You have to eat this video right now, it's an emergency.
Trigger warnings for sexual assault and misogyny in this review.
Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a strange name considering that none of the girls in this game ever invite you to do anything. Indeed It almost seems the localization team realized that rape is a crime, and instead tried to hide it beneath a veneer of implied consent. Like any good prosecutor however, I don’t play to make just one charge: Not only is Criminal Girls: Invite Only deeply misogynistic, it is also criminally boring.
That’s a shame, too! The core concept of the game could be really interesting if it were executed well. Seven residents of hell are offered chances at redemption, and you have to be a sort of leader to them as they travel up out of the pit on a journey of self-discovery. It could be touching, right? Redemption’s a powerful theme, right? Unfortunately, Criminal Girls ruins its good premise by forcing you to, sadly, sexually assault your charges.
Oh, of course the game would never say that. AO ratings aren’t marketable in English-speaking territories, and so NISA had a fine line to walk between being too-disgusting-for-the-rating-boards, and appeasing the “I hate censorship give me anime rape porn” male customer base, which has lead to such wonderful euphemisms as ‘motivate’. It’s not sexual assault, it’s ‘motivation’. You do it to ‘purify’ the girls, especially that man-hating one who punched you in the face at the beginning of the game. Don’t worry, it’s not sexual, we removed all the audio clips of the girls moaning and making comments as you use a violet wand on their ‘temptations’. Please, just ignore the gym uniforms, cat ears, and open-chest sweaters, we just thought the girls would get tired of their jail outfits. We’re definitely not trying to feed you BDSM cosplay porn, and anyone who says otherwise is probably just in need of a good whipping by the explicitly-male protagonist.
It doesn’t help that the minigames associated with these scenes are all dull as hell. Each of them usually involves some sort of ‘temptation’ (read: tiny monster) appearing on the screen and you having to tap it, drag it, or press on it until it disappears. Pink ones use the front touch pad, blue ones use the rear. The issue here (beyond being really cliche) is that you can’t enjoy lewd CG’s when you have to awkardly scribble your finger all over the Vita’s rear touchpad. I get that the developers wanted you to feel like you were putting your hands all over some girl, but the Vita is just not that soft. I’m sorry.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the way the game eroticizes sexual assault is how the game tries to suggest that the cast ‘deserves it’ in some way. However, because the game also needs the cast to be likeable, most of their individual backstories cast them as the victim, leading to some very uncomfortable victim blaming. Whether it’s the cult-goddess girl who was just trying to please her parents, or the “I was stalked” girl who was trying to protect herself, or the “I was bullied for being poorer than my classmates” girl who did paid dating to get the money to stop herself from being bullied, the idea of having to molest them back into being obedient post-game girlfriends is…icky, to put it lightly. The game, however, doesn’t seem to have any degree of self-awareness and indeed even goes full tilt with Persona 4 style ‘shadow selves’ the cast has to defeat in order to move past their defense mechanisms. It’s all very disturbing.
Even worse, when the game isn’t implicitly having you rape girls into obedience, you have to play possibly the least exciting JRPG imaginable. The game has a battle system where you don’t actually control any of the characters. Instead, each of your cast members suggests an action and you can pick one of them to execute while the rest of your party does nothing. Early on this is tolerable, as your cast will not have many actions by virtue of you not having had the opportunity to rape many into them. As the game progresses however, old actions are obsoleted and become basically a waste of a turn, leading to many turns spent buffing in random encounters until you manage to generate an action that can finish the battle in one shot. The battle system isn’t bad per-se, but it does drag out easy battles which tend to get very boring.
Out of combat, the best way I could describe the game is uninspired. The entire game is spent in a linear dungeon devoid of traps, surprise encounters, or any kind of non-story threat beyond random encounters. The dungeon floors themselves look like something out of a mystery dungeon game (so dull), and generally they tend to be built to force you to do a lot of extra walking, forcing you to go back in order to hit switches, retrieve plot tokens, and do other such mundane things. The obvious goal here is to make the player fight more random encounters, which ties into the game’s character advancement. Monsters drop currency you spend on consumable items (wastes of money) and rape scenes required to unlock skills (the only “worthwhile” use of money). You could hypothetically run from fights, but then you’d end up behind in money and be unable to pay the sexual assault tax required to keep the cast on-par with the monsters. Also, the game has a problem with making you walk too much, and there is no run command.
It really hurts to play Criminal Girls because I can actually see a lot of promise in it. The character designs are cute, the writing is actually pretty touching when it’s not trying to justify sexual assault, and the idea of a BDSM themed eroge does actually seem kind of hot. Unfortunately the rape, boring-as-hell dungeon crawling, and terrible touch-screen minigames ruin the entire thing. Now, please excuse me while I go take a cold shower.