Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a perverted, uncomfortable crack at a role-playing game. You find the trappings of a standard turn-based adventure here, from the incessant random battles to the monumental bosses with seemingly endless hit points. The multi-floored dungeons and rich progression system can last you dozens of hours, but with whipping the sinful desires of young girls acting as one of the core hooks, it’s difficult to take Criminal Girls seriously. What could have been a basic, if uninspired, JRPG is ultimately little more than a sleazy grab at an audience pining to watch bloated bosoms bounce at the touch of the Vita’s front and back screens. The overall package isn’t wholly without merit, but Criminal Girls is far too focused on satiating raw desire in lieu of promoting its few interesting features.
The peculiar narrative does little to contextualize the near-nudity and hyper-sexualized moments. You find yourself deep in the bowels of Hell as the game opens, greeted by an officious warden who tasks you with taking care of a medley of sinful souls. These female delinquents have been damned to a life in Hades, but if they can pass the Redemption Program and overcome the challenges ahead, their sins will be forgiven. Of course, each of the seven unique characters has been banished and disregarded for a reason, so it takes time to gain their trust and convince them to actually earn the right to be redeemed.
Relationships among the girls are built and then tested as you climb out of Hell, but one of the keys to unlocking special skills and stat boosts is through individual motivation. After gaining the universal currency through battles and treasure chests, you can choose the Motivate option at any save point to whip, drip liquids on, or tickle any of the delinquents. During these sequences--which become more involved as your character progresses--your girl of choice either sheepishly or aggressively questions your intentions as she dons an outfit that ranges from risqué to borderline pornographic. If you want your party to reach its full potential, your participation in these shameless sequences is necessary.
And surprisingly, these scenes were even more explicit in Japan. This is a touched-up edition of a PSP game released in 2010, with the motivation scenes being edited so that pink steam obfuscates portions of the screen before eventually dissipating at your touch. Moans and groans have also been removed, but somehow, the silence is even more unsettling.
The whole process is vulgar and unnecessary. The basic dialogue that litters your journey can be crude, drawing attention to one of the character’s breasts or bottom. But going from cheap sexual jokes to rubbing a stripped-down teenager on your Vita screen is a thematic leap that’s not only jarring but repellent. The story isn’t stellar by any means, but any emotional connection you build with these characters from dungeon to dungeon is immediately snapped once you throw them into such compromising positions.
It’d be easy just to disregard Criminal Girls: Invite Only if the surrounding elements were just as tasteless. However, the actual video game part, where you battle monsters and raise levels, is fun, and pretty novelbesides. Instead of controlling the action of all four party members in a given turn, you pick just one of four options. One girl might feel bold and want to do a solo attack, while another decides that an elemental ability is the best course of action. As your characters grow closer and learn new abilities, new provisional avenues appear. By the end, it’s common to see all four girls working together to dole out damage as a team or maybe even combine for a special duo ability dealing triple damage.
These combat quirks add a healthy dose of diversity to the moment-to-moment action. You have to scroll through your options and pick the proper technique for the given situation rather than simply hammer away at the X button until you’ve earned a victory jingle. The many useful offensive and defensive skills that become available make each of the seven characters useful, meaning that you likely won’t pigeonhole yourself to a specific combination of characters.
Surprisingly, the combat stays mostly fresh even in the face of innumerable random battles. There’s a medley of monsters waiting to greet you after every few feet, and the story often asks you to retrace your steps over and over again. If the environments were interesting, this wouldn’t be a major problem. Unfortunately, trudging up and down a featureless bend isn’t fun or exciting, and doing so just to make the bustiest member of your crew sweat through her top to grab the attention of a carnal boss isn’t a good enough excuse. It’s just a poor way to pad out an already lengthy experience.
You can escape from battles, but it’s not a wise decision if you hope to progress. Each floor of this dungeon crawler presents stronger enemies, so you’ll have to grind early and often to pass the later trials. I spent hours strengthening my party before attempting major battles but still found myself struggling because most of the late-game bosses use frequent healing techniques to make most of your offensive efforts toothless.
The turn-based action might be fun, but every other element of Criminal Girls: Invite Only does its best to stamp out its only saving grace. When it’s not pushing discomforting images of barely dressed teens in your face, Criminal Girls is leading you back and forth across a lifeless dungeon just so you can thumb through lines of dull dialogue. There’s enjoyment to be found within the game’s combat, but it’s just not worth stomaching the tedious design and perverse activities to find the pearl inside.