won't be in another game.  Regardless, Neptunia fans and RPG players should check the game out, as prior knowledge of Neptunia and her friends is not required at all to enjoy the story and humorous dialogue.

The Good:
Fun RPG with a fresh take on the Neptunia universe.  Mission structure gives a very fluid feel to the game.

The Bad:
Bosses require grinding to beat most times, even with abusing the Fever mechanic.

The SaHD:
Massive HP bosses that regen health can die in a fire.

(Review code for Superdimension Neptune was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (Xbox One) Review

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is definitely not a game that shies away from its inspirations.  Its isometric view, sword combat and sea travel is clearly influenced from the old Legend of Zeldas and the divisive Wind Waker.  Art-wise, the game reminds me of Fable.  Even so, the game has its own identity, and like Shovel Knight, is much more 'inspired by' than a copy of its influences.

Oceanhorn's combat is pretty simplistic.  You get an attack string, and you can block attacks with your shield.  You'll want to get in the habit of doing so, since your health isn't high in the beginning, and it is easy to get hit.  It's easy to get hit since the hitbox is very generous.  This is both good and bad, since it works for both you and the enemies, making it easier to hit enemies than you would think, but also to get hit when you think you are at a safe distance.  Death doesn't carry a very big penalty though.  You are sent back to the last checkpoint (or room start) with a very minor experience cost (I only ever saw me lose 1 point each time).

Blocking can only save you for so long, though.  Whenever you block an enemy's attack, you will lose some stamina, represented by the green bar that appears above your character.  It will refill on its own, but it fills slower if it was fully drained.  That's pretty standard for stamina meters.  Your character also has a dash that takes stamina, but it doesn't seem very useful and drains the stamina really quickly.  I found its best use to get through traps.  The third use for stamina is when you swim.  It still drains really fast, and if you run out while swimming, you drown and die.  I guess that's one way to not need invisible walls to stop players from going out as far as they can.  It wasn't really a problem until a later island that involved swimming, where the short duration of your swim became a full-blown irritation.

True to its influences, you will gain several items and magic spells to help you on your journey.  There is the requisite bow and arrow to hit distant targets and switches, bombs to blow up decayed walls, and even special boots to leap over small gaps.  Each one is used several times during the game, and of course in the boss fights.  The spells are similar.  They can be used in combat, and sometimes they are the only way to damage enemies, but they are also used for puzzles.  There are ice blocks you can melt to make passageways, and switches to hit with your earth spell.  It might not be the most unique, but it definitely works for the game type, and isn't overdone.

After the first short bit of the game, you get a boat to travel to different islands.  You basically select them from a map instead of actively piloting there.  Once you reach adventure level 3, you get a gun that can be used only when on the boat.  There are crates and enemies to shoot, for some marginal increases to money and experience.  However, the real use for it is that it gives you something to do while sailing around, since otherwise it's not too interesting.  As you progress through the game, more islands will open up, even if you can't do anything there yet.  This does fit in with the exploration theme, since you will have to island hop a lot while going through the game.

That's one of the things I like in Oceanhorn: the exploration.  The game does not hold your hand after a brief tutorial at the beginning, and you are left to figure out the rest of the puzzles on your own.  There are vague hints, but it's more "here's some information, get to it" instead of directing your every move through the game.  I was surprised I didn't get stuck more than twice.  You will also jump around the islands a lot, since they tend to open before you have the item(s) necessary to fully explore them.  There's also a lot of backtracking in the game, but the areas aren't too large, so it isn't as big of a problem as it could have been.  Even so, it's about a 10 hour journey from start to finish, and even more if you intend to poke in every nook and cranny to find all of the collectibles and secrets the islands have in store.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a really fun game.  It reminds me of my favorite Zelda titles (the top-down ones), but is still unique enough to not be a copy.  It was really easy to just keep playing the game, as each new place made me wonder what I would uncover, and each new item had me wanting to go back and use it to find new secrets.  Legend of Zelda fans should definitely check out Oceanhorn, and I would also encourage old-school action/adventure fans play the game as well.  It's worth it!

The Good:
Lots of exploring new islands to keep the game fresh.  Really easy to just keep playing.

The Bad:
No in-game help if you are stuck, the amount of backtracking will be off-putting to some.

The SaHD:
Is it a requirement for all water temples to be irritating?

(Review code for Oceanhorn was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors (PS Vita) Review

Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors has come to western shores, and I am happy to see it happen.  The first game was fun and unfortunately mired in some misplaced fan backlash, so I wasn't sure we would even see the sequel come here.

The basic plot of the game is similar to last time.  You play as an instructor banding together a group of girls as they fight their way through hell to be reborn and cleansed of their sins.  This time, the girls died before committing their crimes, so they are, in effect, in purgatory.  They must still face their possible futures, and learn from their mistakes to grow as a person before they can be cleansed.  While it is a similar plot to the previous game, there are definitely enough differences that it doesn't feel like a retread.  Similarly, there are some similarities in the dungeons, but they do feel very different.

Combat is largely the same as it was in the previous game.  Since you don't directly control the party members, they will each have a suggestion of what to do in a turn, and you pick one of the four suggestions.  This time the attacks and characters are animated, which to me, makes it look a better.  The system works for the game, but isn't ideal.  Many times a certain skill the girls have would be the best, but you have to hope they suggest it first.  Thankfully, the game is smart enough to give you the "defend" skill when the enemy is charging up a powerful attack, or "heal" when someone is low on HP, assuming you have the skills and MP for it.  Other than that, most times you can't use the best power for the occasion, since it is up to a random chance that it shows up.  The more skills you learn, the harder it can be to get the one you want.  At least usually feels balanced enough, since you only really get one action per turn, not per girl per turn.

So what else does the instructor (you) do in battle?  Well, you can use one item and/or switch out one of the girls per turn.  Switching them out is very useful if one is out of HP.  Unfortunately, the item use is still a pain, since many times you will need to use more than one, and have to make the call on which would be more beneficial.  Both of those will cause new actions to be suggested, so there is some strategy to it as well.  A new system added to the game is the 'coach' command.  This will shout encouragement to the girls,  Their damage will raise or lower depending on which coaching option you choose.  I didn't often use this until the second half of the game, and even then it wasn't automatic for me to remember and use it.  The effect is has on the girls is substantial enough that you should take advantage of the system, especially on boss fights.

So how do the girls acquire their battle skills?  Well, it is by, uh, punishing motivating them in very suggestive ways.  Similar to the previous game, you will pick a girl and a method, then rub and poke the screen in various ways them out.  Unlike last time, there is no more pink fog!  Some motivations will have another girl with your chosen one.  When you "motivate" them enough to level up, you can now choose one of two skills, either relating to "S" or "M".  Yes, the S&M that you are thinking of.  Any time you are at a camp, these can be switched, so you can try them out and pick the ones you like best, or whichever will serve you better in the current dungeon.  I do like this bit of customization, but there are a few skills where I would want both of them (or even neither).  Some skills are repeated among the girls, so it is possible to spread them out or even double up.  This also makes it easier to swap around which girls you use in battle.

It's usually not very hard to make your way through the various floors and dungeons of the game, but the bosses seem tougher this time around.  Even the first boss required me to grind a couple of levels before I could topple it.  Unfortunately, this tend continued through the rest of the game.  Every time I reached a boss, I had to stop and grind another level or two before beating them.  It didn't seem like I was missing some element or trick, but that I just had to be able to take less damage and dish more out, which you can only really get by gaining levels.

Even more unfortunately, this does add up.  The story takes about 20 hours to reach the conclusion, and at least a third of that was grinding.  It's a shame, because Criminal Girls 2 is fun, if sometimes unreliable, and the grinding really puts a damper on it.  Fans of the first game and those that dismissed the previous game's censorship should definitely check it out.  I'd also recommend it to people who likes quirky and unique RPGs.

The Good:
Improves upon the first game in nearly all areas.  No more pink fog!

The Bad:
Battles can take longer than they need if the girls don't suggest decent attacks.  Needing to grind to beat the bosses kills your momentum.

The SaHD:
The slime throwing motivation was oddly fun.

(Review code for Criminal Girls 2 was provided by the publisher)