Chances are if you’re reading this review you’ve probably heard of Criminal Girls and the whole censorship debacle. While I can understand why the game was censored on the Vita due to the ESRB rating NISA was aiming for, I can’t wrap my head around as to why an uncensored version wasn’t made available for the Steam release. Regardless this review isn’t about censorship in gaming and there are plenty of outlets to discuss the censorship, as well as mods being developed to revert the changes.
Moving along, Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a direct Steam port of the Playstation Vita version that released in 2015 and that’s made apparent as soon as you start the game. Besides being able to change the resolution, there are no graphical options for Criminal Girls, which to be fair is honestly expected of a sprite-based Japanese RPG. As a word of warning, when you start Criminal Girls for the first time you’ll immediately want to head to the options menu and press the TAB key to get to the language and configuration menu. For some reason the game starts with Japanese text instead of English and you wouldn’t know to press TAB without looking it up since there’s no indication of a hidden menu.
Criminal Girls starts you off quite literally in Hell with a new job occupation- prison guard. It’s up to you to reform a group of delinquent girls from earning a permanent spot in hell. Having all died before their expected time, it’s up to your character to help guide them away from delinquency and make them better people. Initially the girls don’t trust you, but your boss Miu- a prison warden of sorts, instructs you to “motivate” the girls so that they become obedient and fight for you. Motivation (also known as Punish Time) is a mini-game where you swat away at manifestations of temptation in order motivate the girl to bond with your character. When you’re in Punish Time, the camera changes to a provocative perspective of the girl you’re punishing. These scenes are censored with pink smoke covering a large portion of the screen, but in the original Japanese version you’d be able to see the girls in very sensual positions as you whack away at the Temptations.
Beyond the Motivation system, the gameplay of Criminal Girls is that of a typical JRPG where your party follows behind you, random enemy encounters are common and the gameplay shifts to a turn-based attack system when engaged in combat. Alongside unavoidable random encounters, there are enemies who are visible within the environment that tend to be blocking an area where progressing to is necessary or convenient, meaning most battles are unavoidable. Navigating the menus while fighting enemies is about what you’d expect from a turn-based RPG. You can attack, use items to heal your party, change character positions and escape from enemies. You can only attack with characters that are willing to fight for you, meaning you must Motivate them before being able to fight with them in battle or they won’t attack.
As you progress further in Criminal Girls, you’ll meet more delinquent girls that will join your party. All of whom have quirky personalities with a few of them falling into typical anime archetypes. They all have their own reason for being in Hell and finding out why is what I enjoyed the most about Criminal Girls. Hiding behind the fanservice is an engaging plot and I found myself really caring about and wanting to save the characters by the end of the game.
In terms of sound design, I gotta say I really enjoyed the music in Criminal Girls, the main theme is catchy and I find myself humming the tune when I’m not playing the game. Dungeon crawling through the tower is enjoyable thanks to the smooth soundtrack, which includes some fantastic battle music. All of the voiced characters have great Seiyuu or voice actors for you non-anime purists. Personally, I’m glad there isn’t an English dub since I prefer going with the original Japanese voices in RPG’s. The story of Criminal Girls is presented in a style where the plot progresses through dialogue boxes, meaning reading would be necessary regardless of language.
With an active modding community working to change back all of the censored portions of Criminal Girls and making quick work of it, I can easily recommend Criminal Girls to anyone who’s interested in more Japanese games on Steam. While there are a few hiccups like the game starting in Japanese, Criminal Girls is an enjoyable experience with fun turn-based combat and a fantastic cast of characters. I’m looking forward to all of Nippon Ichi Software’s upcoming Steam titles and have high hopes that Criminal Girls 2 gets an official uncensored release so that everyone’s happy.
A review code for Criminal Girls was provided by NISA
Release Date - January 11, 2017
Special thanks to NISA for providing a review code