Criminal Girls: Invite Only review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Players: 1
Online: No

Thanks to my PS Vita, I’ve come to learn that not all fanservice-y Japanese games are created equal. There are games with salacious premises that are actually not very scandalous at all (see: Akiba’s Trip), and games starring young girls that are about as far from exploitative and creepy as you can possibly get (that’d be the Atelier series). There are games like Danganronpa and Hyperdimension Neptunia, that feature fanservice while simultaneously mocking it. There the games that live up to every creepy, negative stereotype of that big broad genre, and then some (AKA the Senran Kagura series). And, of course, there are games like Monster Monpiece and (as you might guess from the fact you’re reading this review) Criminal Girls: Invite Only.

Criminal Girls 1

Obviously, in terms of gameplay, the two games have very little in common: Monster Monpiece is a card battle game, while Criminal Girls is a dungeon crawler with turn-based combat. Unfortunately, however, they both also feature mechanics that are…well, “problematic” seems like it would be the diplomatic way of putting it. In Monster Monpiece’s case, it was the infamous “rubbing” minigames. In Criminal Girls, things are a little more complex, but it’s still not the kind of thing you’ll feel comfortable playing in public: you motivate young girls to fight demons by punishing them using whips, shocks, and…uh…yeah.

It practically goes without saying that they’re all scantily clad and in suggestive poses, because why not? And, naturally, the only way to upgrade their skills is by punishing them, so it’s not like you can avoid doing it — it’s one of the key aspects of the game.

Criminal Girls 3

In other words, Criminal Girls is like Monster Monpiece in that it, too, is a decent game that’ll be entirely overshadowed by one creepy aspect that’ll make you want to shower because it makes you feel so dirty (and not in a good way).

Of course, there are differences between the two, going beyond the fact they’re different genres. Where Monster Monpiece was really not very scandalous outside of the rubbing, creepy misogyny is kind of baked into Criminal Girls’ DNA. After all, we’re talking about a game in which you — as a male prison guard — are tasked with leading pre-pubescent girls out of Hell, and the girls are all there because they’re delinquents who need to be punished to help them avoid the lives of sin they’re sure to lead if they make it into their teenage years (as well as to help them enhance those aforementioned skills). Couple that with the skimpy clothing they’re all wearing, and you basically have the set-up for some horrible exploitation/soft-core lesbian porn film.

Here’s the thing, though: when you’re actually in the dungeons, searching around for exits and battling whatever random monsters and demons you come across, all that punishment nonsense doesn’t come into play at all. Instead, it’s practically all about the surprisingly intense turn-based battles, where you’re juggling party members in and out based on what they can do and making split decisions about when to use items. No matter how distasteful the manner in which you obtain special attacks may be, when you’re slugging it out with various beasts that stuff will be pretty far from your mind.

Criminal Girls 2

That doesn’t erase it entirely, though — because let’s face it, it becomes pretty appalling when you give it any thought whatsoever. And contrary to what I’ve already said, the comparison to Monster Monpiece doesn’t entirely work, since Criminal Girls doesn’t stand up quite so well on its own if you turn a blind eye to that stuff. It’s easy (or at least easier) to overlook something that feels juvenile when the game beyond that aspect is really, really good. When the rest of the game is basically just your standard dungeon crawler…well, it gets judged as a standard dungeon-crawler, and loses one or two marks for being kind of icky.

Grade: C+