Imageepoch's Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a game that was not exactly anticipated for a Western release here at RPGamer. Nevertheless, NIS America has brought over the title that started out as a PSP release in November 2010 in Japan. Invite Only is an enhanced port of the original title for Vita, released in Japan in November 2013, which I've managed to put about ten hours into. Based on my experience so far, it's a fairly decent dungeon crawler, accompanied by an almost equal amount of mildly interesting and off-putting features.
Not a great deal of time is spent explaining the story premise, the game preferring to throw players into the dungeon crawling quickly. The player is a new employee in Hell, where they are tasked with looking after seven girls, three of whom have apparently escaped from their cells although they are caught up with pretty quickly. These girls are deliquents who were supposedly set for a life of crime and sin. However, as they died before they actually had a chance to commit the crimes that would permanently land them down below, they have been given the chance for redemption and revival in the mortal world. The player's role is to keep them under control and ensure they pass the four trials, which take the form of dungeons, towards redemption. Each of the girls represents one of the seven deadly sins, although it's not overly apparent which for a few of them. The game has been very light on story to this point, being unwilling to divulge any of the girls' backstory, and offering only small hints of possible events outside of the redemption trials, although it remains to be seen if these will lead anywhere.
"A large chunk of the game has so far provided a mildly pleasant surprise."
Battle features four of the girls in the party, with the player character taking on a supervisory role. Rather than giving direct commands, players instead select from one of the four options given to them by the girls. This often means that only one character acts each turn, although basic attacks and certain skills will feature one or more extra contributors. This restriction doesn't apply to enemies, which all get turns no matter what, but at least most battles will only feature one to three opponents. While there can be a lot of reliance on luck for the more powerful offensive skills cropping up, the game's AI is at least smart enough to realise when players will want to guard against a powered up attack or heal the party. Players also have the option to use one item and swap out one of the girls before each turn's action is selected. So far Criminal Girls' battles have been pretty solid, the system managing to be nice and easy to use but still stay deep enough to keep interest.
Criminal Girls' dungeons are made up of a relatively small number of floors. Each one usually features a fairly substantial step up in enemy toughness from the previous, and as there's no equipment system difficulty of combat is pretty much inversely proportional to the party's level. This also applies to boss battles, one of which usually appears on each floor. If the characters are strong enough then bosses are more often than not a straightforward war of attrition, if not then the solution has so far always been to just spend a bit of time grinding the random battles. There are puzzles in these dungeons, but these so far have all been solved by the girls themselves rather than the player, whose task seems to mostly be just leading them to the next event.
The other main thing Criminal Girls brings to the table is the Motivate feature, which doubles as the way party members learn skills. Here the player is directed to motivate the girls with various implements, such as whips or shock probes, in a mini-game on the front and rear touchscreens. The goal is to remove cartoon symbols representing various sins and temptations, but the actual implementation is at least a bit milder than the initial premise sounds. The apparent focus being more on removing the fog from a background image featuring the girl in different revealing outfits and rather suggestive poses. The mini-games are only slighty different between implements, and the basic premise of the girls needing motivation disappears rather quite quickly. In all honesty, the game is not any better off for its inclusion and feels more likely to turn more players away from the game than anything else, particularly considering the young design of about half the cast.
Visuals belie the game's status as an enhanced PSP port, utilising different levels of sprites, with the most graphical attention not surprisingly paid to the Motivate sequences. Dungeon themes are distinct, although the layouts and general structure aren't overly exciting. The music does a decent job, although the actual selection of tracks seems pretty limited, and the game features full Japanese voice-overs.
A large chunk of the game has so far provided a mildly pleasant surprise. Admittedly there's nothing to get overly excited about, but the dungeon crawling aspect of the game has been solid and an entertaining enough experience that's easy to sink good hours into. However, certain parts of the game that are integral to progressing will come down entirely to personal taste and these aspects are likely to shy away a good number of those who might otherwise find the title worthwhile.