A STRIPPED-DOWN OPEN-WORLD ADVENTURE WITH A TON OF CHARM
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Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed, developed by Acquire and published by XSEED, is an odd game, but you could probably tell that from the title. It doesn’t help that the stylized title seems to read “Akiba Strip”, which, as the subtitle implies, is intentional. I think a lot of people were awfully dismissive of the game based on that alone, and the premise of the game (read on to find out) certainly didn’t help. Underneath all the first impressions, Akiba’s Trip is a modern supernatural action RPG with a sharply satirical sense of humor. But does the game stand on its own two feet?
The protagonist of Akiba’s Trip is high-school boy Nanashi, resident of the Akihabara shopping district of Tokyo. Nanashi is a card-carrying otaku – a shut-in whose aversion to the outdoors is matched only by the voracity with which he consumes anime, manga, video games, and all manner of merchandise for all three. And so, when he finds a listing for a job as an experimental test subject in exchange for rare, out-of-print anime figurines, how could he turn it down?
As you can probably guess, this does not turn out well. Next thing he knows, he wakes up strapped to a surgical table, informed by the man in charge that he’s no longer quite human – he’s now an undead being known as a Synthister. Though they look exactly like humans on the surface, they must sustain themselves by draining the life energy and will to live from unsuspecting humans, in the same way that vampires must sustain themselves on blood. Synthisters, however, have a major weakness that is also shared with vampires – too much exposure to direct sunlight, and they are instantly reduced to ashes.
After this revelation, the mysterious man tells Nanashi that, in order to get his figurines, he’s got to go out there and start attacking people. Being a good guy, he resists, and before he can be persuaded otherwise, a woman breaks in and busts him out. After they escape, she tells Nanashi that the Synthisters have been infiltrating the crowds of Akihabara, their natural tendency toward mindless material lust blending right in to the consumerist mecca of nerd culture. The two fall back to Nanashi’s home, a game bar called MOGRA, and join up with the neighborhood watch group that meets there. Together, they resolve to unravel the conspiracy behind the Synthisters, and keep the people of Akihabara safe from harm. To do this, they’ll have to find the man made vampires walking amongst the throngs of people in the streets of Akihabara, and exploit their weakness to the sun by… tearing the clothes off their bodies. How else?
The plot is fairly straightforward and predictable, and the characters are definitely flat, but that’s not really the point of Akiba’s Trip (and no, it’s not the constant removal of people’s clothes either). Perhaps the strongest selling point of the game is a fantastic localization job by the people at XSEED. The bizarre, yet (admittedly) completely logical premise is told with a straight face, betrayed only by the knowing half-smirk of subtle jabs at otaku culture.
The main storyline is surrounded with dialogue and flavor text that is far more conventionally silly, but well-written, intelligent, and just plain funny the whole way through – Akiba’s Trip is the first game to make me laugh out loud at an item’s flavor description since Disgaea. The game is an unrelenting satire of the otaku way of life, but it’s just as much a loving celebration of the weird, weird world of the Japanese super-nerd culture that has, to some degree, permeated the rest of the developed world as well via the great internet that connects us all. This is a comedy game made for fans of Japanese media, and it makes no apologies nor pretends to be anything else.
This devotion to its target audience shines through when it comes to the environment design. The game plays out in a re-creation of the streets of the real Akihabara in Tokyo, and while it’s a bit lo-fi (the environment and character models look like they’d be more at home on a late Dreamcast or GameCube game), the attention to detail throughout is incredibly impressive. The various stores you can visit to buy items, weapons, and “armor” are all digital recreations of actual shops in Akihabara. Video screens all over the open world play a rotation of real Japanese ads for real games and anime. Standing at street corners are women in waitress outfits who hand out real ad flyers for real businesses in the area. If a virtual trip to Akihabara sounds like something that’s really fun to you in and of itself, it’s easy to recommend Akiba’s Trip based on that alone.
I spent a lot of time between quests just wandering the streets; watching the ads outside the UDX building, hanging out at the “maid café” Maidreamin next door to Club SEGA, and buying up stat-boosting anime merchandise at Gamers and Animate… my biggest complaint about the world is that there weren’t more of these kind of side activities to do. The game does a great job of pulling you into its world – it feels like a living, bustling, real place. There’s very little music outside of combat; rather, the adventure is set to the chatter of the crowds and the sounds of the environment, a minimalist style choice that works well in this case. What music there is is pretty solid; it sets the mood but it’s nothing incredibly memorable. The voice work is pretty well-done and nicely complements the skillfully composed dialogue.
On the other hand, Akiba’s Trip unfortunately suffers from a constantly stuttering frame rate and a number of related technical issues, even when there’s not a lot going on. The game opts for frame-skipping rather than lag, so it’s consistently playable, and after a while you just stop noticing it. Every once in a while, though, you’ll be fighting only one or two opponents in an enclosed area, and the game will run at full speed for a few fleeting seconds – and it looks nice, but it’s also a reminder of how hard it is for the game to keep up with the throngs of NPCs it has to render most of the time.
The load times when you zone into a new area can get annoying, but they’re really not so bad. What consistently got on my nerves was the fact that, after loading up an area, it takes 10-15 seconds for the NPCs to show up, before which you’re just walking around an empty space. It’s a bizarre technical problem with no obvious solution – you could fold the load time of the character models in with the load time of the environment, but that added time would make it really painful just to traverse the environment. At the same time, it’s definitely no fun to enter an area and have to wait for so long before you can begin searching for a quest-giving NPC.
In addition, there are a bunch of other, odd graphical issues that crop up from time to time. Sometimes, your opponent just disappears for a few seconds during combat for no apparent reason. On more than one occasion, I had a weird stripe of multiple colors flicker across the screen that wouldn’t go away until I started a cutscene. The game crashed a couple times over the course of my 19-hour playthrough; after losing a couple hours of progress, I started saving early and often. These problems are an awfully frustrating blight on an otherwise fun game, and is probably the biggest reason why I’d be hesitant to recommend Akiba’s Trip to people who aren’t as patient as I. It’d be great to see a stability patch or something to iron out these issues, but I don’t have much of an idea how difficult that would be from a technical perspective.
The gameplay of Akiba’s Trip is fun, but noticeably shallow. You’ll be finding NPCs and completing quests in the tried-and-true open-world tradition. The bread-and-butter gameplay, however, has you patrolling the streets, using a special smartphone camera app to pick out Synthisters from the rest of the human crowd before taking them on in combat. You’ll be facing plenty of enemies, both human and Synthister, but the object is always the same: strip off all their clothes before they can do the same to you. The combat is fairly straightforward action-RPG fare: mash buttons to bludgeon your enemies with all manner of improvised weapons. You can hold the right trigger to dodge incoming attacks, or wind up slow-but-strong power attacks by holding the stick in the opposite direction you’re facing.
Of course, in this game you’re not attacking your enemies, but the clothes they’re wearing. You have three different face buttons for attacking high, mid, and low, targeting headgear, shirts/tops, and pants/skirts, respectively. Once you’ve worn down an article of clothing, you can hold the respective button to rip it right off your opponent’s back. Strip them down to their underwear, and they’ll either burn up (if they’re a Synthister) or just run away in embarrassment (if they’re human). There’s a fun risk/reward system at play through the Chain strip system – when faced with multiple enemies, you can try wearing down multiple articles of clothing at once. Once you’ve made a mess of several outfits, you can start stripping them all in quick succession, following sequences of button prompts punctuated by the sound of tearing fabric. The longer the chain, the higher an EXP multiplier goes, so performing this maneuver at every opportunity will be a big help. Pull off a long enough chain, and you’ll strike a pose that will (for some reason) knock the underwear off anyone who’s lost the rest of their clothing. (Have no fear: a bright, dazzling light covers your opponents when this happens. Wouldn’t want your precious innocence tarnished!)
It’s fun, but it’s not all that difficult. It’s so easy to play defensively and counter attack your opponents to death. The mid-to-late game tries to balance this by throwing huge mobs of constantly-attacking enemies at you, but by that time, I had already upgraded my equipment to the point where I wasn’t really threatened by a blow from anyone but the game’s optional bosses. That said, in almost 20 hours I never got tired of it. A satisfying thunk and explosion of color indicates when you’ve weakened an article of clothing, you have the ability to customize your stripping animations (my favorite: drunken boxing master), and it feels awesome to weaken a bunch of enemies before taking them down in one fell swoop.
This is complemented by one of the most bizarrely addicting subsystems I’ve come across in recent memory. As you strip the clothing off your enemies, you gain experience for the type of clothing you attack. Eventually, you’ll gain the ability to pull that type of clothing off your opponents without tearing it, upon which the article will go into your inventory and can be worn for yourself. Once I figured the system out, it suddenly felt like I was collecting Pokémon. There are an utterly ridiculous amount of clothing options in Akiba’s Trip, and I had to collect them all. I spent quite a bit of time just searching for enemies wearing particular types of clothing so I could build experience and eventually increase my wardrobe. (Gotta strip ‘em all?)
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the gameplay isn’t actually as pervy as it sounds. The game could have shown your enemies in compromising poses as you pull their clothes off, but it doesn’t (with the exception of a few important bosses). Rather, they just kind of fall over and get angry. The focus is on the main character doing the stripping, not on the nudity of the Synthisters after the fact. Additionally, you’ll be facing both males and females in roughly equal quantity (yay, equality!). Even the aforementioned important bosses, who get suggestive cut-ins upon tearing their clothes, are evenly split down the gender line. So there’s that, at least. It probably doesn’t make it any less embarrassing to play on public transit (which I did, so that I could bring you dear readers this review in a timely fashion), but it didn’t make me feel dirty for playing it, and it certainly isn’t deserving of most of the knee-jerk moral accusations this kind of game tends to receive (Akiba’s Trip being no exception, of course).
I touched on this before, but something I was very impressed by is the sheer amount of customization options available. Not only can you swap out your clothes on an article-by-article basis, but you can also change your walking, idling, and stripping animations, as well as change the wallpaper on your smartphone (which serves as the menu screen). After beating the game once, you even get the option of choosing a different model for the main character. As someone who really, really likes customization options, this brought a smile to my face. Not only that, but these options make it that much more fun to play New Game + if you want to see all of the endings, which is much appreciated.
PLAYSTATION 4 UPDATE
Akiba’s Trip Undead & Undressed is now available on the PlayStation 4. The Vita version had many technical issues, such as frame rate drops and characters not loading after entering an area. These are all gone in the PlayStation 4 version. There are still numerous loading screens, but the game loads fast and characters pop in almost instantly. Along with the improved performance, the game also looks better. Graphics have been slightly improved and the game displays at 1080p. Even with the improved graphics, it is easy to tell Akiba’s Trip is not pushing the PS4 to its limits.
The previous version of Akiba’s Trip had a multitude of customization options. All of these are still intact and the newly-included Visual Editor adds the ability to tweak the look of the game world. It offers a wide variety of options, such as changing the color of the sky or the boldness of a character’s outline. I did not play with it much, but there are plenty of options to allow for creativity. To top it off, Toybox Mode has also been added. This opens up all of the game’s unlockable customization options right from the beginning. There is one caveat; trophies are disabled so players cannot exploit this mode for an easy platinum. I would not recommend playing Toybox Mode for the first play through, but it is still a nice option that adds some replayability.
If Akiba’s Trip is streamed on Twitch, chat commands can be used to alter the game. I did not get a chance to use this, but it seems like a really cool addition to the game.
The PlayStation 4 version is the best version of Akiba’s Trip on a technical level, but there are no major gameplay changes.
The Verdict: 6.7 out of 10
Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed is a fun time. The environment is great, the writing is some of the most hilarious I’ve seen in a while, and anyone with a little otaku spirit in their hearts will get a warm, fuzzy feeling from this tribute to their way of life – as long as they can laugh at themselves along the way. But at the end of the day, this is a video game, and the gameplay itself is a little too shallow. Combined with some frustrating technical issues, this game falls unfortunately short of greatness. If and only if you fall into its target audience, I’d recommend the game for its sense of humor and brilliant recreation of the Electric Town of Akihabara. The clothing collection and customization options are well-implemented and add value to the game, but if the rest of the game doesn’t resonate with you, these elements will feel as thin and inconsequential as the shreds of clothing your character leaves in his wake. There’s one thing I can say for sure about Akiba’s Trip: it’s a better vampire story than Twilight!
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Vita: Aaron Dobbe is an Associate Writer at MONG specializing in Nintendo but playing a bit of everything else too. Follow him on Facebook and pester him to get a Twitter.
PS4: Riley Berry is an Associate Writer for MONG that loves weird video games. You can follow him on IGN.