Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors is a game that falls into a very specific niche; one that you either hate or enjoy. A BDSM-themed, PlayStation Vita exclusive dungeon crawler, the game revels in its blatant sexuality, which is sure to drive off a significant portion of the already slim Vita audience. But put aside it’s questionable proclivities, and Criminal Girls 2 still has the core of a strong, somewhat addicting, handheld RPG. With interesting levelling mechanics, and a host of endearing characters, Criminal Girls 2 is one of the best Vita experiences I’ve had this year.
Criminal Girls 2 starts out simply enough, if not a bit cliché for the genre. You wake up suddenly, without any memory of how you got where you are, and are suddenly informed that you are an Instructor, working in Hell to correct wayward souls. Not but a few moments later are you introduced to the rest of your party, a group of various women that are also said wayward souls. From here the story is a bit of a mixed bag; discovering that one member of your party is an impostor who shouldn’t be there. It’s all a bit contrived, and you will probably get more than a few feelings of deja vu throughout, depending on your familiarity with the genre. This plot line, combined with a need to get these girls out of hell, makes up the bulk of the plot, and while they play well enough as a means to an end, the characters themselves manage to shine brighter than the main story for the most part.
If you’ve ever seen a Harem or Ecchi anime like Rosario Vampire or Heaven’s Lost Property, you can probably guess what kind of characters make up your party in Criminal Girls 2. Each of the 8 characters belong firmly to some shade of generic stereotype; running the gamut from the honest, innocent type, to the sexy vixen that always manages to shove innuendo into everything she says to you. Thankfully, however, Criminal Girls 2 knows better than to leave players stranded with shitty clichés for 30+ hours, and after a while each character reveals a bit more depth than I was expecting. In addition, a very good translation helps to add some levity to the proceedings, with jokes that land right where they should. Criminal Girls might be smut in video game form, but between the writing and the characters, it also has plenty of heart.
Gameplay is where Criminal Girls 2 really shines however. Battles are played out in a standard turn based manner, with four selected girls making up the onscreen roster. As per genre standard, each character also has ability points that they can utilize for special attacks; ranging from buffs, to magic attacks, all of which can be levelled up (more on that later). What is different here however, is that players are given a selection of four attacks each turn, one for each girl. These four attacks change, not only depending on who is in your party and their own abilities, but the status of the rest of the party in the battle. This gameplay choice elevates Criminal Girls 2 – giving each battle a sense that the party members have a mind of their own. The girls even choose not to fight at all in the early game, because they are “unconvinced” it is in their best interests. This also creates interesting strategy trade-offs in the heat of battle. Do you heal your party, or choose to attack with your two strongest members, with the knowledge that neither option may be available next turn?
The game also gets props for its slew of interesting; buffs, attacks, and other moves, that only further the strategies available to the player. My personal favorite is the Revenge move, which draws all the damage from an enemy team to one character, in exchange for a powerful attack as long as she stays alive. Also included is the Coaching system, whereby players can scorn, or admonish the party, to mixed results. Try to inspire your team, and someone might be inspired to deal a critical hit, while someone else might just give up and do a measly 1 damage the next turn. In a genre all about trade-offs, Criminal Girls 2 has this aspect mastered.
However, it is the levelling system that is the main point of contention. As an instructor, it falls on the player to get these girls in top fighting form, and as such you are left with no option but to “Motivate” them. This basically means that players will engage the girls one-on-one in a series of various BDSM mini games in order to level up their abilities and stats. Stocking up and funnelling the experience earned in battle does become satisfying, but some people will take issue with the mini-games themselves – especially given that two certain members of the party are almost certainly younger than Western ages of consent. They pretty much stayed at level 1 for my entire playtime. The mini games themselves include such titles as; Spanking, Slime, and Scrubbing, mostly involving either tapping or rubbing the screen in an expedient manner, in order to maximize the gains to each girl’s abilities. It is what it is, and at the very least Criminal Girls goes out of its way to make sure that all of the girls are on board with the operation. Remember kids: the first rule of BDSM is consent.
Complementing the dungeon crawling action is an assortment of great hand drawn art. An improvement over the previous title’s PSP based graphical interface, Criminal Girls 2 looks crisp, featuring environments and character designs that are full of color – truly popping on the Vita’s OLED display. Even the “Motivation” scenes look good, and animate fluidly, creating a convincing illusion – despite being little more than jiggly still images. Enemy design is also standout, even if they all fall into archetypes along the way.
Lastly, the sound design remains a mixed bag. While the opening theme is immaculate, and the battle theme is good, the background dungeon music is forgettable at best. But possibly the worst part of the game’s music is the atrocious end battle stinger; a dull Final Fantasy knock-off that endlessly drones until you continue past it. It’s annoying at best, and at worst is painfully bad – but be quick on the draw and you should be able to minimize any encounters with it.
Like Gal*Gun and Senran Kagura before it, Criminal Girls 2 is either a game you’ll love or hate based on its core concepts. The ‘fetishistic’ dungeon crawler has enough gameplay chops to please genre faithful, and fans of Ecchi will be overjoyed by the variety of endearing waifus on display. But if you don’t like your anime ladies half-clothed and covered in bubbles, slime, or whipped cream, then Criminal Girls 2 isn’t the journey to Hell for you. Still, it is an enjoyable title in its own right, and I regret nothing about my time with it.