Writing about Criminal Girls 2 for, what our founder calls, a “family friendly” website is tricky. There is that over-hanging awkwardness in Western media where they favor live action footage of police gunning down someone unarmed but cringes at sexualization. To make matters worse, I am prudish by nature. I keep my sexuality in the bedroom, under the bed and locked in a safe. Yet, digging beneath the surface, it seems something special is lying here…
Criminal Girls 2, developed by Nippon Ichi Software, is the latest Japanese title to take six months to make the transition to the West (more on that later). You are an instructor who must help seven girls to reformation. Each one was sent to Hell due to having their own personal demons. Although they’re given the chance to enlightenment since they didn’t commit a sinful act before dying.
However, within this group lies a soul who did commit a sinful act who is piggybacking their way out of Hell. It is only by aiding the girls through reformation that you hope to discover who is the convict doomed to an eternity in Hell and send them deservingly there, meanwhile letting the reformed return back to Earth as bright fresh souls…
…by tying them up and subjecting them to various sadomasochistic treatments.
I think I best get the sexual layer out the way with. This is especially as it is the most apparent part of the surface level. While some of the women are scantily clad, there is no nudity at all. Rather, the sexuality comes in the form of bondage in different positions and inflicting upon them various tools. Overall, besides suggestibility, it is generally tame. At times it gets funny where it is noticeable at which point the bondage got removed due to censorship, although NIS does as good of a job as can be done in this situation.
Where things go from “acceptably tame” to “perhaps don’t play this in public” are the characters. Oddly, it isn’t the scantly-clad large-breasted women that might get you a clip-’round-the-ear-hole from your Catholic nan for being a rude little boy/girl. Instead, it’s the women who may not be criminal women but instead criminal girls. Two characters in particular look so under-aged that each S&M session with them feels like a sex offender’s application form. I keep being unsure if there is a culture gap going on or if I’m getting an incorrect read of the intentions here. As though I thought Léon: The Professional was a romantic film.
So then you dig a little deeper, and this is where intent begins to get that strange blur you get in your vision via sleep deprivation. When you’re not giving the age-vague girls a good thrashing, you have a drama revolving around distrust and the sins of the past. A drama unafraid to confront things like a parent’s love, drug use and even cognitive thoughts of a young girl rationalizing suicide. While it wouldn’t be winning awards, it was hard not to want to root or sympathize for the cast. Their grim backstories, coupled with their various flaws which pushed each other away, made me hope for some form of self-actualization. That maybe, hopefully, they’ll reform rather than devolve into twisted paranoid wrecks who have let hatred and past mistakes corrupt themselves.
“You didn’t forget about the gameplay within Criminal Girls 2, did you?”. Oh no, friendly auditory hallucination, I haven’t. As this is your primary way of finding salvation for those under your guidance and rid them of their demons. Normally you’d just whip them red while exposing them to a self-reflecting area that would make Silent Hill 2 raise an eyebrow. Except there seems to be a coup going on between the convicts of Hell and the inspectors, so you must trudge through the layers of dungeon to the exit yourself while whipping them.
We have the standard turn-based song-and-dance here. You swagger around like a drunkard looking for a fight, get a random encounter, pick what moves you want and trade blows until someone’s health hits 0. You punch up enough people, and your stat numbers get bigger, letting your girls get stronger.
There is a trade going on here though. It seems the typical expected elemental/magic-vs-melee play that makes you think about what move you’re using against whom has been removed. In exchange, you can swap in and out characters on the fly as their MP or health begins to slack and their ability not be up-to-par. There’s some strategy still afoot, but it feels a bit basic after that gutting.
Although it is perhaps understandable, as this is the second part of the game that made me do a spit-take (after that narrative). Rather than having all the abilities from the get go, allowing you to spam the winning combo over and over again until you get some kind of victory, it plays like a deck-building game. Each character has abilities which you earn via S&M bondage which get added to a randomized group of abilities they may pull. Each turn has each character propose a possible action. You then poke the character whose ability swings your way.
There is just one issue about this: Criminal Girls 2 seems to want to have its whipped-cake and eat it in terms of characterization and strategy. It seems to believe you don’t want that pesky drab picking moves and being told what it does routine. Instead, you have to play “guess the catchphrase” as you’re given a character comment and have to guess what it does. So at times the results are unexpected and random to a frustrating degree.
Overall though, the combat creates an interesting randomized element that, I admit, brings me back to my awkward university days. Ones spent playing deck-building games like Dominion late into the evening. Needless to say, I was the wild experimenting sort in those days, as I dabbled in untested territories like pen-and-paper RPGs, card games and board games.
How you get these abilities from before is through sadomasochistism, and that’s how we find ourselves back at the start. You spend points earned in combat to play mini-games, like where you flick barely-disguised cum on the girls. Depending on your ability to, for instance, taze a girl at the right time on the correct voltage you get points. Win enough points and, like a fairground, you can cash it in to level up the mini-game so you can get one of two abilities.
So you’re likely expecting me to thrash into it being the prudish journalist for the “family friendly” website I am. Yet, no. As someone who is well versed in the grind in JRPGs, this might be one of the best ways I’ve ever seen to break it up. I am honestly gobsmacked at how well implemented these mini-games are and how well they break up the monotony of the grind. Especially as they are still earned via the grind and still relate to your combat prowess, so it doesn’t feel like unrelated faffing about. They’re also skill-centered and vary enough to never grow stale, as each mini-game has a maximum level upon which you unlock the last ability that game has to offer. It ends up livening up what could have been a patience-testing side common to JRPGs.
The overall score for Criminal Girls 2 is a 8/10. If you climbed inside of a time machine disguised as a fridge and told past me I’d be giving Criminal Girls 2 a glowing recommendation, you’d probably get sectioned under section 4 of the Mental Health Act. When you do inevitably break out, since films have taught me mental hospitals have poor security, I would have chuckled at the sheer lunacy.
Yet, Criminal Girls 2 isn’t just an S&M porn title (even with the funny censoring due to paranoid politicians). It is a JRPG that is interested in not only providing a narrative that makes you empathize and become invested, but also mechanics that seek to try new refreshing ideas that work. The sexualization works as a garnish rather than the core. If you’re not sure whether to buy Criminal Girls 2, if that imagery is what makes you uncertain, know that beneath that layer lies a treat to all JRPG fans. Even as someone who prefers to keep their sexuality and everything else incredibly separate, Criminal Girls 2 is a highlight of the year for me.
A PS Vita Review Code for Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors was provided by NIS America for the purpose of this review