Made by Imageepoch the company behind, Fate/Extra, Black Rock Shooter: The Game, and Time and Eternity, Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a Vita port of their 2010 PSP title. This game is probably most famous for its “discipline” mini-games, which thankfully were not cut from the western version.
You are hired as a guard for a set of delinquent girls. These girls will be condemned to hell for all eternity, if they don’t change their ways. So it is your goal to guide them through four trials until they overcome their sins, or at least spank them until they start listening.
As the story progresses you will slowly uncover why each of the girls ended up here. From time to time you might even stumble upon an item which belongs to one of the girls, giving you a bit more insight into their life. All the girls grow as characters and slowly overcome their sins, which makes the whole tale a lot more engaging. The atmosphere is another great part of Criminal Girls as it is constantly oozing with dark undertones.
The most unique element of the game is the battle system. Unlike in traditional RPGs where you can give your party members orders, here each of the girls will tell you what she wants to do. Each turn you can only select one of your party members, meaning you will have to change your battle plan on the fly depending on the available options. Despite this, the girls still know when to suggest what action. If someone is injured your healer will suggest a healing spell, while another girl will suggest defending when the boss is getting ready to attack. The system generally works well and you feel as if the girls are really battling an opponent instead of being used as pawns. During a turn you can also use a single item and swap one character with a reserve if you want. This does not use up your turn so it adds a nice dose of flexibility in battles.
The game plays like a typical dungeon crawler. You explore floor by floor of a dungeon searching for the stairs to the next level. Each section of the game features a different system. For example in one you must find switches, in another your team splits up, while near the end you will need to use teleport pads to make your way around. Dungeons have random battles but they tend to be fairly well paced, so they never become frustrating.
The game has no equipment to speak of. All items are consumable, so if you want to power up your girls you will either have to grind or unlock new abilities by “motivating” them.
You must “motivate” the girls to purge them of their “temptation”… or simply known as smacking a girl’s bum until she gains a new skill. These segments have you spanking, shocking and oiling them, using “motivation” as an excuse. The screen starts out filled with a pink fog, which slowly disappears as you discipline them. These mini games have you using both the touchscreen and rear touchpad to tap or drag points on the screen.
Despite making it to the west this section hasn’t gone unscathed. Unlike in the Japanese version, some of the pink fog is permanent here. Another element that was cut are the voices in these sections. In the original they would have cried and moaned, but here they just stare at you creepily, waiting for you to finish spanking the screen.
However, the novelty of spanking these girls wares off long before the credits come rolling in. Motivating girls is the only way of teaching them new skills so you will be doing these mini games over and over again for each of the girls. You’ll have to do each of the mini games around 7 times for every single girl in order to unlock all of the skills.
For the 25 hours that it took me to beat Criminal Girls almost half of that time was spent backtracking and grinding in order to be strong enough to progress a bit further. And you will need to grind, since bosses are usually extremely punishing even if you managed to plough through all standard enemies. After some time you will just run around the save point in order to be able to recover after each battle, removing any sense of tension the battles may have had.
The original was released on the PSP and it definitely shows. Whereas games like Danganronpa looked even better once they were brought to the Vita, Criminal Girls feels dated. Battles and the “discipline” mini-games look great, but the dungeons themselves are drawn in a much lower resolution. There is also no English dubs, but the game does well with its Japanese voices.
Criminal Girls Invite Only has some innovative ideas, held back by some underbaked systems. But if you can stomach the repetitive nature of the game, you may find an interesting plot with some very unique gameplay elements which hopefully will make a return in a sequel.