Criminal Girls: Invite Only PS Vita Review: Punishment time

Welcome to hell. It is a weird, desolate place where criminal convicts run around, and the chosen few are allowed to reform and fix their past sins in order to escape. Take charge as the reformer of a group of criminal girls, helping them through their trials and tribulations in NIS and Imageepoch’s newest game on the Vita, Criminal Girls: Invite Only.

This is an update and localization of the PSP version which we did not see in the West, and which was released back in 2010. The story, as alluded to, is very simple. You’re a prison guard, for lack of a better term, who is charged with helping seven girls complete their trials through hell. The story comes at you in small spurts. Each story segment is a minute or two and then you’re back in the action. Go to a new floor, and bam, another one-two minute spurt. The pacing kept me interested in the game, even if the storyline was light in the beginning. You’re never having to think ‘when is this going to end and the characters shut up?’ But as you get further into the game it becomes more philosophical and thought provoking.

There is a lot of conflict between the girls, the player, and each other as each girl is a representation of one of the seven deadly sins. The characters are made believable, despite being extreme in their attitudes, by not trying to be too avant-garde. Their motivations are simple and easy to follow, and understand why they are in the reformation program. Ran, who represents wrath, is openly a misandrist and causes obvious tension at the beginning of the story due to your character being a male. Kisaragi portrays greed by being a spoiled princess, and immediately doesn’t like you because of the price tag of your clothing.

The player performs the role of commander, giving the girls commands during combat. But what is unique about the combat, which ties into the punishment system talked about later, is you have one of four choices of commands. Each girl will give you a random attack from their list of unlocked skills. While at times it gets tedious when you unlock many skills, and would rather just use certain ones to speed up combat, it does add a fun layer of strategy.

The punishment system, or ‘motivation’ system as it has been censored as, is what makes this game stand out from other RPGs and also is what makes it so controversial. Players gain experience and CM when winning battles. The CM can be used to either buy items or be used to perform punishments. During a punishment you will be playing a basic mini-game. There will be a floating icon on the screen, you have to hold a finger over it on the touch pad, and the action is automatic to get rid of the icon. Successfully completing the mini-game will help level up that character to unlock new skills.

What makes the mini-game controversial is the fact it is BDSM-based, and has the girls in sexually provocative clothing and positions. There are four levels per punishment item for each girl, and the higher the level the more revealing the picture. NIS took the equally controversial route of censoring parts of the mini-game. Opaque mist blotches were added to some of the highly suggestive poses, but as I was playing it I found it actually caused the image to be more suggestive and sexual than if it wasn’t censored. One good example was a scene where Ran had her hand on her butt. During the mini-game she moves her hand and fingers. In the censored version it actually made it look like she was rubbing her vagina, but actually she was nowhere near it in the uncensored version.


The only problem with the mini-game, and granted it could be only a problem on my Vita, is I was having touch screen issues. You need to use both the front and back, but for some reason there was an odd delay glitch on the front screen. If I didn’t wait a couple seconds after starting, the actions would not work; the action icon would move but do nothing.

Some game text was also censored by being translated differently than in the Japanese release, as said by NIS themselves. Some were easy to find like punishment turning into motivation, and “Girl’s Order” becoming “Girl’s Wish”, from the mini-game screens. But what was changed specifically in the dialogue I was unable to find out. This is a big shame because, in my opinion, it ruins the validity of the game’s story. What could have been an authentic, thought-provoking narrative is now tarnished. I’m not saying the story would have been that, but writers use certain words and expressions for a reason and so to censor them ruins the narrative, no matter how small or insignificant it might be. Since I knew the game’s story had some censoring before I even played it, it affected me negatively while playing the game because I knew I wasn’t getting the full, authentic story like my Japanese counterparts got for their money.

The music in the game is lackluster at best. There are a couple mood-enhancing moments here and there, but the consistency of the music takes away from the environment. The combat music was so forgettable early on that I kind of blocked it out, which could be considered better than if it was so bad I’d rather be listening to something else.

We have to remember this is a 2010 PSP port so the graphics are not going to be Vita quality. Additionally, this is a simple dungeon-crawling RPG, so those graphics are not that needed. They look like SNES-era character models on the screen, and the dungeons are no better. If you don’t care about the graphics as long as they accurately depict an area and person, then it won’t cause a problem. Need the game to look like Mass Effect and this will be an obvious letdown and turnoff. The upside is it allows the player to progress through the game quicker due to the smaller area sizes.

Sadly, there are few side quests in the game. It is a linear experience. Linearity doesn’t bother me, personally, but it does bother other RPG aficionados. When you do level up a girl far enough with the punishment system, they will make a request of you. It is a simple fetch quest or combat quest that will give a boon to the girl, like lowering the cost of skills. While the girls might have different quests, the boon is the same for all the girls. There is no equipment in the entire game as well. Each character only has their stats, that level up, and that is it. You’re grinding for level rather than equipment throughout the game.

The cast of characters is pretty big, and I enjoyed the way they handled the bloat. All the girls get experience and CM points regardless if they were in the battle or not, as long as they are in the party. This helps cut back on the grind. They can also be swapped in and out during combat, albeit one a turn. Additionally, they all have a field skill to be used outside of combat which is unique to them. Alice, a mage-type, allows her to syphon off her MP to others when they are low. This allows characters the player might not like to still have some importance and a use. They are not uselessly taking up space like in many RPGs.

This game is not groundbreaking, nor does it try to be. It only tries to be fun and quirky, helping to pass the time pleasantly while offering a little bit of philosophy. If you have zero issue with BDSM themes, or sexuality in general, then the mini-game will not cause any problems and you’ll get your monies worth. On the other hand if sexuality in video games bothers you, then skip it because it is a fundamental part of the leveling system. When it comes to the censorship that is a choice you, the consumer, will have to make for yourself.



The Final Word

A fun and quirky RPG that infuses the leveling system with some BDSM flair. It is great for an hour here or there when wanting to relax, and the avant-garde approach to leveling has to be praised. Those who have problems with sexuality will have issues with the game.