By Benny Carrillo / January 10th, 2017
The Mechanics of Dungeon Crawling and Motivation
From a gameplay stance, Criminal Girls: Invite Only is very simple. Your goal is to make it through six different cell blocks, each consisting of four floors. Each cell block is themed and you’ll be facing a boss at the end of each one. While each area is themed, they do at times feel pretty barren as battles are random encounters in this game and NPCs are few and far between. That also goes for save points. You won’t find them every floor and sometimes the trek back will be fraught with danger. Thankfully, each girl does have a field skill that can help you. These include healing, telling you how many treasure chests are in the area, warping back to your last save point if you need to heal up and rest, and summoning monsters if you’re trying to grind. Let me tell you now, this game is a grindy one. The main reason for this is you need CM. CM is used to buy things from shops but also, more importantly, it’s used to motivate the girls so they learn new attacks, which brings us to the battle system.
The battle system of Criminal Girls is really unique and one of the things I really like about the game. The character you play as does not fight. Instead, you’ll assign up to four girls as the active battle party. Once in a fight each of the girls will tell you what action they want to take through a quote of some sort. For example, Alice may say “Brr…” which would be a clue that she wants to cast the ice spell “Shiver”. While you might think it’d be rather hard to keep track of all these quotes, it’s actually not that bad. Each girl only has so many skills they can use, and as long as you can remember the MP cost, you’ll know what they’re about to cast. There is a potential pitfall here though in that you’re at the mercy of the RNG choosing what attack each girl wants to use.
Remember, you are given four choices. Each girl will suggest an action and you can only pick one. This leads to the potential for some fights to be lost if you just get dealt a bad string of choices. On top of this, there is no classic “Defend” option. There is a defend command that will have the entire party guard, but only Ran learns it. The tradeoff here though is that it’s only necessary for extremely powerful attacks, which are telegraphed. Thankfully, the game seems to prioritize that defense command coming up in those instances. Overall, I rarely ran into an unwinnable situation and the game was actually pretty fair about giving me attacks I could use. Really I found that as long as I leveled properly and ground enough CM to learn new attacks, the game was easily beatable and rarely felt unfair. Speaking of attacks and CM though, that brings us to the Motivation System.
The Motivation System is the other core mechanic of Criminal Girls and it’s where all of its controversies stem from. NIS America changed two things about it during the localization process. These scenes contain pink smoke as a sort of haze which fades away as you play the various motivation minigames. In the localization, some of this pink smoke will always remain around the girls’ crotch area instead of dissipating, acting like a mosaic of sorts. The other change is that the vocal track for these scenes was removed, which means there is no dialogue during these sections. I only bring this up as they are things that I feel do hurt the game’s presentation. A discussion about why these changes were made and my thoughts on that decision is beyond the scope of this editorial. I will say however, I don’t think it ruins the game. It’s not as good as it could be and it does feel like something is missing with the vocal track gone, but the game is entirely playable. Really, if I have a complaint about the Motivation System it’s that I feel it’s dragged out a bit.
Throughout the game, you’ll earn tools such as a riding crop. This is used in the motivation scenes. You’ll collect five of these items over the course of the game and each unlocks a variation of the motivation minigames. While each minigame is fine, they each have four levels and each level will have to be completed at least twice to learn your next skill. This means you’ll be playing the motivation games a lot which can get kind of tedious. However, it’s essential to finish them as it’s the only way to learn new attacks and skills. As you can see the game mechanics are a bit of a mixed bag. So then why do I think you should give this a chance then? Well, the reason for that lies in the game’s story.
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