For a console that is often perceived by most to be idly pushing up the virtual daisies, the PS Vita has built up, and continues to build up, a vibrant and bountiful catalogue of titles that cater to a wide range of tastes and appetites. The most abundant of genres to really stake a claim on Sony’s diminutive handheld is the Japanese dungeon-crawler RPG (DRPG) due in-part to Sony’s home country support and popularity.
PS Vita’s new exclusive Criminal Girls 2: Party Favours is the latest the DRPG genre has to offer and at first glance it’s very easy to be perturbed by the game’s heart-on-sleeve raunchiness and blatant sexualization of women. I do however, somewhat appreciate Nippon Ichi’s tact of embracing and committing to its often cringe-worthy S&M flavoured frivolousness. At times I felt outright uncomfortable playing Criminal Girls 2: Party Favours for review, but the long and the short of it is this; it’s actually not a bad DRPG — it is, on the other hand, far from being an exceptional one.
You play the role of the Program Instructor who has been sent to the Hell Spire (a building between Hell and the present day) to save the souls of seven naughty young ladies who are affectionately referred to as Delinquents. In true JRPG fashion you’ve conveniently forgotten your name and identity and you’ve lost all of your memories — that old chestnut. It’s your job to rehabilitate the plucky Delinquents, bad girls who have died in the real world before they’ve had the chance to commit any serious crimes. If you and your party of miscreants climb the tower successfully, your victory promises freedom for everyone involved.
Following in the footsteps of Japan’s fascination with both reform and being caught in a pre-determined trap, Criminal Girls 2: Party Favours echoes themes of betrayal that is explored in Kinji Fukasaku’s excellent Battle Royale, Spike Chunsoft’s brilliant Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Lancarse’s terrific and criminally underrated strategy-RPG Lost Dimension. Unfortunately, the dialogue found within Criminal Girls 2: Party Favours doesn’t capitalise on its thematic influences as it’s character’s conversations are far from compelling stuff — dialogue is comparatively banal and reading through it often felt overly laborious. For better or for worse, there is also no English voiceover to be found — you’ll have to make do with reading the reams of text yourself, which was is no way a deal-breaker, but it’s something that should be noted.
Thankfully, the dungeon-crawling heart of the game is very more-ish stuff. You explore the dungeons from an isometric viewpoint and employ four out of the seven of your little rascals at-a-time to battle the souls of twisted criminals that lurk within the Hell Spire. Random battles happen regularly and are turn-based, with some welcome flourishes that help to add a little variety to the increasingly difficult grind. Your options during combat fluctuate depending on the motivation of the girls in tow. The higher their motivation (more on this later), the larger the pool of special moves there are to appear in the battle menus. Basically, the more you “motivate” the girls during down-time, the more likely you’ll be to land a heavy damage-dealing special move, as opposed to just the option of a basic attack.
Motivating the girls is where things get a little icky. It’s a unique training method that helps the Delinquents “learn more about themselves” and helps with their rehabilitation. Essentially, you’ll be performing silly mini-games to level up and unlock their special skills. These mini-games range from scrubbing the Delinquents dry, to spanking them, to flicking slime onto them, I know — eww. Honestly, these mini-games aren’t titillating in the slightest, but are instead mindless, boring and very repetitive tasks that are essential to making progress through the increasingly challenging dungeons. It does help add a little diversity to the game, but for me, it’s undoubtedly one of it’s weakest elements, along with its uninteresting dialogue.
On a more positive note, the art is very well done. Sure, it often veers towards the raunchy, up-the-skirt shots a little too often for my liking, but its art-style, particularly in-game, is cute, smooth and very polished. The environments are varied, well designed and pop with colour, and its J-pop score is worthy of mention too.
There are a ton of amazing DRPGs on Vita, such as Persona 4: Golden, Demon Gaze, Severed and Siralim to name but a few, so it’s tough to unreservedly recommend Criminal Girls 2: Party Favours. This curious ‘crawler exists in a niche within a niche. The foundations are here for a very competent DRPG, but it’s let down by mind-numbingly ridiculous mini-games and tiresome dialogue. When you battle a boss, frantically whittle its health down to zero, with your party’s health hanging by a thread, it’s hard not to punch the air with delight — it’s just a shame that the rest of the design philosophies within the game weren’t a little more robust, and not solely designed to simply pander and attempt so hard to titillate.
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