Cultural differences are one of the many reasons that certain games never cross the border from one country to another. With Criminal Girls Invite Only, a remake of the original Criminal Girls on the PSP, it is easy to understand why this is the case. While on the surface it appears to be a normal Japanese role playing game, there are certain elements within the adventure that cater to a limited audience overseas. Regardless of the games content however, this Japanese RPG feels more than just a stick in the mud of controversy.
After waking up in another world, you find yourself tasked with guiding a group of girls who have been judged as criminals. Your ultimate mission is to help them through a set of four dungeons so they can reborn, and begin their lives anew. Unfortunately, the girls are less than eager to go through with the task, so you must resort to using less than wholesome tactics to get them to do as you ask. Aside from the stubborn attitude of the convicts in your care, you must also defeat the other criminals that roam the dungeons devoid of their humanity.
Each of the dungeons is themed around a particular theme, ranging from a dark forest to a volcanic plain. The enemies and items in each area differ by location, which offers a refreshing change. Although the story flows quite well, you do not feel like you are in control of your own destiny. While the areas themselves are colourful and aesthetically pleasing, the game world is quite linear. It is possible to go back through the dungeons by using warp portals, but outside of travelling vertically, you do not see the outside of these restricted spaces for the whole of the narrative. Aside of the silent protagonist, the characters you encounter feel individual and offer a depth beyond their initial unhelpful exterior. For example, Alice may seem unable to move past her fear of being alone, but with a little encouragement, she becomes a stronger person and able to stand on her own two feet.
Outside of helping your charges, it is also your duty to help them battle the monsters that wander the dungeons. It is possible to use items at any point, but the battle system is slightly unusual in that you cannot choose an action for each member of your party to perform. You may only choose one girl to help you in each turn, but on occasion, another ally will assist you if there is a multiplication symbol next to the character in question. Each girl is given a sometimes random skill from the actions at her disposal, but on occasion, it can be context sensitive when faced with an enemy that uses multiple turn attacks, such as the Defend action against a large reptilian convict with sharp claws. While this does offer a challenge, it feels more like a step backward, rather than an innovation to be praised.
Motivation is not often a word you hear when you are talking about your party in video games. While it is usually a case of choosing an attack and letting your allies do the rest, in Criminal Girls, you will need to get a little more hands on before you can expect to be victorious in battle. A word of warning to anyone who is interested in the game, Criminal Girls Invite Only has given an 18 rating by the PEGI rating system. As such, it does contain explicit themes that will appeal to a limited audience, such as the Motivational tactics discussed above. These include using mini games to whip, lather and tickle your party. As you complete each task, each character will gain experience, and learn more powerful attacks in the process. While I am not a fan of the manner in which it is delivered, the fact they have opted to include a party that relies on you building a relationship with them first is an interesting concept.
Criminal Girls has a unique soundtrack that mixes the best parts of J-Rock with the usual mix of elevator music and fast paced animé style compositions. To the Imageepoch’s credit, each track feels like it sets the mood well, especially during the battle sequences that take place in dungeon. A major disappointment on this front was when I faced the boss enemies, because the music failed to strike the same chord than that of the tune that played against the weaker opponents.
Overall, Criminal Girls Invite Only is an interesting adventure. While some of the more controversial themes and limited exploration will not be to everyone’s taste, it is a solidly built challenging role playing game with deep characters and a story that will leave you guessing until the end. It is in this case that the game is recommended for any RPG fan, as long as they hold an open mind.