PlayStation 3, PSVita
Adventure, Beat 'em up
August 12, 2014
When I took my first, tentative steps into anime fandom in high school, a friend of mine recommended a title that has since fallen into relative obscurity called Those Who Hunt Elves; It’s a comedy series revolving around a group of three people and an army tank who, after being accidentally whisked from modern day Japan and into a Tolkienesque high fantasy world, are forced to wander the countryside stripping elven maidens to find the pieces of a spell necessary to return home. It was my formal introduction to nudity being used chiefly for comedy over titillation – a prospect that Japan seems to maintain an edge on despite its notoriously prolific conventional use of clotheslessness – and I’m happy to report that the tradition is still alive and well in Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed.
Fear not though, social justice warriors, the forced removal of garments from one’s enemies is equal opportunity in Akiba’s Trip. After all, both genders are equally susceptible to the treatment that turns them into Synthisters, vampires in almost everything but name who’ll turn to ash, nearly instantaneously, if exposed to sunlight from the neck down (convenient!). That’s precisely the situation you find yourself in when you start, strapped to a table in a dark room and being informed of your predicament by an irritatingly smarmy man in a suit. There’s a very good chance you’ll make it out of this room alive, so long as you don’t betray your overwhelming desire for rare anime figures through the dialogue options…
Of otaku, by otaku, for otaku
Yep, if the name, premise, art, or any number of other things leading up to your reading this didn’t tip you off, this is a game about otaku. References to games and anime flavor content throughout the game, permeate every bit of dialogue not directly related to the progression of the plot. You play as an obsessive eccentric surrounded by your obsessive eccentric friends and living in the obsessive eccentric capital of the world: Akihabara, or Akiba, as the locals like to shorten it to.
It’s so overwhelmingly Japanese that my first foray into the overworld felt like getting slapped in the face with a live koi.
And when it comes down to it, Akiba is the real main character of Akiba’s Trip. Sure, your blank slate protagonist – whose default name is even a joke on this – and his supporting cast are cleverly written for as bland and blatantly tropey as they are. But, if you’re looking for sheer personality and influence, you get a bigger dose anytime you take your first step out onto the city streets to hunt, fetch, or shop than you do from just about any conversation. As nearly every character will remind you at one point or another, there’s no other place in the world quite like Akiba. Acquire went to great lengths to translate as much of the sensation of walking the streets of the Electric Town as possible. It might not be a full 1:1 scale replica, but the level of detail crammed into every in-game block is downright inspiring, replicating real-life storefronts with admirable accuracy and even throwing in actual shop fliers as collectibles. It’s so overwhelmingly Japanese that my first foray into the overworld felt like getting slapped in the face with a live koi.
It’s a shame that all that hard work has to contend with a host of immersion-breaking shortcomings. Digital Akiba is broken up into visibly divided chunks that are loaded one at a time, and whether you’re running the length of Radio Kaikan between zones or simply rounding a corner to get from one quadrant of Main Street to its opposite, you’ve got a good ten-plus seconds to wait before you do it. If that weren’t enough to test your patience, the lengthy delays on spawning the city’s NPC crowds will certainly do the trick. Granted, tracking several dozen models at a time all clad in semi-random sets of equippable clothing totalling in the hundreds is bound to tax some hardware, but wandering a ghost town for half a minute at a time until the crowds pop can become troublesome when you’re saddled with time limits on sidequests and the NPC you’re looking for refuses to spawn.
When it comes to the sidequests that pad out Undead and Undressed’s relatively short main story, very little in the game really does much to enable your ability to pursue them. Not only are there time limits completely arbitrary by the game’s own admission – offering little more warning to their length than a courtesy email in-game at what seems like the halfway point – but being able to discern associated NPCs solely by the color of their nameplates only compounds the above issue of having to wait on NPC spawns. Your city map marks the zone they’re in, but besides that you’re left with the quests’ text writeups to locate them, with directions citing the names of specific stores that you unfortunately can’t read unless you’re fortunately bilingual. Navigation icons are even freely toggleable, so it seems a wholly unnecessary omission.
You’ll notice that I’ve gone all this time without really mentioning the core mechanic of the game, the combat. It’s not so much that sequentially smacking around and then stripping Synthisters to their skivvies is handled badly, just that the process gets repetitive and a little bland in relatively short order. Experimentation with different weapon types – each of which has its own individual quirks that can be previewed by observing enemies using them against you – will keep things fresh for a while, but once you find a weapon that clicks with your fighting style you’re likely to stick with it and just put in the cash to upgrade.
Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed is on the cusp of being something special on nearly every front
Speaking of which, the gear upgrade system is similarly basic, working on a strict linear progression of increasing the health an article of clothing gives you or the damage value on a weapon. While this ensures that you’ll be able to keep your items of choice, so long as you keep finding more pieces of junk equipment to sacrifice for more numbers, the lack of any functional variety makes it solely a case of what you think looks or behaves best. This could be a blessing or a curse depending on what you prioritize.
That’s really the overall story with this game, though: Good ideas left underdeveloped. Fighting is responsive and seems to encourage experimentation, but doesn’t offer the depth to make it worthwhile. The music is appropriately punchy and covers a decent range of styles, but repetition of the same few tracks makes them wear out their welcome too quickly. Visual novel-style branching story paths add some flavor and replay value for completionists and trophy chasers, but have no real impact on what you fight or how you approach it.
Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed is on the cusp of being something special on nearly every front, but thorough mediocrity can be just as damning as incompetence. It exploits a few of my weaknesses – namely anime wackiness and widely customizable outfits – and anyone with similar vulnerabilities will find themselves with a similar added affection for it, but strictly on technical merit it leaves something to be desired with its short draw distance, load time issues, and overly simple systems. Unless you’re a particular fan of the concept behind it, this is a decent but safely skippable title.
A download code for Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed was provided for the purpose of this review. Please see our Ethics Statement for more information.