Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a turn-based RPG developed by Nippon Ichi Software and published/localized by NIS America Inc., and it’s potentially one of the most interesting cases of localization in regards to a game coming from the Vita to the PC. It revolves around girls who have been placed in prison for various wrongdoings and must be punished appropriately by the player, both to rehabilitate them as well as to motivate them to fight harder in combat.
Criminal Girls: Invite Only is available for purchase on Steam for $29.99
The story is pretty simple, bring these seven troubled girls to the top of the tower and in the process, they’ll have made up for having “criminal DNA” and resurrected shortly after in the real world. Getting them to that point takes some time, however, as the colorful cast has to fight against various creatures of hell that have broken loose within the tower, and none of them particularly feel like fighting. It’s quirky but ultimately fairly simple, and plays into the structure of the game, finding girls and punishing them as a motivator to fight for their freedom. Some of the dialogue is solid, but there are several misses sprinkled in there as well, along with some characters that are grating for the first half hour or so, but the story was clearly never going to be the selling point of a game like this beyond the initial premise.
In terms of visual presentation, Criminal Girls is actually somewhat reminiscent of something like Shantae in that the world itself is pixel art, as well as the sprites for walking around and enemies in the environment. However for cutscenes and menus, the characters get much more detailed, proper CG renditions of the cast, as well as slightly altered renders for the characters while they’re in the combat and menu screens themselves. While the detail on the characters is well done and looks nice, it’s a shame that the world itself isn’t quite as detailed. The pixelwork for many of the floors and pieces of scenery themselves are higher quality than what one would normally expect from a game using pixel art, however the constant repeating of said art, as well as the fact that it doesn’t live up to the quality of other titles using similar isometric art styles does reduce the experience a bit. Areas are pretty visually consistent, so extra marks for that at the very least, and it's much preferable to the pretend 8-bit art style that so many indie games tend to latch onto.
The combat is fairly simplistic, but with a twist compared to most in that the characters in one’s party decide what move they want to do, whether that be to attack by themselves or with another girl, as well as be able to use different moves at their discretion, with items taking up a full turn to use. It’s a very easy system to get a grasp of, but it’s also very limited and drags on excessively early in the game, with most enemies being beaten by mashing attack until they drop and popping a potion when necessary. While some enemies early on can get close to destroying the party, it never gets too bad, as popping potions easily outpaces the creature’s damage. Ultimately, it’s simple, and that may be a plus or minus for each individual, but it’s also unique and made us curious to see where they’d go with the system for a while.
From the review so far, one could be forgiven for thinking the game is just another quirky anime indie game, but there’s one last system that’s fairly confusing. The punishment for the girls to try to motivate them to fight is a neat looking CG where one has to whip away negative temptations that float around the character’s body. It’s a neat bit of fanservice that the game will naturally rely upon as there’s very little else to the game, and it works well with the legitimately unique setting. However, it’s a very confusing situation, as the anime fanservice bits are clearly the big draw of the game, as well as the various bits of dialogue sprinkled throughout the game in relation to it, and yet the localization team decided to neuter the game’s release on both Vita and PC. Changing much of the game’s dialogue to change all references of “punishing” to “motivating,” altering the character CGs to show less skin, and adding these incredibly odd fog effects to the scenes just comes off as incredibly misguided.
The game was clearly built around having some unique characters and fun fanservice to sprinkle in between decent dialogue with the combat as a motivator to put in the time to punish your party. With that being the case, trying to remove or neuter those elements in localization can only serve to push away those who were interested in playing the game, and given that the premise still revolves around whipping scantily clad girls, we find it difficult to see what the goal was here. Thankfully, modders set themselves to the task of altering the game to be the genuine release that should have occurred in the first place.
Our review was done with the fan patch that removed fog, and at the time of writing, there is now a fan patch that completely restores the cut and altered content, allowing any buyers to experience the game as the artists intended, which can only be a good thing, as it gives individual players the choice as to whether they get to play the game as it was, or as the Japanese release was done.
All in all, it’s a simple turn-based JRPG with a unique setting and silly mechanic for leveling up the cast, with some fairly generic presentation in terms of sound and the art for the overworld, with the quality coming in from the unique character interactions, setting and punishment scenes. Fans of whipping cute girls will find it very enjoyable, while some of the more hardcore JRPG fans might find the combat system interesting enough to give it a run through, but for anyone else, it’s hard to recommend. There’s not much there for people who aren’t JRPG fans already in terms of being able to bring in new players, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
|+ Unique setting||– Dull combat system|
|+ Some fun dialogue sprinkled throughout the game||– Art style is just passable|
|+ Whipping characters into shape, literally||– Western release is censored, can fix with a mod|