Niches in gaming are somewhat of a paradox, in the sense that their following is becoming so large that they almost cannot be described as a niche anymore, yet it would be wrong to refer to them as anything else. This is probably true because of the myriad of talent that has entered the gaming industry, people with artistic and mental capabilities capable of bringing in gamers who never gave the genre a try.
NIS America, publisher in Europe of Nippon Ichi Software of Japan, is slowly becoming an important point in Niche genres, mostly so by being the main importer of games which would never see the light of day except for Japan, if not for NIS America to localise these titles. One of these titles is Criminal Girls 2, sequel to the original which once again was localised by NISA. Criminal Girls 2 revolves around a group of delinquent girls, thus the title Criminal Girls, who have one last chance at turning their life for good before being sent to Hell to pay for their crimes. Much like its predecessor, you take control of a Program Instructor, an individual who will guide these girls through the reformation process and ensuring every one does her bit along the way.
The game itself is not a text based adventure, as you may be led to believe after reading the above, but it is an RPG, and quite an excellent one indeed. Basically, there are two facets of gameplay; the first resembles very much a dungeon crawler since you basically search the path which will lead to the exit, or in this case the next floor. You can encounter enemies randomly by walking, just like Final Fantasy, and similarly to it as well the battles are turn based. The other part of the game involves a series of R-rated mini games, aimed at motivating the girls and get them to fight, and later on to learn new moves and abilities. It is a mix which works wonders for the game, since players will realise that both sides are needed in order to succeed, unlike other titles which feature a mechanic that is very rarely used in game.
Battles in Criminal Girls 2 are the same as the first game. An action will be randomly generated for each girl in the battle party, depending on their available abilities. More recently unlocked abilities will appear more often than old ones, presumably because they are more powerful than previous abilities. Players then choose one action out of the four displayed, thus ending the turn with that action. Before selecting the action, players can use items such as healing or mana potions, and thankfully this can be done without losing your action. New to this game is also the coaching mechanic, where the player once again selects from four possible actions to motivate the girls. The effects of such motivation may have a positive effect on some and a negative effect on other girls. The trade off will thus have to be of great benefit to the outcome of battle, otherwise it is not recommended to proceed with coaching.
Motivation is the other key element in the game, where at rest points, players can play through a series of mini games, where the girls will obtain new abilities and attacks and becoming stronger while spending CP, obtained through battles and also found in chests spread throughout the map. This feature can also unlock the possibility to have two girls attack after each other in one turn, making more efficient use of a turn.
As mentioned before, both mechanics go hand in hand in Criminal Girls 2. For starters, in the very first minutes of the game, you will need to motivate the girls to do battle, otherwise the first enemy you encounter will be fatal. Motivating the girls is key to unlocking new and more powerful abilities which will help you eliminate more powerful foes.
Criminal Girls 2, as one can see from the above, has many similarities with its predecessor. One difference which is very welcome in the second game is character personalities. In the first game, both the girls and the instructor had bland personalities and that might have been a demerit of the game, but this time around it has been addressed brilliantly. The girls all have a unique personality, different from each other yet similar enough to make their union believable. The instructor, controlled by the player, also has quite a strong character, starting as a little weak but becoming stronger as the adventure goes on, with the player feeling almost attached to the girls and the instructor and wanting to do their utmost to help them on their quest and beating any adversary which they face.
One criticism which this game might receive is that it uses a number of resources from the first title, namely sprites of enemies as well as maps and environments and also some animations. While these had nothing wrong the first time around, one would have preferred a more original setting since the story is distanced from the events of the first game. Then again, it is still a prison from where the girls have to escape, so keeping the setting the same does have its good reasons as well.
Criminal Girls 2 is a sound game for both casual gamers and RPG lovers. A game with mechanics this good is great for a growing niche such as the dungeon RPG one, and coupling it up with a handful of hot girls only makes it better.