You may be used to obedient characters for your RPGs; forget about them! The Criminal Girls are all about defying your authority – simply for the sake of defying authority.
Before delving into what the game is all about, I’d like to note some information about the game that should be interesting. Invite Only is a Vita port of an original PSP game only released in Japan, titled simply Criminal Girls. The original developer for the PSP game is Imageepoch (the ones behind other PSP games like Fate/Extra and Black Rock Shooter), while the Japanese publisher is Nippon Ichi (parent company of NIS America, publisher for the Western Vita version).
With that out of the way, here is the premise behind the story; in Criminal Girls, you take control of the instructor in charge of a team of girls who need to go through several challenges to finally be reborn into the mortal world. Oh, and have I mentioned that you’re in Hell?
As you begin, you’re given a fair introduction to what’s going on and then you’re shot right into the middle of your first area for some dungeon-crawling RPG action. Although you may be the main character, you don’t take part in the action – instead, that’s in the capable hands of the girls you’re helping along. These girls in your care need to fight back, but they may not be in the mood to take orders or do anything movement-oriented. What do you do as their leader? Here, we get to a big point of contention regarding the game; you must motivate them!
For the girls to learn new attacks and battle commands, you need to go through a suggestive mini-game where you’ll be punishing/motivating them (depending on your perspective). You’ll spend the in-game currency to do so, and that’s the first thing you’ll do with your money – the second and last one being buying items from the shop. You’ll use the touch screen to tap or drag icons, among other actions, while the girl you’re motivating is in a risqué position. If that’s your thing, do mind that the girls are covered by a fog during these; if it’s not, you can be thankful that they end up not showing enough skin that it might throw you off.
After you’ve learned different commands through these mini-games, you go to battle. During the battle, your girls will give you one possible action each and you have to choose just one from the given list. That means if one character enables a magic attack and the other enables a physical attack, you’ll be able to choose only one of those actions for the respective turn.
Overview during the map is from above, while dungeons are pretty simple. You move through halls, find chests and unlock doors – with random battles cropping up here and there which are unavoidable. If you want to get on with the dungeon crawling without battling however, you’ll have to choose “escape” after the battle begins.
The game – unlike most JRPGs – doesn’t boast cities and NPCs. Instead, everything aside from battles and moving through dungeons will be dealt with inside the “Infirmary”. Here, you’ll find all the girls waiting for you – as well as being able to rest (restores HP and MP without any cost), motivate (the mini-game used for learning new commands), shop (buy and sell items) and/or save your progress.
You’ll develop bonds with the girls, by granting their wishes. They’ll ask for you to fight certain enemies or to fetch a particular item for them, and after you complete their requests, you’ll be granted bonuses for that character. They also serve another purpose for later in the game, so it’s interesting to try and complete all the requests from the girls.
There is post-game content in the form of new dungeons and additional characters, but once you hit the highest level, achieve all commands and find all treasure chests, you won’t have anything else to do which limits replayability.
The controls are pretty simple, be it during battles or during the dialogue. The circle button is used for opening the map and the cross button is used to confirm actions. During the dialogue, you can either advance with the cross button or skip it altogether by pressing start. If you’ve ever played an RPG before, I’m sure you’ll get along fine with Criminal Girls’ controls.
Going through battles, dungeons, and character dialogue I felt there was a good soundtrack behind it all, however that’s just the first impression and I found it can get old fast. I’ve found myself removing my headphones during grinding sessions, as not to assault my ears too much.
As for the graphics, they aren’t all that impressive. You can definitely notice it was originally a PSP title, but that doesn’t mean the art is all bad – the girls’ designs are different and unique, with the UI and commands looking really sharp on the Vita.
In the end, the game doesn’t get deep, battle mechanics don’t get overly complicated or challenging, dungeons don’t become more elaborate as you advance the story and the only part where you can feel some development is seeing the girls acknowledging their sins and overcoming them.
Knowing what you’re getting into, I had a fun time with the game; you can grind, you can explore, you can motivate the girls, and you can get to know them – but there’s not much else to be had aside from that. If you’re looking for a simple yet quirky RPG, you could do worse; if you’re looking for a story-driven RPG or one with a complex battle system, you’ll have to keep looking.