To the City Streets
The fantasy genre is a favorite of many RPGs, both Japanese and Western. Fantastical realms full of odd creatures, wild and intriguing environments to explore. The chance to interact with these worlds, previously only seen in passive experiences such as books and movies, makes classical fantasy an obvious choice for many developers.
But what if you’re not into the “swords and sorcery” dragons and elves style of modern go-to fantasy realms? Maybe you want something a bit more…modern? Something like what you see outside your window right now?
Enter Urban Fantasy. A genre that takes the sensibilities of the fantasy genre and interprets them in a contemporary setting. Here, you get a nice blend of the wonders of standard fantasy, but in a place more familiar.
Urban Fantasies have become quite popular in recent years, and are practically codified in video games by the Persona series. Even Final Fantasy has also been (very arguably) pushing toward more Urban Fantasy elements, with the recent Final Fantasy XV blending its swords and magic with modern cities and highway travel via automobile.
The game we are looking at today falls pretty easily into the Urban Fantasy genre, bringing creative worlds and fantasy battles into the popular setting of modern Tokyo. More specifically, the otaku haven district of Akihabara.
Developed by Acquire and published in North America by Xseed Games, Akiba’s Beat was released on May 16th, 2017, for the PS4 and Vita. The PS4 version was played for this review.
Only a Delusion
Akiba’s Beat is a spiritual successor to another game we previously reviewed, Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed. However, there’s very little shared between them aside from setting.
You take the role of Asahi Tachibana, a young NEET (“Not in Education, Employment, or Training”) living near the Akiba district of Tokyo. As his title infers, Asahi is a man with nothing better to do than sleep in ’til 3PM, be late to meet ups with his few friends, and fill his free time with anime, manga, and video games.
One day, while wandering Akiba, he notices something strange – the local train station has become glitchy and distorted, and covered in giant speakers. Nobody else around him notices this…except for a girl named Saki Hoshino. Turns out, she’s seen this before – what they’re witnessing is a “Delusionscape,” a manifestation of a person’s desires, threatening to take over Akiba.
The story of Akiba’s Beat mostly revolves around these Delusionscapes, with each chapter usually following a formula: discover a Delusionscape, seek out the person unwittingly creating it, and then enter the Delusionscape to destroy the boss within.
What keeps the formula from becoming too dull is the characters themselves. While much of the story here is filled with nerd and otaku references, the characters are surprisingly quite grounded. Rather than overly-extravagant anime personalities, the main characters come across more as actual people. They do rely a bit too much on character tropes sometimes (you might get quickly tired of all the NEET and geek jokes thrown at Asahi), but I do appreciate having these sensible characters contrasted against the occasional wildness of the setting.
Side characters don’t fare as well, with many being cliche otaku sendups (a series of idol fans you meet early in the game) or very generic anime (the local cat girl maid who speaks in cat puns). While I can appreciate these characters for a laugh, there’s one plot issue that causes them to become grating: a Groundhog’s Day loop.
The entire story takes place on an endlessly repeating Sunday, and characters outside of the main players are cursed to constantly repeat their day. The aforementioned idol fans are part of this loop, and part of the story required you determining if any of them are creating a delusion. This involves a several hour long series of dialogues, speaking to these characters every in-game day as they repeat the same things over and over. I despised these characters by the end of this segment, and this kind of thing happens throughout the game.
Steal Your Inspiration
On the occasions that the plot grated on my nerves, I was still able to push through for one thing: the dungeon gameplay. Perhaps this is because battles here are a shameless ripoff of the Tales series.
The actual gameplay of Akiba’s Beat is sharply divided in two. In one half, you’ll be exploring Akihabara, speaking to characters and hunting down delusions. This section is, honestly, a bit dull. Most of the time here, you’ll be running around the map to trigger a conversation, then moving to another point to trigger another, and so on. The game includes a quick-travel function, so you can cut out this exploration part if you grow tired of it…which I did.
The second, and much more interesting, part is entering the Delusionscapes. These are the dungeons of the game, where you’ll find the usual monsters, treasures, and bosses. Unfortunately, the stage design here is rather uninspired, with most dungeons just a series of interconnected platforms spread across multiple rooms. There’s little in the way of puzzles, and no real gimmicks to catch your interest.
The battle gameplay, though, ends up more than making up for the dull exploration gameplay. Then again, it may be because I’m a whore for Tales game. Everything from that series is here: standard combos you can integrate with special attacks, which are mapped to different directions on the analog stick. AI partners with adjustable tactics settings. Akiba’s Beat even uses a version of the Chain Capacity system from multiple Tales games, with a number showing how many attacks you can combo together before having to stop and wait to replenish.
While it is a Tales ripoff, its a surprisingly competent one. Aside from having to get used to a slightly different button layout, I soon found myself dodging blows and pulling off combos with the best of them. The fights themselves are incredibly fast-paced, with battles against generic enemies often finishing in less than a minute. The speed and structure here create one of the rare few games where I actually enjoyed grinding for levels.
Akiba’s Beat does bring a unique mechanic to battles here with what it calls the “Imagine Field.” You have a gauge that slowly fills as you give and take damage in battle, and once full, you can activate this function at the press of a button.
Once active, the battle becomes about the background music. Your characters attacks are charged up and your attack capacity becomes infinite as a new track you “equipped” earlier plays in the background, charging up further once the song’s chorus hits. It’s a fairly simple system, but the aesthetic it brings with it makes it a highlight of the game.
Speaking of aesthetic, Akiba’s Trip is gushing with unique character…inside the Delusionscapes. Each of the Delusionscapes is themed after a common otaku hobby or sight in Akiba. Thus, rather than the generic fire- and ice-themed dungeons in other RPGs, you instead get idol-, audiophile-, and maid-themed dungeons.
While the dungeon layouts can be rather dull, their actual graphical design is an attractive reflection of the themes. Each level has a distinct feel, and discovering each of the dungeon themes is motivation enough to continue playing.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the overworld, Akihabara. This game’s spiritual predecessor, Akiba’s Trip, had a positively stunning recreation of Akiba, full of life and character. The district here, though, just feels like chunks of a lifeless city. Buildings are mostly bland and nondescript, roads and paths are repetitive, and the NPCs on the street are represented as single-colored mannequins. Being that you spend much more time in Akiba than the Delusionscapes, this is a huge disappointment.
Music is the Power
Recently, one of my coworkers here at Gamer Escape told me how “disappointing soundtracks” seem to be an overly-common comment in my reviews. Well, I hate to break it to him, but I’m going to say the same thing here: most of Akiba’s Beat‘s soundtrack is unremarkable.
There is one musical portion that stands out: activating the Imagine Field. The various songs you can equip for this mode are insanely catchy JPop and idol tracks, and their integration into battle makes them stand at the forefront of this game’s soundtrack.
This game is also fully voice acted in both Japanese and English. I chose to play through in English, and I can say that I came out mostly impressed with the performances. Some, including Asahi’s, felt a bit rough in the beginning, but became stronger later as the actors and actresses seemingly grow into their roles.
Of particular note is the obligatory mascot character Pinkun…the most annoying character in my recent gaming memory. If I have to hear its voice perk up about another save point I’m approaching, I’m going to put my fist through my television.
A Bit Deluded
Overall, Akiba’s Beat is repetitive and rough around the edges…yet it has some kind of charm that keeps drawing me back to it. Maybe its the grounded characters contrasted against an insane world. Maybe it the competent old-school Tales-style combat. Perhaps its just the anticipation from seeing how another otaku’s delusion is transformed into a dungeon.
Either way, despite having moments I deeply disliked, I still had a great time playing through this title. All the little positives come together to help outweigh some of the more annoying portions, balancing out into an enjoyable title.
If you’re into otaku culture, or are itching for another Tales experience, Akiba’s Beat is a title worth looking at. Its competencies create a game that’s, while not amazing, worth the time I put into it.
~ Final Score: 7/10 ~
Review copy provided by Xseed Games for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.