I’m 34 years old, which sadly means I have to do my taxes. Happily, it also means that I can admit to being somewhat kinky without it being (too) weird. After playing Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birt1 and liking it, I was all kinds of excited by the upcoming release of Criminal Girls: Invite Only, as it promised deep JRPG gaming with a nod to the kinky inner Marcos. It all seemed great, even after the announcement of some censorship having taken place for the Western release. And while it is a good game, it isn’t without its faults.
You play as the guardian of girls who have died and gone to hell because they were eventually going to become sinners. As I’m not a big fan of preemptive justice trials in real life, I was glad to find that I was part of a reform program that would allow the girls to escape their sentences in hell and return to the world of the living, providing they succeeded at overcoming some trials set out for them. While the story itself does not evolve much during gameplay, the character development is certainly there and you grow fond of the girls. I was specially fond of Alice, who is a sort of book-reading, medium-weirdo.
The girls are stubborn, however, and this is where the game gets kinky: you need to “motivate” them for them to “obey you” (basically develop moves that are used in battle). The motivational method? A mixture of lashing, electric shocks and other BDSM delicacies. Sounds too good to be true? It is: the censorship with the “pink mist” covering the girls is pretty bad (specially at first), as is the absence of the original audio in these sections. After a while, you simply become impervious to their graphical poses, and the whole thing with the lashing and such becomes just another part of the game, the novelty of it all having evaporated quite quickly. More on this later.
Leaving that aside, however, the story is a bit on the weak side for a Japanese RPG, but character development is surprisingly deep and fun.
Ah, the meat of a JPRG: the gameplay. Fun grinding (usually in a non sexual way), complex battle and crafting system, and more. Well, that’s sadly not the case with CG:IO. The gameplay becomes monotonous quite quickly, and considering there’s a lot of grinding needed for the later bosses, this becomes a problem.
In the usual RPG way, you traverse (top down) a variety of dungeons, having random encounters which trigger turn-based combat. The regular attacks soon become obsolete, however, and you become aware that the Magic Attacks (which use MP, or Magic Points), is the only way to go forward. Magic Attacks are unlocked through the aforementioned “motivational” minigames, which as I said, stale rather quickly themselves.
There is no crafting system at all, and all that can be unlocked is unlocked using the “motivation” system, and a few boring and repetitive sidequests doing the girls favors (not that kind… sadly).
It feels like the game could have been a great 7 to 8 hour experience, but it was extended to around 20 to 25 hours for the sake of “value for money”, and this made the rather precarious mechanics tedious to deal with, as the leveling up system is not complicated and not particularly rewarding, either.
It would not be too bad as a “I’ll level up while I watch some TV” experience, but that wasn’t what I wanted from the game.
Funnily enough, I think the game has quite a lot of replay value, specially for trophy hunters, as there are some trophies that are difficult to achieve. There are also multiple endings, so I’m sure if you have more than one favorite girl, you’ll come back to see the ending that plays into that particular fantasy.
The problem with this, however, is that the gameplay doesn’t help much, and when the gameplay is a bit on the tedious side, it’s hard to trophy-hunt.
For the patient trophy hunter and daddy-o’ the girls, however, there’s plenty within the game to come back for, and it will keep you busy for a long time if you want to 100% everything and see all the endings.
How fun will that be, is another matter (and much more subjective).
I actually loved this aspect of the game, specially the voice acting. You’re greeted with Japanese voice acting for most actions and the performances are absolutely superb. The nuances of each character are clearly establish, and the dialogue really helps in establishing a connection with the girls.
The sound effects are nothing out of this world, however, and the music can be a bit on the repetitive side. On a funny side note, the music that plays while you motivate the girls bears a striking resemblance to the Tetris theme. You win there, Nippon Ichi, if only by the teeth of nostalgia.
The graphics in general are quite nice to look at, with the combat and motivation scenes being particularly beautiful to behold. Overworld and sprites, however, remind you that there’s only so much you can do with PSP assets (let’s not forget that this game was originally a japanese PSP release).
All in all, the game is a very pleasant experience visually and sonically. I do wish that the censorship was not as bad, however, as the moans and dialogue in the motivation scenes is specially missed.
At the end of the day, however, Criminal Girls: Invite Only is an enjoyable game, made a bit tedious by having to grind using a not particularly interesting battling and leveling up system in order to beat bosses. What could have been a fantastic 7 hour experience gets spoiled by stretching the gameplay to the maximum, while the storytelling and visual and aural appeal of the game keep the whole thing together a lot of the time.
I expected more, but maybe that’s my own fault.
At a glance:
- Title: Criminal Girls: Invite Only
- Developer: Nippon Icchi Software
- Publisher: NIS America
- Format: PSN Download / Physical
- Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Required: 1.51GB
- PlayStation TV Compatible: No