Publisher: XSEED, PQube
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Vita
Where Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed centered around brawling vampire-types and ripping their clothes off in a more action-focused, fan-service approach to gameplay, its spiritual successor, Akiba’s Beat, revamps its style completely as a mostly standard JRPG. While I applaud developer Acquire’s attempt at shifting gears, and publishers XSEED and PQube for taking a chance on localizing an under-the-radar role-playing game that failed to make waves in its native Japan, the end result is extremely underwhelming and hard to recommend.
Akiba’s Beat takes place in the actual city of Akihabara; a fandom mecca in Japan that caters to all types of otaku. Tourists and collectors travel from all over the world to visit the Electric Town, stocking up on rare games, manga, anime, and action figures, and that central spirit of Akihabara is accurately portrayed in the game’s architecture. It’s bright, colorful, and chock full of maid cafes, hobby stores, and restaurants meticulously crafted to mimic their real-world counterpart. Within the game’s pleasant layout, however, there’s merely a handful of gated off areas to skim through with a sparse array of shops and vending machines that all sell the same items.
For a city that thrives on commerce, there certainly didn’t feel like much to do.
In the game world, you take control of a good-for-nothing layabout named Asahi who prides himself on being a NEET (an acronym for “not in employment, education, or training”) after dropping out of college. As luck would have it, Asahi becomes “gifted” with the ability to see and enter doorways to another dimension after Akihabara (“Akiba” for short) becomes stuck in a perpetual Sunday loop. It’s basically the nerdiest Groundhog Day ever.
While Sunday continues to repeat itself like clockwork, a small handful of Akiba’s citizens are unknowingly manifesting these doorways when their emotions and desires are at odds. Given that Akiba is the holiest of holies for otaku culture, the dungeons that reside within are based on things like maid cafes, music, and chuuni anime (essentially a hipster with an identity crisis), though they’re all equally unremarkable in their overall design.
Dungeon layouts are typical maze-like corridors full of treasure and monsters, but the fun is taken away immediately as the game provides you with a fully populated map the moment you enter. Not only are you never encouraged to explore, but those that do are often met with the same unexciting rewards time and time again. Another restorative item. Huzzah.
Asahi proved to be an unfortunate hindrance to my enjoyment, as I always find it hard to become invested in an RPG if I downright loathe the main character. This is no exception. He never wastes an opportunity to remind the party of his NEET status or incessant laziness and the jokes overstayed their welcome rather quickly — this term appears nearly once per conversation, by the way. A significant portion of his dialogue is the same recycled nonsense for the thirteen hours I invested in Akiba’s Beat before throwing in the towel.
He isn’t the only one who can enter these drab doorways, though, and within a few short hours I had a merry band of trope-ridden heroes and an adorable pink mascot that affectionately referred to me as “dingus.” Among the early adopters are Saki, a no-nonsense out-of-towner with a secret magical girl obsession who seemingly drags Asahi along on these unwanted adventures, and Mippity Mop, a 14-year-old girl striving to become the next big idol.
Each party member offers their own verbose, vapid side-quests and gradually unlocks a series of special attacks by simply leveling up in combat. Yet they proved to be far more interesting than Asahi ever would.
Akiba’s Beat moves away from Trip’s psuedo-open-world brawler to a more traditional action RPG, similar to the Tales series. Enemies physically appear within dungeons and coming into contact with them (either by touch or by slashing for a potential combat advantage) transitions to a gated arena where the battle initiates. However, where the Tales games mostly feel competent in their respective combat departments, Akiba’s Beat is incredibly janky.
The ideas behind the combat are just fine. For starters, you only have direct control over one character while the rest of the party works off of an elementary AI system that can be customized in basic ways. Each hero’s AP gauge determines the number of actions that can be taken before recharging, which can gradually be increased via weapon upgrades.
Like in Tales or Star Ocean games, heroes can free-run around the arena, slash out basic combos, and learn element-based special abilities that can be woven into consecutive attacks. There’s even an interesting lootbox mechanic that opens up where you’re able to buy packs of randomized trading cards that can then be equipped for passive bonuses.
So what’s the problem?
Combat just feels subpar. Attacks are sluggish and effortless as encounters devolve into a repetitive pattern of mashing the square button, backing off to refuel AP, and pressing X with enough power to execute a special skill. Battles occur rather frequently and they were never what I’d refer to as “fun.” Thankfully, combat is only a fraction of the game, as it’s mostly a fairly linear narrative experience broken up by lackluster 45-minute dungeon crawls that culminate in an unexciting boss encounter.
As the name implies, Akiba’s Beat loves its music. Eventually, the party unlocks the ability to fill an additional meter by simply attacking, which, when triggered, plays a song from one of the many albums you’ve collected (complete with flashy Dance Dance Revolution visuals) and provides you with an incredibly over-powered attack bonus that can shred most bosses to pieces on the standard difficulty setting. This entire mechanic seems like an afterthought, as it merely exists to assist the player by chewing through a rough target’s health pool considerably faster.
Visually, Akiba’s Beat appears to be the superior PS4 port of a Vita title, because that’s exactly what it is. That being said, I did enjoy the colorful portrayal of Akiba and the game’s semi-cel-shaded aesthetic. It borrows heavily from the Wii U’s phenomenal JRPG Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE by replacing common passerby with brightly colored silhouettes and fragmenting the map with brief loading screens.
The illustrations featured in the narrative bits are quite good, again playing into the game’s sturdy visuals. As someone who spent a considerable amount of time with Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE# recently, however, this was just another in a long line of similarities that failed to live up to their inspiration.
While the concept of Akiba’s Beat remains intriguing, the story failed to move beyond its elevator pitch for the first dozen hours. New characters are introduced and given some sort of dialogue quirk to distinguish themselves (it’s worth noting here that the English voiceovers aren’t terrible), but just like the game forces our band of heroes to relive the same day over and over again, the overall flow of the game runs ad nauseum — open your map, locate the plot icon, fast travel nearby, trigger unnecessarily verbose cutscene, and delve into a dungeon you’ll likely have to mysteriously leave and revisit a second or third time.
Overall, Akiba’s Beat’s departure from Trip’s foundation comes by way of some clear inspirations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to the bigger names it borrows from, forgoing what made the source material special or interesting in favor of scooping together this uninspired, soulless husk of a game. Nor does it do anything interestingly enough to recommend over other, better JRPGs in a year uncharacteristically crowded with quality releases.
So, where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money. I trust in your ability to make the right decision for you!
Full disclosure: This review was done using a PlayStation 4 copy of Akiba’s Beat provided by the game’s publisher, XSEED. While I’m sometimes given games to critique, I pride myself on providing an unbiased review to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for a game is irrelevant.