Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
By their nature, sequels are designed to take things a little further than their predecessors. Horror franchises have to find ever more inventive ways of killing off characters. Action movie setpieces have to get more and more grandiose and breathtaking. It doesn't matter what media we're talking about — games, movies, books — sequels have to take things one step further, or they risk looking like pale imitations of the originals.
Case in point: Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors. The first Criminal Girls was…something. Not necessarily something good, mind you, but it was, if nothing else, memorable. How else to describe a dungeon crawler in which you were a prison guard tasked with leading a group of young, delinquent girls out of Hell, and then punishing them if they didn't get in line with your demands? It seemed designed to appeal to a very particular fetish niche, to the point that if you weren't part of that niche, you probably wouldn't get much out of it beyond disgust.
Truthfully, I was kind of terrified — albeit in a slow-down-for-a-car-crash kind of way — to see how Criminal Girls 2 would top its predecessor for sheer creepiness. I mean, what does a game do for an encore when it's already gone to the well of using shocks and whips to get barely-pubescent girls to bend to your will?
Not much else, as it turns out. I mean, sure, now you can also fling white goo at the girls (not to mention scrub and spank them), but all things considered, once you've established that you’re okay with torturing (sorry, “disciplining”) young girls, changing the method can only shock and titillate so much. Not that it's not a pretty horrific premise if you think about it for more than a few seconds, but it turns out that one game is all it takes to inure you to this kind of thing.
Criminal Girls 2 does try to be transgressive in other ways, of course. The main character’s uniform, for example, with its red armband and peaked cap, certainly has echoes of late-1930s Germany. And it practically goes without saying that every female character in the game is dressed in ways that wouldn't be out of place in an over-the-top burlesque show, and that they're regularly arranged in ways that don't leave anything to the imagination.
But as I said, none of that is as shocking as it was the first time around (or for anyone who’s ever played pretty much any of the Vita’s vast JRPG library), which means that, even more than in the original Criminal Girls, this game has to stand on its own merits. And unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough here for it to do that.
See, take away its lewd and lurid trappings, and you’re left with a pretty rote dungeon-crawler. Turn-based combat is turn-based combat, regardless of how the girls taking those turns may be dressed. The same goes for exploring every nook and cranny of each floor: in moments like those, it doesn’t matter if you’re covered from head to toe or wearing strategically-placed strips of fabric, it’s still just lots of wandering.
And that, ultimately, is why it’s hard to recommend Criminal Girls 2. It would be one thing if, like Gal*Gun or Monster Monpiece, the titillation was cover for a game that was secretly also a lot of fun. Instead, what you have here is titillation to cover up the fact the game isn’t even all that enjoyable, which just makes it kind of sad.