Sex sells and everybody knows it. That’s why the fan service heavy Japanese games have always seemed so refreshing to me. If you know people want it and will pay for it, why not go whole hog with it? The latest game to exemplify this concept and also be lucky enough to be released in the United States is Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors from NISA.
Like so many recent JRPGs, it includes buckets of fan service, even making the punishing of naughty girls a main gameplay component, but as we have seen, an RPG cannot thrive on fan service alone.
In Criminal Girls 2, potential criminals are secluded and subject to a program that will see them “reformed” into good law abiding citizens. The system works in a preventative way; you don’t need to actually have committed a crime to find yourself in its throes. Thus these “criminals” are not yet so but are delinquents with the potential to become criminals.
You assume the role of a program instructor; you are to oversee and facilitate the reformation of the delinquents. Conveniently, you the instructor are the only man in the story. Your charges are seven unique and interesting young ladies with varying designs and personalities. The story seems more about the journey than the destination.
There is a tremendous amount of character dialogue and events. The conflicting behaviors and beliefs of the girls make for lots of interesting discussions and the constant banter during exploration and battle make the characters feel full and lovable. It’s also nice to see them slowly warm up to each other after a a rocky meeting.
Despite the awesome character portraits, there was very little unique event artwork, a bummer since I always look forward to it in game’s with visual novel style character dialogue and story progression. Mix that with the lack of the fully animated scenes that appear in some games and the story delivery feels flat at times.
Thankfully the authentic Japanese voice track has been left intact, although as a caveat voicing has been removed from some of the more important scenes (more on that later).
The first thing you’re likely to notice about the game is its wonderful art style. The characters, enemies and environments are all bursting with style and color. The chibi sprites used in combat are cute and there is a variety of themes for stages.
The stages are basically dungeons with various floors, but the lack of NPCs and events to discover within made the environments seem empty and unexciting at times. The character portraits are gorgeous and they change dynamically depending on what the girls say, in strong visual novel fashion. The punishment scenes too are of course quite lovely.
In screenshots these scenes may look static but they’re not and seeing the girls shake and tremble as they’re punished is quite an experience.
I also really liked the music in this game. It has a Halloween, kind-of-spooky sounding flair that makes it seem slightly festive and it adds to the criminal or overall “naughty” theme in the game. I hate the way the victory jingle loops if you sit idle after a battle though.
Strangely, you can only access the basic options menu from the title screen. I wanted to try and skip combat animations and speed up the appearance of text but these options were nowhere to be found.
The gameplay adds a unique component to spice up the tried and true JRPG formula. You can bring parties of up to four characters into the random turn-based battles.
The unique thing about combat is that you only get one action per turn, despite having four characters. For example, from the beginning of the game you may have a party with four characters, but when one of the characters attacks your turn ends. This seems like a pain at first, but as you level up the characters they will become able to bound off of the attacks of others and you’ll be able to attack with two or more characters per turn.
The other unique thing about the combat is that you cannot select specific actions for the characters. Each turn you’re shown a list of actions that each character can take. These may include regular attacks, skills you’ve learned, no action at all and more. This creates an interesting element of unpredictability in combat. It also made for some difficult choices; will I spend my turn healing or applying that buff that only comes along every now and then.
Some options appear under certain circumstances. For example, whenever the HP of the group dropped low enough, the healing spell option always appeared. There’s no telling what determines when other skills appear though.
At one point I learned a poison skill for one of the characters, but it seems this option almost never appeared during combat. If I felt that this mechanic was limiting my ability to fight effectively, I would have a problem with it but I never felt like this.
Given the initially tiny MP pools, you’ll likely spend most turns in the game attacking anyways and you almost always get the attack option, so it isn’t a problem. Also, graciously, you can use an item without consuming your entire turn. You also sometimes get access to super attacks in which characters join forces to deliver big damage, but I never saw an explanation of how to trigger these.
You can coach the girls during combat to increase the effectiveness of their actions. There are various kinds of coaching, such as scolding and praising, and the girls respond differently depending on their personality. Some girls respond well to being scolded, while the same action may dishearten or discourage members of your party, making their actions less effective. Because the bonus for coaching can be considerable, this adds another layer of strategy to battles. Coaching effectively, especially during boss battles, can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Some of the combat animations seem rather flat and the positioning of the characters on the screen made the fights feel sort of cramped and the backgrounds during combat seem rather bland (compared to other design elements), but this is a minor complaint.
As you level up. the character’s stats increase. However, to learn new skills you’ll need to use CP earned from fights to “motivate” your delinquents into being more productive individuals. These motivation or punishment scenes are rather entertaining and will have you scrubbing girls with soapy brushes, spanking them with whips, dousing them in sticky slime and much more.
The controls in some of these segments were better than in some others. Aside from the unique value of seeing these lovely characters exposed in such compromising positions, the motivation sections also provide fun distractions from the main game. My one complaint about these sections is that in their censoring of the game for the western market NISA removed voicing from the motivation scenes.
So we can still see the women being tied down and violated in any number of ways, we just can’t hear it. It makes the scenes seem so awkward and less engaging. It doesn’t even seem natural that someone would remain as quiet as a mouse while being whipped.
While I would obviously prefer if there were none at all, censorship doesn’t bother me too much when it removes tiny or otherwise insignificant details. But removing the voicing from those scenes was a terrible decision and a disservice to the kind of player who would even have picked up Criminal Girls 2, I’m sure.
It’s otherwise not at all a bad game, though it could certainly be better. It lacks a real weapon and armor system and various other features you might expect from a modern RPG, like some sort of creation system or deep character building (you can choose to raise each girl as a Sadist or Masochist, but the skill options were very similar or even identical at times), towns and regular NPCs, exploration outside of the dungeons, a quest system and so on.
Even so, what game is here is rather enjoyable. The fast combat is refreshingly different, there’s tons of character development and dialogue, the visuals are gorgeous and there’s plenty of fan service, which is a plus in my book. That said fan service had to be censored is a tragedy (if expected), but genre fans should still find enough for a pretty good time.