Surprised. That is one word I kept thinking in my head as I was playing this title. NIS America’s mature role playing game where you motivate delinquent woman out of Hell does a lot to make the game stand out from the crowd and is releasing in North America October 11th.
I shared my thoughts on the early portions of this title before but after playing through this title, I have a lot to say about this title. Criminal Girls 2 is a surprising title that you walk into just expecting a fan-service filled romp but surprises you with an engaging story, strong writing and inventive combat mechanics.
Word of caution however; this IS a mature title and I will be covering the motivation portions of this game during the Gameplay section of this review. I advise younger readers to not continue reading further if they are under 18 years old.
The story opens up with our main character waking up in a portion of Hell, with no idea how he got there and even losing his memories. A woman over a communicator informs him that he has to lead seven young woman to the top of the Hell Spire, to complete a special reformation event that will send them back to Earth. They don’t listen to you at first but after convincing four of them to follow you, convicts (lost spirits) start attack you. After pushing one of the women to fight the convict attacking, you return to where you started and get the remaining three woman to follow you, starting the adventure.
The journey back to Earth is one I was really surprised by; the writing in this game is really impressive. One good example of this is our main character. You would think that he is a blank slate with little to no backstory, but he has a reason to be in Hell with the seven woman. Learning his backstory gives great context to why he is so kind to the seven woman and you feel for him as you play through the game.
The seven woman are also fleshed out with a lot of depth. Each one has a specific personality but they grow and develop as they progress through the game. This comes to a head once you get to the mid-point in the game, as they start becoming a team and in some ways become a small family.
One of this games major themes is friendship and understanding our own internal flaws but pointing those out to better ones self. I honestly didn’t expect the story to be nearly as in-depth and character driven when I started playing this title, but I was continually impressed with the games writing. The jokes are on-point and each character has a unique ‘voice’, making them stand out. This is thanks to the fantastic localization which does a lot to in adding depth to the games cast.
Gameplay & Design
Criminal Girls 2 is a top-down dungeon crawler where you level up your party by fighting the many convicts in Hell. What makes exploration fun is how each floor is well designed, with puzzles to solve and exploring being rewarded with many chests containing money & healing items for your party. In addition, each floor of Hell (divided up into seven sections) has a special resting point for each level you explore. Here you can buy items for later use like healing and stat buffs, save your game, fully restore health and magic, and access the ‘Motivation’ mechanic.
I think we should touch on this first, considering it’s role in the games combat system. Motivation is a mode of the game where you play various touch screen mini games with the seven different woman….and they are suggestive. I do not mind games with sexual elements or fan service, but if they have a reason to be in the game, I respect there presence more.
The mini games themselves are a mixed bag, with some of them being fun like a touch screen one where you tap the screen at the right moments but another where you have to flick something on a target not being very responsive. Once you complete a mini game, you get experience points for that specific one and once you fill out a meter, you can chose one of two abilities for your party. In addition, once you do this enough you can unlock ‘Girl’s Wishes’, where they ask you for items to collect for them. This pushes you to backtrack through previously completely sections of Hell but you get rewarded for this.
How the Motivation aspect effects combat is quite ingenious. Combat has you picking one of four party members to attack and that is it…..on the surface. See, they won’t do anything until you use the Motivation mechanic at least once per party member and once they learn an attack or ability, then they can used it in battle. You don’t pick what they do but the battle itself dictates what moves your selected party member does.
Examples include your healer seeing two party members with lost health and offering to heal the entire group or if their are three enemies on the screen at once so the offensive mage does a multi-hit electrical magic attack that uses some of her magic points. This even extends to special team-up attacks, as depending on who is in your party, you can sometimes do a tag-team attack that can do a lot (powerful one-hit attack, multi-hit attack or buffing up the entire party). To learn these team-up attacks, you must take part in the motivation mechanic like the other attacks.
Combat also has other elements as well with one example being the Coaching System; you use one of four emotions to increase and decrease the effectiveness of attacks/abilities. This is heavily pushed for the higher difficulties, as picking the right emotion can make or break battles. You also can both switch party members and use items within the same turn, giving you some flexibility for when facing tougher foes or if you want to change-up your strategy.
With all this in place, combat should be really rewarding, and it is. But it is not without some issues. The difficulty can be quite hard on the base difficulty, as if you aren’t using everything the game offers, you will die often. In addition, not being able to select what types of moves your party can pull off is an issue sometimes. One example that comes to mind is a later boss fight where I wanted to use a magic attack called Operation Down which would not only attack the boss but lower his stats. But my healer refused to use this move not matter what options I picked.
But despite those issues, the game offers a lot of options for leveling up your party; you can get a lot of Criminal Points (currency for items and the Motivation mode) so you can get all your items and get new moves for your party if you frequently fight near resting points. That way you can level up your party to high levels while not eating away at vital resources.
Overall the core gameplay here is solid and despite some issues with combat at a few points, I had little issue with the gameplay.
Criminal Girls 2 is a long role playing game that offers hour upon hours of content. Completing each of the ‘Girls Wishes’ quests will take a long time and maxing out the motivation levels will take a while as well. In addition, the game has many different endings, encouraging further replay value if you want to see every ending this game has to offer.
This is a nice looking game, with high quality art work being in the different floors of Hell you explore alongside really expressive sprite work for the Convict’s and the seven woman. Character portraits during cut-scenes are expressive and while not lip-synced to the Japanese dialog, the translated text matches the speed of the voice acting. Each location of Hell is quite varied too, which helps make exploration interesting and prevents things from getting too stale when exploring the many sections of a given floor of Hell.
Sound is an area of the game I felt was strong, as the sound effects used during battle sound nice and have impact. In addition the musical score here is really well done, with the games main theme sounding great when booting the title up. I personally enjoyed the battle themes that play as you get though the game. The game also runs perfectly on the PlayStation Vita, with the game being presented at Native Resolution and the title having no frame rate issues.
Story – 4.5 out of 5 / Gameplay & Design – 3.5 out of 5 / Lasting Appeal – 4 out of 5 / Presentation – 4 out of 5
Criminal Girls 2 is quite the surprising title in the PlayStation Vita’s library. With the titles suggestive elements, I can see people writing this title off. But I encourage you give this game a fair shot. It offers a great story to experience with strong characters and writing, some interesting combat mechanics despite those having a few issues at points and a presentation that is well done. Criminal Girls 2 is a fun role playing title that does a number of things right.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Criminal Girls 2 was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita using a review copy provided by NIS America. All music linked and cited in this review belong under the copyright & trademark of NIS America.