Criminal Girls: Invite Only Review—Deserving of Punishment

criminal girls 02-20-15-1

Criminal Girls: Invite Only is an RPG developed by Imageepoch and published by Nippon Ichi Software. Like a few other recent NIS titles, it was heavily criticized for its lewd content, even receiving censorship before it was brought over to the United States. Originally released on the PSP back in 2010, the game only recently came overseas. Here at Niche Gamer, we are incredibly anti-censorship, and thus were a bit put off by the omission of certain parts of Criminal Girls. However, is it still worth your time?

The game begins in a massive prison, the protagonist a curiously androgynous-looking guard. You are tasked with the job of assisting several girls in the tremendous undertaking that is escaping hell. Why you? Well, that’s a very good question. There isn’t much explanation given for that. In fact, most of the plot is pretty straightforward, with very little character development. Discovering that you’re forced into helping them, you soldier on, until you reach your first rest point. At that point, you discover you can sleep, save, and motivate.

This is where the controversy stems from. “Motivation” is presumably when you use a device on one of the women in your party, which in turn motivates them to learn a new ability. I write “presumably” because, in the scenes, you’re not actually touching them at all. You’re either holding your finger on a button on the Vita’s touch screen, or you’re sliding switches, or dripping liquid out of a bucket onto the target. In the background, the girl in question is half-naked, just looking at wherever it is you touch the screen.

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The censored bits from Criminal Girls are the following: cut voices from the “Motivation” sequences, a pink mist obscuring some of the naughtier bits of the girls during said scenes (although the Japanese version contained no nudity), and changing “Punishment” to “Motivation”. These changes seem so minuscule that frankly it’s a wonder they even bothered. Folks are already up in arms about the salacious depictions of women in the game, they’re not going to stop because of a tiny pink mist censoring a butt.

The story is a bit weak. How are the visual aspects of the game? Well, frankly, it looks pretty bad. The sprites for the characters in-battle are cute, but the monster designs are lackluster, and the areas are boring and bland. The art in motivation sequences is quite nice, even if the anatomy is a bit suspect in some of the pictures. All in all, it’s nothing special to look at, especially with the incredibly low-res sprites the characters have when simply walking around.

The gameplay, sadly, is not this game’s saving grace. Combat feels straight out of the 1980s, with eye-rollingly standard, turn-based fights. All the abilities in your arsenal are unoriginal, and the battles are barely animated, each attack using maybe three frames, maximum. Being unique isn’t everything, however, as long as the game is solid.

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Unfortunately, Criminal Girls has this strange mechanic where you can’t choose your own attacks. You’ll unlock an ability and be excited to try it out, only to discover that the game doesn’t feel like letting you use it unless some arbitrary condition is met. In a game that is so incredibly grind-heavy, this becomes quite tedious. Instead of simply using your fire punch to one-shot an enemy, the game decides you’re only allowed to use single attacks, or guard.

Another annoying part of combat is the fact that, until late into the game, you’re only able to attack with one or two girls per turn. I have four party members, why can’t I use all of them from the get-go? It’s a baffling game design decision. Why would you block off something behind a progression wall that most people expect to be an inherent feature of a turn-based RPG? It just doesn’t make any damn sense. The motivation minigames don’t really ever get difficult, either, being just another facet of the game that forces you to grind. (You need points in order to motivate the girls.) It’s just not a particularly fun experience.

The sound design is the final offense of this game. The music sounds like stock tracks from RPG Maker. It’s really unimpressive. The sound assets are nothing special, just noises you’ve heard in a million other games. The voice acting is quite good, spanning a surprising amount of the game, but that is not enough to rescue Criminal Girls from mediocrity.

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The lewd bits in Criminal Girls are surprisingly benign for all the controversy surrounding them. That being said, the game is just not very good. Bad music, yawn-inducingly basic combat, frustrating design elements, and poor graphics are what you’re in for if you purchase this game.

It doesn’t succeed on any level, besides having scenes where your playable characters display their boobs and butts for you to ogle. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying T&A, but if it’s the driving force behind your purchase, you’d probably have a better time just downloading free hentai.

Criminal Girls: Invite Only was reviewed using a code provided by NIS America. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 4

The Good:

  • Very nice artwork in the Motivation sequences.
  • Nearly fully voice-acted!
  • Cute sprites during combat.

The Bad:

  • Very basic combat, with some annoying quirks.
  • Weak plot.
  • Music sounds straight out of RPG maker.
  • The game is ugly.
  • Censored in the US release.
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  1. bf313
    February 20, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Unfortunate that the game is really that bland, wasn’t expecting it to be great but the concept is still cool. Still might get it down the line when it’s on sale but it was never a day one buy for me to begin with.

  2. inquisitormcsagington
    February 20, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    NISA- Bringing down scores, nationwide.

  3. Death Saved
    Death Saved
    February 20, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Whos the idiot that okay’d them spending resources on getting a localization for a fan service and censoring the games main feature?

  4. Dammage
    February 20, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    Difference between this, and a game like Senran Kagura, is that SK actually has pretty damn fun combat, and is much more lewd as well. That game is proof that you can make a fanservice game that’s actually fun to play on its own merits, this game has no excuses.

  5. Nonscpo
    February 20, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    So don’t buy it unless its discounted?

  6. Fenrir007
    February 20, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    I saw a detailed explanation in a game forum somewhere showing why the cut content IS very importantr for the storyline, including the audio cues. Sadly, I didn’t save it and I don’t even remember in which site I saw that. Might even have been in NeoBARF. I wish I had saved to show you so you could comment on it…

  7. Akira
    February 20, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for the review. You’re one of the few sites who I can trust when reviewing these games. I’ll skip it and buy SK, but first I have to finish P4, if I ever have the time to @[email protected]

  8. Sylveria Shini
    Sylveria Shini
    February 20, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Is kinda sad to see the game getting “Meh”s across the board. I got it, havent gotten around to actually playing it yet, but I’m still going to go at it with a positive attitude…. Can’t be any more of a slog than Mind Zero was.

  9. 33
    February 20, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    I wish you had as well. It sounds interesting. I know that on the NISA forums they did say they were changing some dialogue options but said it was minor. Do you happen to remember if it was this case: the minor dialogue changed was actually important later on?

    They banned all CG threads so unless the discussion was before the ban.

  10. Fenrir007
    February 20, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    I don’t quite remember. I think the person linked the character development to the audio cues, but my memory is fuzzy on that. If, at some point, I find it again, I will come by and post here. I will also post it as a reply to you so you can see it, but most likely it is lost in the great sea of internet comments.

  11. Dewey Defeats Truman
    Dewey Defeats Truman
    February 20, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    “Criminal Girls: Invite Only was reviewed using a code provided by NIS America.”

    Man they must be masochistic or something considering how this website has made no efforts to hide its dislike of the changes.

  12. PenguinPlayer
    February 20, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    I rather like that though, if they don’t blacklist NG after this it proves they are at least ready to stand behind their games and believe they can get a good score from localizing actually good games rather than try to get good scores with bribery or coercion.

    That’s a big IF though, props to them for at least sending this copy.

  13. PenguinPlayer
    February 20, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    Pretty much what I expected.

  14. Dewey Defeats Truman
    Dewey Defeats Truman
    February 20, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    Yeah, I mean I hate NISA personally but props to them for at least not wussing out of a review that was pretty much guaranteed to be negative.

  15. grgspunk
    February 20, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    You’d be very suprised. Typically, when a game gets censored overseas, it’s done with the blessing and support of the license holders almost every single time.

    Japanese game publishers/developers are the weak link when it comes to localization-induced self-censorship.

    You’d be hard-pressed to find a game company in Japan that has a Studio Ghibli-style “no-cuts, no-edits” policy when it comes to overseas releases. I really wish those companies had the pride to implement such an approach when it comes to letting their games be released outside of Japan.

  16. darke
    February 20, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Having nearly finished Criminal Girls, it’s considerably less of a slog then Mind-0. The battles are usually over pretty quickly unless it randomly decides to give you lots of “attack x2/3/4”, though I do wish there was a way to ‘fast forward’ the animations like Mind-0 had. Then again, the animations in that were about four times longer then they should have been. >.<

  17. dsadsada
    February 20, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    I thought in Criminal Girl’s case, the art itself is intact but more fog effect was added.

    Not to say that anything else you’ve said could be wrong of course. I wouldn’t doubt that Japanese companies would be willing to censor if the localization crew recommends it for better sales (which in NISA’s case probably doesn’t work).

  18. TheCynicalReaper
    February 20, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    It is very good to note that even if it wasn’t censored then the game
    still wouldn’t be good. However, the censorship only hurt it, thus
    making it a pointless purchase.

    Absolutely well done, mate. I’m glad NISA let you have a review code for the game for this, but if they were more thoughtful in their approach to this title then maybe things wouldn’t have been AS bad as they are.

  19. TheCynicalReaper
    February 20, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    I think the verdict is:
    Buy “Demon Gaze” or either “Danganronpa” instead

  20. TheCynicalReaper
    February 20, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    SK has better lewd, better fun/comedy, actually touching/deep moments, TONS of character interaction/development, and…you get the point.

    It’s clear the CG team wasn’t working with as much of a budget as even the first SK title had, but even so, the writing and characters could have been made better, and arbitrary restrictions on the gameplay being left out would have made it more tolerable.

  21. TheCynicalReaper
    February 20, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    I’d appreciate that, mate. Many of us would.
    It would be a real CRIME if the GIRLS’ cut lines were a major part of the character development.
    haha! ha…ha…
    No really, it’d be horrible.

  22. Fenrir007
    February 20, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    Oh god, I overhyped it. Most likely the commenter was making a big deal out of something small, so keep that in mind. Anyway, I searched and couldn’t find it, so…

  23. TheCynicalReaper
    February 20, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    Agree with both of you. NG proved it won’t fellate anyone who gives them review copies/codes and NISA, for ALL its faults, proved it won’t throw a hissy fit if a title gets an honest review.

    I actually respect NISA a bit now.
    …I’d respect them a lot more if THEY’D FIX WITCH & 100KNIGHT!!

  24. TheCynicalReaper
    February 20, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Meh no worries. No harm, no foul.
    I suppose if the game’s plot/characters is this bare-bones then anything vaguely smelling of character development would be considered precious.

  25. Psichaos
    February 20, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    I still have to wonder the thought process involved with licensing a game whose main selling point is lewd content, only to censor said content. Having done so only highlighted the mediocrity of the rest of the game along with ruining their own reputation.

  26. landlock
    February 20, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    Image Epoch just aren’t a very good developer honestly and that’s the main reason there going under.

    I don’t mind the game but it’s just nothing special.

  27. OverlordZetta
    February 21, 2015 at 1:43 am

    Can’t say I agree with this one. The music is very reminiscent of Disgaea, but that’s not a bad thing, and the fact you can’t choose your attacks was one of the major draws of the game for me.

    Further, we’re talking a PSP game ported to the Vita – “The game is ugly” seems just misinformed. For what it is, it’s actually quite nice looking. Likewise, the plot and character interactions are more than the review really gives them credit for.

    That said, the censorship does feel like it was largely unnecessary, but because the minigame is basically irrelevant (you really could just as easily skip the whole thing and still have a fine game), I can’t say it hurts as much as the review implies. Censorship is never good, but if we have to choose between a censored version or no version, then considering how minor it is anyway, I can’t help but think it’s been blown out of proportion.

    And for anyone claiming this is a “fanservice game with the main part cut out,” actually play it. The minigame is a couple of seconds long and most of them aren’t even censored. You can tell which ones are censored by looking at the last level and seeing which one has a little blotch on certain parts – in earlier stages, you can’t even tell the differences. Regardless, the majority of your time in this game isn’t going to be anywhere near this game – it’s like Monpiece, an overhyped but completely irrelevant feature used as a selling point for a hand that really doesn’t even need it anyway.

  28. British_Otaku
    February 21, 2015 at 1:45 am

    Importing Rodea because I planned to long ago, but I’m just saying I’m glad it seems highly unlikely to be edited up by NISA.

    On this, unfortunate that it doesn’t sound great and isn’t even an uncompromised version of the game. I got the impression that the cuts both put a band aid over the gaping wound they don’t want to be seen and make it harder to invest yourself in the experience…

  29. OverlordZetta
    February 21, 2015 at 1:48 am

    Now hold on. CG is a PSP game that was made before most of the SK games even came out – and the SK games have some of the shittiest writing in gaming, and I say that as someone who loves SK. I’ve yet to finish CG, but I’ve yet to encounter anything as terrible as the repeated offenses of SKB alone, while CG offers changing in-battle dialogue as you progress for every combination of characters.

  30. grgspunk
    February 21, 2015 at 1:50 am

    It’s not just fog. The CGs were also zoomed in so that certain parts near the edges of the images are no longer visible on the screen.

  31. British_Otaku
    February 21, 2015 at 1:52 am

    I still say that a lot of their recent good games are trapped in Japan or damaged in translation like Arc Rise Fantasia… well not Time and Eternity…

    However they do need saving as you say.

  32. OverlordZetta
    February 21, 2015 at 1:52 am

    A minigame you spend less than a minute per romp in is hardly the game’s main feature, and it’s also not actually all that censored. Mostly just some crotches.

  33. OverlordZetta
    February 21, 2015 at 1:58 am

    You call this honest? It doesn’t even acknowledge the game was originally a PSP title, which addresses a huge chunk of the issues in the hands of a fair reviewer, and far too much of it is subjective and/or pretty clearly influenced by the site’s anti-censorship stance.

    I’m not saying it’s a 10/10 game, but considering I see nothing but praise for XSEED when its translations of Senran Kagura range from okay to NISA at their worst tier, I can’t help but think so long as all the skin service comes over intact, no one here actually cares about the rest of these games.

  34. British_Otaku
    February 21, 2015 at 1:59 am

    I haven’t played CG but have finished all of the 3DS SK games, general word of mouth is that SKB has the strongest story of all of them (I can’t detail SK2 with my Japanese skill) so if you didn’t like it for whatever reason. Sure, would rather have a few points to nod at or disagree with but okay.

    However SKB also does a healthy amount of unique dialogue based on your fighting style, even if it may have some nonsense writing as you see it. At least it is a massive step up from Okamiden from the same writer.

  35. Mr0303
    February 21, 2015 at 2:20 am

    How didn’t I see this before? Monpiece had the same mechanic. The risque content was only used for leveling up. I completely agree – combat is the main focus of the game.

  36. OverlordZetta
    February 21, 2015 at 2:23 am

    SKB’s writing was terrible. Half the characters are just there – only maybe two in the Hanzo story really develop, while the rest either are plot devices or have their development disregarded at the last minute because it’s just a rushed mess. It was better in the first half of the Hebijo story, but as soon as the plot kicked in, it went full speed to idiocy. It’s some of the worst writing I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to deal with in a game, and based on story alone, SKB does not deserve higher than a 4 – gameplay and other aspects bump it way, way up, but the writing is unforgivably bad at times, and CG doesn’t even come close (that I’ve seen) to being SK level shallow.

    And I love the SK series, let me make that clear – I play the mobile game every day for crying out loud. But the writing is just… It needs work.

  37. OverlordZetta
    February 21, 2015 at 2:25 am

    Monpiece is a little worse I think since card art is stuff you do see outside of the minigame, but you also get voices in that unlike here (and the combat is really fun), so it probably balances out more.

  38. Mr0303
    February 21, 2015 at 2:30 am

    I actually found the random attacks an interesting choice. The reasoning behind them is that you aren’t really able to control the girls and they have a mind of their own (women, amirite?). The combination attacks being available later in the game also makes sense to me – initially the girls are unable to work together and are not coordinated in their actions, but as they form a bond they are able to attack together. I agree that this may take out some strategy from the combat, but it wasn’t so annoying for me.

  39. The_Mad_Monarch
    February 21, 2015 at 4:11 am

    I would love for you to come on Fury of The Mad Monarch and discuss the game with me. :p http://www.aguywhogames.com/?p=95 Basically we would discuss the games quality, as we have opposing views on it. :p

  40. Cody Long
    Cody Long
    February 21, 2015 at 6:03 am

    I addressed that it was originally a PSP title. Only a few sentences in. :P I’d have the same opinion of the game even if I played on the PSP.

    The sprites being low-res was my only complaint that was relevant to hardware limitations. The rest was simply just poor art direction.

  41. Cody Long
    Cody Long
    February 21, 2015 at 6:12 am

    It’s a fun idea, but from a game standpoint, I found it frustrating.

  42. Gareth
    February 21, 2015 at 6:49 am

    I have to disagree with the review because I am currently playing the
    game and enjoying it loads. There is character development because later
    in the story the cast have to confront their sins.

    The combat system is cool too. I like that you have to switch around your
    team to take advantage of different skills. You can’t just spam your
    strongest moves all the time. You can attack with all four characters by
    the way, once you unlock Attack Lvl 3.

  43. Cody Long
    Cody Long
    February 21, 2015 at 7:39 am

    I haven’t played Dang It Ron Paul, but Demon Gaze was the tits. Really enjoyed it.

  44. Cody Long
    Cody Long
    February 21, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Oh, I never said you couldn’t. I just said it took awhile to be able to attack with everyone, whereas in most other RPGs, it’s standard from the get-go.

  45. Cody Long
    Cody Long
    February 21, 2015 at 7:46 am

    I appreciate the invite! I would accept if my workload permitted, but as of right now, I’ve got a full plate.

  46. The_Mad_Monarch
    February 21, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    Well if your load reduces any time soon, I’d enjoy having you on.

  47. Game Guy
    Game Guy
    February 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    a minigame that was the game’s most toted feature and without which the game is nearly impossible to progress through

  48. TheCynicalReaper
    February 21, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    “Dang It Ron Paul”
    You. I like you.

  49. TheCynicalReaper
    February 21, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    “SK games have some of the shittiest writing in gaming”
    As someone who’s actually played the SK games I’ll have to disagree, especially when Shinovi Versus allowed for not just four main plot perspectives but a side story for every character too, all of which involves character interaction and development.

    It’s no Ar No Surge, but when the story flips to a more serious tone it pulls it off well.

  50. Michael Richardson
    Michael Richardson
    February 21, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    I’ll wait for it to go on sale like I did with Monster Monpiece. I won’t pay full price for censored games.

  51. Phil F.
    Phil F.
    February 23, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Weebs are completely overreacting when it comes to “censorship” in general. After all, there are some people that are legitimately convinced that Seran Kagura is actually censored, simply because they didn’t include the ages of the fighters in-game.

    I’m just baffled that NISA thought that bringing this game over was ever a good idea in the first place. Then again, if there’s one thing i know about pedophiles and the like, it’s that they can be very delusional.

    Of course, when it comes to jap in general all i have to say is “your games just suck”.

  52. British_Otaku
    March 5, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Very late response, I can definitely agree that not many of the cast members make an impression and that the two storylines are wasted (in fact, we may have 3 potential timelines just with the 3DS games).

    Regardless, it took the time to build up each of the cast even if it was mostly shallow storylines whether it concerns doubts about themselves, their upbringings, learning that “good and evil aren’t so different” and so on.

    The writing needs plenty of work, but I find it to be a surprisingly strong element regardless of the series. The action is decent then each of the characters in the 3DS ones have something about them even if it may just scratch being two dimensional depending on the game or story.