The first Criminal Girls game, released in the U.S. for the PS Vita under the title Criminal Girls: Invite Only, featured the kind of ecchi (playfully sexual) fun that usually stays in Japan. Even with a touch of controversial censoring, the title offered a good combat system and lighthearted story, with a diverse cast of characters that you actually began rooting for.
Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors boasts added combat complexity and better still-frame animation, along with a (very slightly) more intense story that builds on what came before it; all of these additions combine into a package sure not to disappoint fans, and also sure to make the uninitiated blush. Don’t play this one on the bus, unless you want that creepy guy behind you to ogle over your shoulder.
The concept of the Criminal Girls series is that you, a naive and nice boy, unwittingly take a job in a purgatory-like realm of Hell, where dead young women are tasked to make their way to the top of a dangerous tower for a chance at redemption and a ticket back to the land of the living. Your role is to watch over and guide these girls as they fight demons and “convicts,” the latter of which consist of monstrously twisted damned souls who failed in their attempt at salvation.
While the first game set up the game world, Criminal Girls 2 opens at a time when you are an established Program Instructor who is struck with amnesia when the purgatory world is battered by an unknown force. You then must collect your gaggle of new delinquents, all as clueless as you, and bumble your way through a system breaking down around you.
To make matters worse? Someone in your group may be a convict in disguise, and these aren’t the type of girls to trust or be trusted easily.
Movement through the stages of the tower (and also through Hell itself) is done via a very traditional JRPG top-down view, wherein you can move up/down/right/left, and find doorways to new areas and stairways to upper or lower levels. You also have a dash ability to travel faster, and there are both hidden and visible chests and collectibles to find that provide items or additional story content. The levels are varied, each having a theme such as fire, ice, etc. CG2 adds some world-building touches to its predecessor’s formula, such as more moving details in the environment, many of which are explained in-story, and add to the game’s unique vision of the underworld.
In addition to doors, switches, and chests, there are also Camps/Teleport sites throughout the levels. These pink bedchambers are used to rest your party (which costs nothing, and recovers all MP and HP,) save your progress, and also to “Motivate” your girls; to see more on that, you can skip down the LEVELING UP AND SKILLS section below.
Combat initiation is also done in a fairly traditional way; most combat occurs via random encounters while moving, and the chances of encountering an enemy are increased if you are dashing (which is useful when trying to grind for experience and skill points).
Where combat gets interesting is in the battle itself, which is turn-based. While you have seven girls to develop in Criminal Girls 2, you can only fight with four girls at a time. The screen setup places one party member in each corner of the screen, and displays both their HP (health) and MP (magic) under them. The center of the screen shows your enemy or enemies, along with their HP, and all figures are represented by 2D illustrations with some animations.
At the beginning of each round of combat, you are presented with one attack option from each of your four fighters. Common ones may be Attack x1 (meaning a single melee attack from that character), or Attack x2 or more (meaning the chosen character and other highlighted characters will each execute an attack). There are also skills that the girls will learn, and those occasionally crop up as well. These consume MP points and tend to either be more powerful, have special effects, or be of a certain element that might be more effective against enemies of the opposing element. The order of attacks is determined by a hidden speed statistic, and you’ll learn through experience which characters tend to bat last.
All of the above aspects were also part of Criminal Girls: Invite Only, but CG2 adds more complications to the mix that successfully make combat much more strategic.
You can now switch one character out for another once during each round, and this is often useful to make sure you get a good balance of healers and heavy-hitters most likely to be effective in a given situation. When you switch a character out, each of the characters’ attack options is also switched; this makes swapping even KO’d characters in and out useful, especially if you’re hoping to bring up a certain magic attack.
Items can also be used once per round, and do not take away your attack action. There are generally healing items that restore HP, MP, or revive a fallen fighter, though others provide boosts to stats (some even give permanent boosts.) There’s also the option to flee during battle, but I suggest avoiding it, as you’ll want to take every opportunity to collect CP (skill points).
There is also the option to provide “Coaching” during battle (by either Scolding, Praising, Sympathizing, or Worrying the characters), which will last several rounds and boosts or nerfs characters’ attacks depending on their inclination towards “S” or “M”; more on this is below in TOUCHPAD INTEGRATION section.
Leveling up and Skills
Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors does grant and track experience for fought battles, and leveling up boosts all of a character’s stats. It will not, however, grant new skills. This is done by using CP points, (which are also gained by combat or by looting certain chests,) to purchase the opportunity to “Motivate” your wayward girls towards learning new attacks and powers.
Purchasing a Motivation session requires that you select the girl you wish to motivate, and then select the method of instruction. New methods are found in the form of items, generally gained at the end of each level. Some are traditional S&M tools, like a switch or electric prod, while others are decidedly more Japanese (giant soapy scrub-brushing, anyone?) These mini-games are timed and require the use of the front and back touchpads to complete successfully. You’re awarded points towards a new skill depending on how well-timed your mini-game feats were, and it usually takes 2-3 motivation sessions to attain a new skill.
When you gain a new skill, you actually get a choice between an “S” skill and an “M” skill; sometimes they are the same, but usually they are attack-related for S and defense-related for M. You can always reset those skills and select the alternate option (when at camp,) and the option you select will pull the character’s inclination more towards S or M (shown on a line chart in the skill select screen).
What a character’s inclination is determined how they’ll react to coaching; for instance, you may see that “Scolding” helps out a heavily M leaning character, yet hinders an S leaning character (this isn’t necessarily accurate of scolding, and is only an example.) Luckily, you can see how each character will react to the different coaching options before you select one.
graphics and sound
The graphics are quite crisp and beautifully illustrated (if you’re into the anime style–if you’re not, what the heck are you doing here?) The illustrations, both in combat and (more dramatically) in the Motivation mini-games, utilize what NIS calls the “Live 2D” effect. This refers to the selective manipulation of static illustrations in an effort to make them appear alive, and it is expertly done here. You won’t see any animation frame edges cropping up, or notice any artifacts degrading the artwork.
One tweak that may disappoint some is the fact that each Motivation method now only has a single image/scene, whereas the prior game provided different ones for each new skill level. What CG2 offers instead is a widening area of “interactivity” within the scene; between that and the improved artwork (personal tastes may vary on that,) I found myself not bothered by this limitation.
The movement and battle characters are done in a chibi (cutely deformed) style, and extra attention was given to their movements in CG2 as compared to the series’ previous entry.
Bottom line? Yes, the artworks are provocative, and yes, the game is self-aware enough to treat it with some humor (while still embracing its fan-service content full-bore).
The sound effects are appropriately unobtrusive, and the Japanese-only voice work is well done and appreciated. Certain small sections of the latter, such as the girls’ comments after a motivation session, are left untranslated, as there isn’t a subtitle system in place (the story and dialogue are done in the same portrait-style as Disgaea and other NIS JRPG’s.)
The first western Criminal Girls release was met by purists with a lot of criticism, as censors at NIS added additional fogging effects over the more provocative areas of the girl’s anatomies during motivation scenes, and altered words such as “Punishment” into the less threatening “Motivation.”
Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors was a bit more conscious of that criticism, and addressed censoring early through their company blog prior to the games’ NA and Europe release. They explained a need to censor in advance of the game’s submission to the rating commission for cost reasons, and put a high level of work into actually redrawing controversial images, rather than censoring parts of the originals. They worked with the game’s original artist to do this, and most changes resulted only in the removal of some “accouterments” that would indicate a girl’s unwillingness to participate in the naughty proceedings.
I’m against censorship more than most, yet I found a lot of the redrawn work preferable to the original works; lighting is altered, clothing is changed for the sexier, and yet it is still unmistakably BDSM. So complain away, but I think most will be pleasantly surprised (check out an example below.)
One last thing to mention on this front, however, is the ever-present loli content that so often pervades Japanese anime-styled gaming. There is at least one character in CG2 that looks and acts like a child, and it is unnerving for a Western Audience to “motivate” that character in the way the game encourages. Still, there isn’t any actual sex in the game, and I was grateful for the more consensual tones it took, in contrast to its predecessor.
Overall, I found Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors to be an improvement of the first in nearly all ways, and a good turn-based JRPG that boasts (the rare) unique battle system. If you prefer some naughty content, like yourself some strategic planning, and find the idea of slogging through an emotional plotline tantamount to torture, then I suggest you give Criminal Girls 2 a spin (and if you beat it and want more, the first is likely to please you almost as much.)
|+ Pretty art of pretty ladies||– Loli is icky|
|+ Full use of Vita controls||– Your family might be ashamed of you|
|+ Unique and engaging turn-based combat|
|+ Lighthearted story with surprisingly good writing|