Sunday, February 15, 2015
Criminal Girls: Invite Only (PS Vita) Review
Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a dungeon crawling RPG where you play as a teacher in Hell that must reform seven sinners so that they may be reborn. Reforming requires you to lead them through four trials. In order to make them stronger, you must "motivate" them. Did I mention the seven sinners are all female?
It's hard to look at or talk about Criminal Girls without seeing or mentioning the fan service. The premise of the game is to reform the girls by "motivating" them with a whip, shock stick and even mystery liquid. Each of these motivations translates into a mini-game where you use the touch screen to either rub or move something (that sounds worse than it is). As you do so, the pink fog covering the girls will partially disappear, allowing you to see them in some raunchy poses. The game is very suggestive, which will, of course, turn some people off of trying it. This is the slightly censored version, which is sadly a point of contention for fans of Japanese games.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Each session costs a certain amount of points (which double as currency) to do, and successfully completing it will give some experience that the girls use to unlock new skills. As the level rises, the cost of each session goes up and the amount of clothing they wear goes down. This is the only way to get them their solo battle skills, so you can't avoid the raunchy fan service. It wasn't a big deal to me, as it's a portable game, so I won't get children running up and asking why the lady is sitting like that. At its heart it is just a game mechanic, and viewing it as such can alleviate some of the awkwardness you might feel. Also, you will only need to do it so many times, since there are only so many skills each girl learns.
As far as the RPG elements go, you walk around a dungeon floor and get into random encounters. Instead of choosing actions for your team members, they suggest an action, and you pick one to be carried out that turn. At first it was off-putting to only get one action a turn, but the game is balanced for that (for the most part). Unfortunately, you are at the whim of a random number generator if they will do a particular action, so fights can take longer or use more MP than they need to, simply because you can't choose exactly what they do. This problem only gets worse as you get farther in the game and unlock more skills for each of the girls. Thankfully, the game knows when you need to block or heal, so having the appropriate person out at the right time will have that choice. There's also not much in the way of animation in battles, but at least the artwork looks nice.
Each of the girls has different skills from each other, and several of them are like classes in other RPGs. You have the defender, the healer, a mage or two, a thief and some fighters. Experience is shared equally among all members whether or not they participate in battle. You can switch one person per turn, so it's easy to shift in who would help best in each situation. There are even some team up skills that each girl learns that can lead to some big damage, or a string of buffs. Using an item won't use up your action for the turn, but you can only do it once each turn. I rarely had to buy an item, since you get a lot from enemies and treasure chests, but money isn't a problem if you do need to purchase some.
Each trial has its own themed dungeon and four floors to get through, culminating in a boss fight. While not the most interesting thing to look at, at least they aren't all linear. The layouts are pretty simple, too, consisting of rooms connected by narrow hallways. The simplicity made me think they were random dungeons, but they aren't. At least the themes are pretty different from each other. Most floors have a portal that allows you to recover HP and MP, save, motivate the girls and teleport to any other visited portal. It's very handy, especially when you need to jump around to a previous floor at various times throughout the game. I do wish there was some kind of dash or a run button for the maps, since it can be pretty boring to walk through them.
For most of the game, the difficulty is good. As you make your way through the game, your attacks become less effective and you start to rely on your mp-using skills to get through fights. Boss fights are suitably challenging, up until the final boss. Then the game turns on the cheap. You only get one action per turn, but the final boss gets two. They will likely paralyze a character every turn. They can hit your whole party with a bunch of status ailments, or even do an attack that hits several times on random targets. It's pretty unfair unless you grind up your level or blow through your good items. Needless to say, it's pretty annoying. It felt odd to me to not have any real problems going through the game, only to hit a big roadblock right at the end.
It took me over 30 hours to get through the main story. There is a good chunk of extra stuff to do afterwards, like recruiting the two new characters and gaining knighthood for the rest of the group. You'll only be able to get the ending for one of the girls, though, and there is sadly no new game +. If you want to see them all, or get all of the trophies, you will have to make separate saves near the end, or go through the game all over again. The game will remind you more than once that you should make a separate save at the point where it splits. Good thing it is right before the end of the game, too.
Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a competent and fun turn-based RPG. Granted, you will have to either enjoy or not be bothered by the fan service. There will come a point where you won't need it anymore, but you won't get far if you ignore it completely. The final boss is really annoying, but you will get your money's worth by completing the story, and more so if you do some of the optional stuff. The lack of new game + is unfortunate, but I still enjoyed the game and would recommend it to RPG fans that are fine with all the risque elements.