Inside Pulse 12

Review: Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed (Sony Playstation 3)

Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed
Genre: Sandbox Action/Adventure
Developer: Acquire
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: 08/12/2014

God bless Acquire and XSEED. Now, love for XSEED shouldn’t be a surprise, as they go out of their way to bring out all kinds of games to the US most people wouldn’t touch, like Corpse Party, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and Unchained Blades, among many others. Acquire, on the other hand, is more of a personal choice, as they spend a lot of time making games that (if we’re being honest) appeal to a very small subset of gamers, myself among them. Aside from developing the first two Tenchu titles and the Way of the Samurai games (including the amazing Samurai Western), they’ve also developed standalone titles like Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman!, Class of Heroes and Mind Zero, among others. Their newest game to come stateside, Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed, continues that trend, as it’s a bizarre and goofy action game that’s reminiscent of Yakuza by way of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and stuffed full of anime tropes. Needless to say, I absolutely love it, but whether you will or not is a different story altogether.

On vampires, fanboys and sarcastic sisters

The basic gist of the plot is that your character, Nanashi (literally “no name” since you can rename him), applies for a part time job that pays him in limited edition figurines (because he’s a giant fanboy), and gets the job. Oh, but instead of being a job, he’s instead drafted into a weird vampiric army of Synthister’s, violent monsters who steal the energy of others and are more or less compelled to do so by said conversion into this thing. Before they can complete the process, however, you’re saved by a mysterious lady, Shizuku, who transfers some her blood to you to keep you from turning into a full-blown Synthister, somehow, by biting her lip open and kissing you, because of course she does. It turns out, though, that your character is part of a quasi-vigilante group called the Akiba Freedom Fighters, who kind of come across as more “real life superheroes” and less “people who actually do things” when you first meet them. That’s not a joke, by the way; the team consists of Pops, the owner of the arcade everyone is using as a base of operations, Kaito, the super obsessive otaku (yes, even more than your character who took a job for figures), Yuto, Kaito’s brother and probably the only sensible person on the team, Kati, a Finnish cosplayer who wears a maid costume and speaks broken English because why not, and Tohko, arguably the only person in the place who could be considered “normal” and “useful”. Oh, yes, and your super genre savvy sister who is subtly abusive, occasionally adorable, useful to a point and basically the smartest person on your team. The plot, as it is, is totally by the numbers, between your magical acquisition of superpowers, the resident mysterious girl saving your life, the shady evil corporation doing terrible things and so on, but oh my God the execution is hilarious. If you’re looking for a good plot this probably isn’t it (it’s not bad, just obvious) but if you’re looking for a fun plot this absolutely is it, because the game knows it’s absurd and totally knows it. It tells a fine tale that’s rife with absurd situations and humor to spare, and with multiple endings it’s got enough going for it, plot-wise, to make it a fun and interesting time.

Akiba’s Trip looks interesting, due in large part to the amount of effort that’s been put into replicating the Akiba district in Japan and its utter insanity; the game isnlt exactly a technical marvel, but it tries to make up for this through its style, and generally succeeds. The world is full of crazy, colorful shops, and features a lot of authentic elements, including advertisements from the real world, so you’ll find various fliers from shops that exist in the Akiba district. Not only that, you’ll see all kinds of realistic buildings, like Sega Clubs and Taito shops, as well as actual Japanese product ads, for things like Conception 2, Japanese music CD’s, and even for Super Sonico products. I have no idea how XSEED managed to pull off keeping all of the licensed products referenced in this game in for the final release, but it helps a lot to selling the experience and it’s really awesome that they did this thing. On the technical side of things, the characters and environments look solid, and the combat animations flow very well (which is good since that’s a lot of what you’ll be seeing). The artwork in the game, used during talking head sequences and full-screen story points, is also very pretty and helps to carry the plot. The only issues that really come up, visually, are that the game takes a good minute from the moment you load into a zone to fully render the people in it which can be disruptive when looking for NPC’s, there are some framerate issues here and there, and the camera can get stuck behind the environment during special attacks in combat at times. Aurally, the voice work is generally very good, in both English and Japanese, and while some characters sound dramatically different between languages, overall the different voices still fit and work well. The music is lively and, while you’re not going to find a lot here that’s good enough that you’ll want to listen to it on its own, it fits the events of the game nicely. The various effects in the game also sound appropriate, though there are instances where enemy random chatter piles up and overly repeats, especially during chained strip sequences, which can get annoying in a hurry.

On stripping and punching people in the face

Akiba’s Trip can best be compared to the Yakuza series of games, specifically the earlier games in the series, as a lot of how those games worked appears here, though not entirely. The basic concept is that you spend your time moving around the Akihabara district of Japan, which is basically a huge otaku playground, full of all kinds of otaku-appealing entertainment, such as shops, arcades, maid cafes, and more. It’s essentially a full-time otaku convention, in other words, so much so that it even has a design flaw description named after it. The game is played primarily in third person, and as you wander around the game world, you’ll essentially be tasked to beat the mess out of people as you go, be they Synthister’s or normal folks. The majority of the game revolves around the combat, which works fairly well; on anything above the easiest difficulty, you’ll use the Triangle, Circle and X buttons to attack enemies at high, middle and low points to do damage, in hopes of wearing down gear equipped to those parts of the body. On the easiest difficulty, on the other hand, pressing any attack button deals damage to all parts equally, so even the weakest of players should be able to jump in and wreck dudes with little trouble. You can also block, which avoids any normal attacks and allows a counterattack if timed right, though enemies can break your block with a grapple or a strong attack (though you can do the same to them). These core concepts are what drive the game, and on their own they carry the game along surprisingly well despite how minimal they seem.

That’s probably because of the stripping system, though. See, when you’re beating on enemies, you aren’t really trying to do damage to them so much as to their clothes; people are more or less invincible, and taking them down doesn’t come down to knocking them unconscious or anything so mundane. Instead, you’re trying to wear down either their headgear, shirt or pants/skirt, until they’re showing signs of wear (shown as a visual effect of light and pieces flying off). At this point, by holding down the corresponding attack button, you’ll then attempt to strip the opponent of their clothing. If the piece is too strong, you’ll get into a tug-of-war with the opponent until you rip the article off or get pushed off, but if you succeed or the piece is weak enough, you’ll then rip off the article, often with a silly animation to go along with it. When all of the pieces of clothing an opponent is wearing are removed, they’ll either explode or run away (depending on if they’re humans or Synthisters) and you’ve beaten them, though they can do the same to you to beat you. You have more tools at your disposal than just the simple act of stripping, however. If you hold L1 for a few seconds you’ll straighten your clothes, thus replenishing your clothing health, so long as you aren’t interrupted (as this takes a few seconds). Also, if you’ve weakened the clothing of several enemies, you’ll be able to chain strip movements, and after about eight or so, you can then chain that into a finishing strike that will rend the underpants from your foes (seriously) to add insult to injury. In most battles (unless you choose not to) you’ll also have an ally with you, and if your ally is one of the main plot-important allies, you can team up with them if their unity meter (in the upper left) is full; this allows you to perform a massive damage attack to one enemy that can strip them (if their clothes are weak enough) and stun all surrounding enemies, leaving them open to lumpings. As you strip the clothes from your enemies you also learn how to get better at doing so, and once you’ve stripped enough clothes of a specific type you’ll max that skill, allowing you to keep the clothes you’ve ripped off. You can also collect anything they leave behind during or after battle, be it money, weapons or underpants, to add to your collection.

You’re not just stuck with whatever you can find when it comes to preparing for battle, however. In the beginning you’ll be stuck working with what you can scrounge up, but once you get some cash you’ll be able to improve your gear a bit. Part of this comes from perusing the streets of Akihabara, as you can find various tools to use, such as new equipment, power-ups, and even books that improve your stripping skills. You’ll also get access to your sister’s cosplay sewing capabilities, as she can reinforce your gear by taking other pieces of gear and merging part of their strength into your chosen gear at a flat cost. The higher the level of the gear you use, the more power it imparts onto your upgraded gear, so you’ll find that you’ll be able to gradually improve your equipment, or put the stats from your old gear into new equipment. Weapons generally need to use weapons of the same type to upgrade (you can use different types but they don’t give nearly as good of a boost), so swords mix best with swords, broadswords mix best with broadswords and so on. Armor, on the other hand, can be reinforced with anything in its category, so headgear improves headgear, leg armor improves leg armor, and so on. Weapons, obviously, improve the damage you put out, while armor improves the durability of the clothing in that slot, making it harder to wear the slot down so you’re less likely to be stripped. Note that if you do end up being stripped, so long as you can win the battle you’ll get your gear back, but even if you lose the piece, you can still buy it from the junk shop in town so you won’t lose anything permanently, thankfully.

As you beat down dudes, you’ll also level up on your own, which improves your base damage and defense for each level you earn, allowing you to do even more damage and take less from attacks as you boost your gear. That’s not the only thing that can level up, however; you can also level up your skills in ripping off clothing by ripping off specific kinds of clothes, as well as through purchasing certain books from around the game world which improve said stats. When you max a particular clothing type, this allows you to rip off the clothes and keep them instead of having them explode into shreds, which means you can use them to upgrade your stuff or sell them off as you see fit. As you progress through the plot, whichever character you’ve chosen to keep as your primary love interest through the plot at that point (and any you’ve wooed on prior playthroughs) allow you to customize their gear as well, so you can also equip them with sweet loot to make sure they’re damage-dealing powerhouses at all times. As gear can be upgraded to an absurd degree, and you can carry over gear between playthroughs, you can easily equip your characters to a point where you can decimate almost anything in your path if that’s something that entertains you; it entertains me, in any case, so I’m sure I’m not alone there.

On long-term play and room for improvement

While the core of the game essentially revolves around completing the plot, that’s only a small part of what Akiba’s Trip has to offer. There’s a lot to see and do in the town of Akihabara, and all kinds of things to collect, including the more mundane gear items and some more random things, such as real fliers from various shops in the district from the vendors who roam around the area. Further, you can stop into random shops that might offer maid café or karaoke services; there’s no real benefit to doing so, but it’s fun in a “simulating the experience” kind of way. Since you’re also part of the Akiba Freedom Fighters, you’ll be propositioned with various side missions that you can do throughout town, ranging from simple missions to beat up people to more complex missions that involve coaching otaku on the proper way to impress dates or finding workers for a maid café. There’s also a combat arena, which tasks you to take on three waves of increasingly difficult enemies over multiple tiers, and pays out in cash prizes and accessories should you complete a tier. To put it simply: you can probably complete a single storyline playthrough in around six to ten hours depending on the difficulty level you choose and if you skip the cutscenes, but with so much extra stuff to do, four character paths to go down, and a ton of Trophies to earn, you’ll easily put in five times that amount of time if the game captures your interest.

That said, Akiba’s Trip has a few noticeable flaws keeping it from being a must have for everyone. The biggest issue, outside of the goofy plot and visual issues, is that it’s kind of repetitive. The game is almost entirely about beating on people and stealing their clothes, and while other games make similar concepts their focal point, they either have deeper combat mechanics or alternate options for players to jump into. Compared to, say, Yakuza, which lets you play goofy mini-games to break the monotony, Akiba’s Trip offers mostly minor distractions at best instead of anything really interesting, and while that’s an interesting metaphor for Akihabara as a whole, it’s not so helpful for the game’s longevity. Honestly, the game is mostly style over substance; there are a lot of collectibles and novelties to see, and you can unlock a crazy amount of customization options as you play through the game and complete character paths, but in the end these don’t change the game all that much. The game is fun, absolutely, but it’s very much all about its “strip clothes and beat on people” concept to the exclusion of all else. Even the side missions, which had a chance to be something outside of the box, mostly end up being about beating on people, and even when the concept is funny (like having to beat up a forty eight person pop group) it’s still beating on people and stealing clothes. The few missions that aren’t about combat tend to be annoying, as well; traipsing around the game world to take pictures of five different landmarks once is fine, but multiple times, less so, and the “get your sister cakes from maid cafes” mission sucks out loud. Also, though I suppose this goes without saying, the game is a bit over-the-top with its stripping aspects, to the point where you unlock special “stripped” pictures of plot-important characters when they’ve been stripped; while this applies to men as well as women, that may still be offensive to some. Finally, it also bears mentioning that there are a few minor annoyances, such as how you can’t equip an ally with gear unless they’re in your party, can’t upgrade their gear unless they’re not wearing it, and can’t upgrade their default gear unless you acquire it by alternate means; these don’t hurt the experience much, but they’re annoying when you notice them.

Honestly, Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed is a game made for, well, people like me, who appreciate style over substance when the substance functions well enough and the concept is wacky enough, and if you’re that kind of person you’ll love this game, but if you’re not… you won’t. The plot is goofy, there are some framerate and pop-in issues on top of visuals that aren’t the most technically proficient, the game is repetitive and honestly, it’s way more into the fact that it replicates Akihabara and the stripping system than anything else, and for some, that’ll be a big turn-off. For the rest of us, however, there’s a plot that’s charming and amusing in spite of, and possibly because of, how goofy it is, a strong aural presentation and a colorful world to play around in that’s full of goofy things to collect and lots of depth, albeit depth that’s all attached to the core gameplay and little else. While it would’ve been nice to see some variety in Akiba’s Trip, and the game almost certainly isn’t for everyone, if you’re into the style it’s got in spades you’ll find that the repetition is minimal and the amusement of exploring and collecting carry the game well. If you’re willing to overlook its limited nature and can appreciate the style and forgive the lack of substance, this is a game that’s well worth your time and consideration, and if you’re anything like me, that won’t be hard at all.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Akiba’s Trip is almost entirely about stripping enemies, collecting random stuff and exploring a digital recreation of Akihabara beyond all else, and if that sounds like fun to you, this is a game you’ll want to own as soon as you can get your hands on it. The plot is goofy and takes itself too seriously at times but remains fun regardless, the visuals (though technically lacking) are colorful and appropriately recreate Akihabara, and the audio is mostly solid or better all around. The gameplay is easy enough to understand, between the basic combat structure and the stripping systems, and there’s a lot to do in the game between acquiring and upgrading gear, seeing the multiple endings, collecting various knick-knacks in the game world and more to keep it interesting for multiple playthroughs. The visuals and audio have some mild technical hiccups here and there, mind you, and the core game is repetitive and focused more on its style than any true substance, which may be frustrating for those looking for a game that’s in-depth across the board. For those who can forgive the limited mechanics and appreciate the game for its goofy and abnormal style, however, Akiba’s Trip is a fun ride that’s compelling to go through multiple times, if you can get into what it does and enjoy its simple but amusing execution.