*Author's note, Criminal Girls: Invite is a mature game that involves the sexualization of it's female cast, some who appear younger than their actual age, as well requiring the player to participate in light BDSM minigames. Due to the content of the game this review will also contain mature language and topics. If any of this makes you uncomfortable or if you are under the age of consent in your region I strongly suggest you close this page and go read a review on some other game. Maybe a nice wholesome FPS game.
Fans of NIS games are probably already aware of Criminal Girls: Invite from its 2015 PS Vita release, but for those of us who do most of our gaming on PC this could quite possibly be our first exposure to this game. An exposure that I could have done without if I am being completely honest. Now, before all the Otaku and Ecchi fans grab their pitchforks and light their torches allow me to put your minds at ease by saying my problem with this game has absolutely nothing to do with its sexual content or motivation/BDSM minigame. No, my problem with the game is it's terrible name, uneven pacing, it's simplistic skill system, the slow plodding battles, and the random nature of it's battle system. Now, games that feature a lot of sexual content are not known for their great stories or awesome gameplay but they generally do a good job of getting those things out of your way to give you the content you came to see. Criminal Girls: Invite doesn't even manage to do that right as it hordes it's sexual content like a dragon protecting it's stash of gold goblets. I will give this game credit for its music, sound effects, and visuals being top notch even if they are wasted in such a shoddy game. Now, if you're still not sold on the idea that this might be a bad game, let's take a closer look at Criminal Girls: Invite and see if we can pinpoint exactly where this train went off the rails.
The story in Criminal Girls: Invite is pretty simple, seven women died and were sent to hell. These women all have some sin residing within their heart which would have eventually lead them all to commit crimes, but a premature death prevented that from occurring. As such, they are put into a rehabilitation program that upon completion would allow them to live once more. You, as the player, are in charge of their rehab, which includes the aforementioned BDSM minigame, and must help these women reach the top of the Hell Spire. As you climb the Hell Spire you learn more about the women in the program and find out exactly what got them sent to hell in the first place. There is nothing groundbreaking about this plot, variations of it have been used in movies and anime before, so don't expect any big twist or shocks as you play the game. This is quite a shame in my opinion as there was so much potential in this basic plot due to the nature of the medium. This leads to a sense of apathy toward the plot and the game's protagonists to such a degree that I was pretty bored while playing this game and never had that “I got to beat just one more floor” feeling driving me to keep playing. However, as I previously said story isn't the drawing point for this type of game so it more or less lived up to my expectations in that regard.
Well, if the story isn't great at least you have good gameplay to fall back on right? Sadly, the answer to that question is a resounding no. Criminal Girls: Invite has a turn based battle system that sucks all of the fun out of such a system. Action based battle systems are all about quick reflexes and precise timing, while turn based systems are about planning your next move and trying to maximize your damage output while maintaining your health and magic points. Criminal Girls: Invite's battle system is all about dumb luck. Allow me to elaborate so you can fully understand the level of stupidity this game's battle system has achieved. You are only allowed a maximum of two actions each turn, one action being using an item if you choose the other is to pick which girl will attack. Now, I know you are thinking that sounds pretty strategic and could allow for some tough choices as you weigh risk versus reward in every action you take, but this game flushes all that potential down the toilet as the actions each girl has available to use is random. It doesn't matter if you spent hours to unlock that fire based magic attack that you were told was really effective against the enemies of this area because you might never see it come up as a choice during battle. As a boss or tough opponent is unleashing punishing move after punishing move your choices could be limited to simple attacks despite having a variety of more powerful moves at you disposal. Ultimately this leads you to simply choose the strongest girl in your party, this never changes as there are no weapons or items to equip and enhance your stats, and very slowly chip away at your opponent's health. Did you notice how I wrote very slowly? You see, in addition to almost forcing you to use standard attacks for most of the game, well into the game this changes but most will never slog through this game to get there, it gives a lot of the enemies absurdly high amounts of health and or defense. Had the enemies been easily vanquished I may have been able to forgive the battle system for it's failings, but having to fight an almost 5 minute battle each encounter was just too much for me to handle. Obviously battles become more expeditious as you gain levels and your stats go up, but you still have to slog through a ton of battles to get there so that is pretty much a non-factor when it comes to whether or not the battle system is good. I will say that when you get access to your special moves right away battles can go by pretty quickly, but there is a problem with that too. You see, this game, in it's insistence to suck all the fun out of itself, gives your characters low amounts of magic points. Low magic points are not a problem in and of itself, no it's the combination of low magic points, skills that cost relatively high amounts of magic, and the lack of magic point restoring items early on that makes special moves useful for one or two battles tops. If you waste magic points on regular enemies then show up to a boss fight without any, well you better pray you have enough potions and patience to win that battle of attrition.
I mentioned special moves last paragraph when I was talking about the battle system, but I failed to mention how your girls acquire them. The reason I did that was because you unlock special moves by playing that BDSM minigame I mentioned earlier. The minigame has you performing a variety of different motivational techniques from light spanking to feather tickling in hopes of unlocking a new move for the girl being “motivated.” You don't directly interact with the women during the minigame, instead you target their “sins” and must expel them in a timely manner to collect points used to level up that particular variation of the minigame and ultimately unlock a new special move or skill. Now, in the original Japanese version of Criminal Girls, the women moaned and such as you played the minigame but this version has them remaining silent. It also has a nice pink fog obscuring the ladies so the very reason your probably playing the game is completely ruined. To be fair, as you progress in the different levels of the minigame the pink fog gets thinner and most of it eventually fades away however the part covering the most interesting bits of the women remain as dark and obscuring as ever. Speaking of the women, it is obvious that they are all supposed to be over the age of 18, but the choice of the word girls in the title coupled with the fact that some of them are on the smaller side may leave you with quite the sense of unease about the whole situation. Now some will argue that this was done on purpose, and with the “Barely 18” type of adult films in the US I could see that argument having merit, but in no way does it mean these women are only “adults” for legal reasons. No, women come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and bust amounts so assuming the women in this game are under age simply by their appearance is wrong. Now, uses their appearance as a sort of red flag to learn more about the game and ensure they are in fact adults is perfectly fine.
Speaking of appearances, the art in this game is pretty fantastic. The women look like they stepped out of an anime and into your computer screen. The enemies all have interesting designs, despite the fact that there isn't that many of them. The sprites for exploration as well as the battle sprites all are very appealing and this may draw a lot of people into the game. In fact, if it wasn't for that pink fog I talked about the art alone might be enough to get you to play through this game and unlock all the variations of the minigame. The music and sound effects in this game are also top notch, fitting in perfectly with the emotion of the moment as you play. I was never annoyed by the music in the game, in fact I was quite fond of it opting to listen to it rather than my Spotify playlist like I usually do as I game. As I said, it is a shame that such good music and visuals were wasted on a mediocre game.
I will admit I am not the target audience for this game, which I believe to be teenage boys, but even when I was the target audience I probably would have stopped playing this game a few hours after purchasing it, lamenting the money I wasted on such a sub par game. Perhaps the promise of seeing some anime girls in risque poses is all you need, but trust me when I say there are easier and cheaper ways to see such things. A video game, no matter what the genre, age level, or budget should be fun to play and sadly this one just isn't. No, this game is nothing more than a bad high school date. You spend your money on it, you put up with all it's flaws, you suffer through the boredom hoping to see just a bit of skin only to have it denied to you. At least in high school your date gave you a kiss and the hope of having a better time next date, Criminal Girls: Invite doesn't even do that. As always. feel free to comment, like, share, tweet, or whatever other thing you kids do on your social media these days.
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