Weird Little Things
Much like its predecessor, the Vita has become something of a haven for relatively unknown and unusual Japanese games. This past year has brought us some surprising releases, games that many would have never expected to be brought West. Danganronpa, Conception II, and the uncomfortable Monster Monpiece have satiated the Western Vita market’s apparent desire for niche Japanese games.
Last week, XSeed Games released another game to add to the “delightfully unusual” category of the Vita’s library. Perhaps after their recent work on heavier games like Ys: Memories of Celceta and Trails in the Sky, they were looking for something a bit more lighthearted for their next release. So, on August 12th, 2014, Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed was released to US audiences. The second in a series that was unreleased outside of Japan until now, Akiba’s Trip features a mechanic that has made many a gamer look at it questionably. Namely, the battle system revolves around stripping clothes off of people…
Akiba’s Trip has been released for both PS3 and Vita. This review is focused on the Vita version.
The Otaku Vampire
In Akiba’s Trip, you play as Nanashi (who can be renamed to your liking), who is just your everyday hardcore anime and manga otaku living in Tokyo. Nanashi receives a sketchy job offer that promises to pay him in rare figurines and anime memorabilia, but upon arriving to the interview, he is drugged and wakes up strapped to a table. Turns out that the sketchy job offer was, of course, fake. He is informed that he is now a “Synthister,” a being that sucks the will to live from others but has an intense weakness to sunlight, kind of like a vampire.
Before he is fully indoctrinated as a Synthister, he is rescued by a mysterious girl named Shizuku. Now free, Nanashi teams up with Shizuku and his other friends, the Akiba Freedom Fighters, to figure out what Synthisters really are, who is turning people into them, and to protect their town of Akihabara from their wrath.
The Gloves Come Off…and the Shirt…and the Pants…
For those who are unaware, Akihabara (commonly abbreviated Akiba) is a real-life district of Tokyo, famous as a kind of cultural center for anime, manga, and video games. Akiba’s Trip attempts to emulate the real world Akiba on a 1:1 scale, and the game’s version features real locations and the real shops and attractions in them. This makes the game present itself in an open-world style, where you are free to explore Akiba and take in the sights. Unfortunately, rather than one large open world, the game breaks the map into sections with loading screens in between them. As the game is quite exploration heavy, these semi-lengthy loading screens become annoying quickly. Luckily, though, once you have visited a section of the city, it becomes available for fast-travel, so you only have to deal with one loading screen between far away areas rather than multiple.
As mentioned earlier, Akiba’s Trip‘s core gameplay is a bit unusual. The majority of the time, your enemies are Synthisters, who die if exposed to sunlight. Of course, this means the Synthisters cover up with heavy clothes to keep the sunlight away. The transformation into Synthister also makes people much stronger and more impervious to any kind of physical attack. Therefore, the best way to kill them is to expose them to sunlight. How do you go about doing this? Strip them right down to their underwear, of course!
This game features an action-RPG battle system. Three attacks are assigned to three face buttons: high for headware, mid for shirts, and low for pants and skirts. The goal is to beat on whichever part of an enemy’s body is still clothed until their clothes are weakened. Then, by holding down the corresponding button, Nanashi goes in and rips the clothes off of the enemy. Wash, rinse, and repeat until all enemies are down to their underwear. Blocks and counters are also part of the attack repertoire. If you attempt to remove an article of clothing that isn’t weakened yet, you get a chance to button-mash its health bar down to weaken or destroy it.
If multiple enemies have sufficiently weakened clothes when you go to strip, you can chain strip them all together via quick-time event prompts. Get a high enough chain, and you can strip off their underwear as well! (That part is censored, obviously) While the battle system is fun and hilarious at first, it can quickly become tedious. Weaken and strip, weaken and strip, on and on until you beat the game. There are no other methods of beating enemies.
Of course, since you are a Synthister as well, the enemies will be trying to strip you down too. Akiba’s Trip features decently extensive clothing customization. You are able to equip what seems to be hundreds of different outfits, both purchased from shops and stripped off of enemies. Your in-gamelittle sister offers a synthesis service that combines clothing or weapons together to make them stronger. While pricey, this allows any piece of clothing to be viable. At a certain point in the game, you gain the ability to wear female clothing as well. Want to go into the final battle wearing cat ears, a military jacket, and a mini-skirt? Go right ahead!
The list of usable weapons is just as extensive and crazy. Everything from a wooden sword to a mailbox to a roomba is up for grabs. The weapons are separated into four general categories that affect their playstyle (one-handed, two-handed, heavy, and fist-worn), and even beyond that each weapon has its own quirks and special moves. Hell, I beat the game wielding a keytar!
Between battle sequences, the story sections are handled in a visual novel style. Talking heads present the story, and you are occasionally given options to choose your response to a character. As you may learn early in the game, these choices matter. Your selections determine what direction the latter half of the game travels in, how the story will end, and most importantly, which girl ends up as your girlfriend.
The Electric City
This is where the game takes some major stumbles. On the plus side, Akihabara is recreated beautifully in this game. Every section of the town has its own character, the streets feel crowded and alive, and the shouts from store clerks, maids, and anime advertisements playing on big-screen televisions add to the charmingly chaotic atmosphere. Unfortunately, it seems having this much going on is too much for the Vita to handle. The problem with loading screens was mentioned earlier. After making it into an area, though, the loading still isn’t done. NPCs do not spawn immediately, but rather take some time before showing up on the map. Even then, they are only fully rendered within a certain distance. Any further off and all you see are generic silhouettes until you get close enough to them.
The game also suffers from severe slowdown in many areas. Running around larger and more populated areas causes the game to slow down enough to be noticeable and annoying. Large battles can cause the game to slow to a crawl.
In the character design department, despite roughly half of the game spent in dialogue sequences, character portraits are not particularly expressive. Each character has one standard pose and a couple facial expressions. During dialogue with main characters, there are some lipflap animations while they are speaking. Side characters do not have this, making dialogue between main and side characters somewhat awkward. Character portraits for side characters are not very varied, either, with occasional instances of multiple of the same portrait displayed when talking to groups.
Animations, though, are important where it counts. The amount of jiggling breasts is amazing, guys!
Hustle and Bustle
I’ll be honest, I barely even noticed the music in this game. As I sit here writing this, I am unable to recall any tracks. Outside of battle and story sequences, though, music is pretty much non-existent. Rather than a sweeping soundtrack during exploration, you are instead surrounded by the sounds of Akihabara. Street vendors calling out to you, advertisements playing, and the chaotic chatter of crowds moving around you. This part is great, and makes the game a bit more immersive.
Akiba’s Trip is one of XSeed’s largest voice acting undertakings to date. EVERY line of storyline dialogue is voiced, and there is quite a lot of it. I have seen quite a bit of criticism of the voice actors, but in my opinion, the voices fit the characters quite well. Aside from one or two weak performances, the voice acting is pretty well done. My personal favorite, and probably a controversial opinion, is the voice of Nanashi’s little sister Nana. The tone of voice seems unusual, but the deadpan delivery of her lines just fits her character perfectly. For the language die hards out there, dual-audio is included as an option, if you’d rather hear the original Japanese voices.
Keep Your Clothes On
Overall, Akiba’s Trip is pretty…average. For every good thing the games has, a problem shows up to drag it down. The story is interesting and rather hilarious, but starts to drone as the game goes on. Gameplay starts off fun and very hilarious, but becomes repetitive quickly. The style and work that went into recreating Akihabara is amazing to look at, but the loading and slowdown problems drag it down. The voice acting is, for the most part, quite good, but what background music there is is unremarkable at best.
My final opinion and score for this game really comes down to the audience. If you are a fan of Japanese pop culture, or you are an otaku yourself, you are sure to find something to love in this game. It can be easy to look past the issues and just immerse yourself in the crazy environment and pop culture in-jokes. If you are none of the above, though…I can’t say I wouldn’t recommend it, but you may want to try before you buy.
While our scoring system marks the score as “mediocre,” I feel that word has too negative a connotation. I’d say a better word to use would be “average”.
~ Final Score: 5/10 ~
Review copy provided by XSeed Games for Vita. Screenshots taken by reviewer.