Criminal Girls: Invite Only takes place in the wonderful land of Hell. You, the voiceless protagonist, have been hired on as Warden of a group of girls who, for one reason or another, find themselves imprisoned in the afterlife.
As a result, they each must go through a “Redemption Program” to learn the error of their ways, escape eternal damnation, and earn their way towards rejoining the land of the living. As you might expect, the journey won’t be an easy one.
At the start of the game, there are four different girls you are introduced to, with the rest showing up later on in the story. Each girl has their own predetermined stats that helps to establish their role in the makeup of your party. One has high attack power, one has high defense stats, and so on.
Criminal Girls introduces some interesting, if not downright unusual mechanics. Right off the bat, the only way you’ll be able to convince the party to fight on your behalf – since they don’t like you very much – is to “motivate” them through discipline until they learn how to cooperate. If you’re in any way familiar with Criminal Girls, I’m sure you’ve seen this feature. There’s no way around it – you are spanking and shocking girls in order to increase their power.
Over the course of the game, you’ll discover a variety of different tools you can use when you’re “punishing” the girls, otherwise known as “Motivation Time”. Motivation Time consists of different interactive minigames, from using a whip to slap away different temptations to using a shock stick and moving a slider in a specific direction. Every boost provides different benefits like increased attack power and new skills. It’s easily the most important gameplay feature, and the place you’ll be spending most of your time.
Every attempt requires an increasing amount of CM, the game’s currency. Aside from leveling up normally by earning experience in battle, CM is also obtained. After you’ve unlocked a set amount of skills, each girl provides an Order for you to complete. These are side quests that involve duties like finding a special item or defeating a specific enemy indicated on the mini-map. Once completed, their affinity towards you will go up which modifies the effectiveness of their skills. This also does a good job contributing towards the character development for the girls outside of the main story.
Once you’re in combat, everything comes down to the luck of the draw. You won’t be able to specifically decide what action to take. Instead, each girl presents you with four random actions to take from their respective pool of abilities (with accompanying dialog). This includes attacking the enemy normally, teaming up with a party member for a combo, or unleashing a special skill.
The game does employ some contextual influence. For example, if an enemy is about to unleash a very powerful move, you’ll always be able to use the Guard skill to protect the entire party. If more than one character is low on health, the Heal All skill will display. There tends to be at least one action that makes sense, including ones that always trigger when a certain number of enemies are on screen.
Otherwise, you’re left to your own devices. While it’s certainly unique and works fairly well, this can prove rather frustrating especially during the harder boss encounters when you can’t employ a comprehensive strategy.
You are only able to use a single item or switch a party member per round, though this does not sacrifice a turn. It takes some getting used to, but considering the number of skills you can unlock, the game isn’t too challenging. While there is a difficulty curve, it starts to ease off as you recruit more girls into your party. I will say the combat feels downright sluggish. Once an action is taken, a few seconds will pass before your character executes the move. It’s a minor complaint, but this does add up when you’re simply trying to grind for levels.
Criminal Girls takes insufficient advantage of the PC platform. The configuration options are few in number; you’re able to switch between pillarbox or stretch scaling, turn V-sync on and off, change the resolution, and… that’s about it. Granted, there’s not a whole lot the developers could have done to improve the original game, but a it’s limited port that removes the touchscreen functionality but keeps a near-identical interface.
Taken from a different perspective, you should be able to run this game perfectly well on a very low-end PC. I didn’t experience any performance issues other than a few game crashes.
I will mention the game does not currently support the DualShock 4 controller layout. It instead defaulted to an Xbox control scheme with odd-colored button prompts. Here’s to hoping NIS America considers patching in the newly-added DS4 support on Steam.
I tend to agree it would have been nice if the publisher offered an unrated version of the game for PC for those that want it, but I have no idea what sort of limitations they had in their efforts. Not to trivialize their hard work, but this is little more than a straight port of the Vita release.
Even with all of that being the case, I still had a good time with Criminal Girls: Invite Only. The dungeon crawler gameplay is entertaining, and I found the vibrant and emotive chibi sprites appealing. Both the Japanese and English dubs are solid, which helps when the game is fully voiced. Yes, the anime tropes are severe and it has a heaping helping of fanservice and BDSM activity on top. Those bothered by that type of content will want to stay away. If you’re not concerned with that, you’ll find plenty to appreciate here.