Reflection: Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed

I’m glad a game like Akiba’s Trip came along. It can be bit tiring for fans of niche games because you knew what you genuinely loved for its appealing charm as well as its rewarding experience would remain an obscure title; maybe build up a cult following at best, but ultimately left to be forgotten until someone name-drops the title into some Top Ten list years later. It’s part of the niche nature of things. Better to burn out than to fade away. To be honest, getting that much recognition is a testament to its nichiness greatness!

Akiba’s Trip (hearing people persistently say “Akiba Stip” would bother me if weren’t so appropriate) is a beat ’em up game. Think back to the hey day of arcades and seeing all the Final Fight knock offs — And holy cats, there were a lot! In some ways, it evolved into what we play now; Dynasty Warriors (and its Gundam ilk), Sleeping Dogs, Yakuza, Devil May Cry, and the lists goes on. Like disco, it didn’t die so much as it just adapted to new technology. I guess punching people in the face is too much fun to let go!

I can’t say Akiba’s Trip reinvented the wheel so much in this regard. It wasn’t trying to be anything other than fast, fun, and simple and they hit all those marks. The main gameplay is having you knock the head, chest and feet area to remove (or as the game eloquently puts it, STRIP!) cat ears, French maid blouse, and military boots from their respected regions. Basically, strip your foes before they strip you! You’ll encounter powerful boss-esque enemies or groups with weaker defenses but can use their numbers to overcome yours. Starting out I was eager to get into the action, but it turns out you’re not supposed to just rip the sheets off just anyone. Early in the game you have an app added to your smartphone that lets you scan people walking the streets of Akiba, and if their image is blurred by a mosaic, then it’s time to strip down! You level up from gaining experience in stripping (your enemies, not yourself — if only life were that easy…). You can also synthesize your weapons and clothes to add more a little more oomph to them. I also have to mention that the layout from the menu, and with the help of the directional pad during gameplay, makes ease of access to features such as quests, equipment, save/load slot and such makes the game flow with such fantastic ease. The gameplay doesn’t beg for such convenient functionality, but it is very much appreciated.

I can’t put my finger on it, but Akiba’s Strip shines a little brighter in my eyes when it’s placed next to the other games in the genre. I think it’s because the theme of it is centered around otaku culture and the setting is in Akihabara. If you’re at this site and not familiar with either of the two GET OUT – Nah, I kid, but it’s a city known for nerds that are into anime, moe, video games, cosplay, itasha, pop idols, and stuff nerds enjoy about Japanese pop culture. At least, that’s what the city seems to be known for now. I remember long before I had interest in Japan, I heard about Akihabara as The Electric Town; having the latest in gadgets and tech on display and for purchase. In 1990s America, those portable phones you could slip into your pocket were a sight to see, and TV showed us it could be seen in Japan.

These days, I don’t think that’s the case for little ‘ol Akiba, and the characters, while maybe chatting on Pitter, mention this every so often. Having never been to Japan, I have to take this game’s word for it. I’ve seen plenty of the real Akiba in pictures on Twitter and seeing it brought to virtual life in a game, it kind of acts as sort of a little virtual tour guide. You won’t be rockin’ and sockin’ foes on every city block to scale, but you’ll be passing through some of the city’s main streets, plazas and even a few landmarks (Living near Los Angeles myself, I’m reminded of GTAIV’s portrayal of the city as San Andreas). For a better idea, here’s a comparison of the game’s map and a map used from a Japanese organization site.

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It’s the interesting mesh of using a real location and adding some some exaggerated quirks its known for that makes Akiba itself the star of the game for me. Yakuza’s Kamurocho’s feels more down-to-earth and Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong has probably the most refreshing atmosphere in any reality based location in any game in my recent memory. Yet, I feel every element brought into Akiba’s Trip compliments each other in a way that makes walking around, taking quests, checking out the style of passing pedestrians, billboard ads and flyers that make being in the city fluid and fun. That isn’t saying that if I stepped onto the real Akiba right now that I would expect to hear a passerby openly talk about BL or idols in frilly dresses performing on every other street corner. I’m saying that this game does a fine job of making an actual city adapt its sense of flow and energy adapt into a video game. The city in our reality, like I expect most cities around the world, would have a greater sense of community than any virtual world can show, but I do feel the developer team’s sense of appreciation and understanding for the Akiba by how they’re presenting it to the player. It shows in the architecture, characters, culture and, of course, story.

The story is straightforward and plain at first, but I can’t help but feel there is a bigger picture being build up in a subtle and clever way. Listing examples here in detail will spoil the story so I won’t be doing that, but there are hints here and there that the characters ask aloud; Why are these creatures sucking the energy of the people of Akiba? The main story meanders with the plot, but pieces of the answer are really all over the city. Just observe otaku culture at a glance; anime merch, going to as many idol shows as much as you can get away with, video game collecting, cosplay, and the reputation of otaku themselves and how they are perceived in Japan. The side quests are every bigger hints, with idols going on strike, several occurrences where you have to play bodyguard from fanboys and fangirls, stalkers, a dude who becomes a public nuisance with wotagei and the like. It’s not the most virtuous idea to place into a game, and it certainly doesn’t make it obvious, but I have to give the game a huge amount of credit for being clever with an idea and making it playful so the underlying message doesn’t become a blunt object to the player’s head — much like how dakimakuma are used in the game.

Have you been to Akiba? I haven’t, but from what others who have been there have said (and from what the characters in the game mention), it’s a city that’s changed to a fair extent. That’s the most prominent  idea I got from the presentation. During loading screens, and even on billboards on the game, there are advertisements for local restaurants, electronic shops, bookstores — all actual establishments, by the way. Not only that, but there are ads for idol groups, anime and other games. Seeing how this game was released quite some time in the U.S. after the original Japanese release, it was a pleasant surprise to see Mind Zero and Disgaea 4 being advertised (both recent releases in the U.S.) in the game since it’s the feeling of what’s current that the developers wanted to convey to the Japanese audience in these ads. In a way, it’s almost kind of surreal it worked out that well. As cool as that is, it also kind of dates it, doesn’t it? That’s okay, though, because Akiba’s Trip can be a sort of a game time capsule. A product of its time, in the most truest sense of the idea. Just think of going back to this game five, or twenty years down the road. Will otaku still reign supreme in Electric Town? Only time will tell.

With all these waxing for the game, is there anything holding it back? Not really. Graphically, it looks like a PS1 game on a good day, but presentation from all the other aspects of the game outshine that for me so much that it doesn’t bother me the slightest. Aside from that, there are cops that patrol the streets. It’s not too frequent, but they can be seen occasionally. No, this isn’t a “Down with your RULES, man!” thing. It’s just that Akiba’s finest are a wrecking ball to your mission of stripping foes. Once they get a grasp of you that’s pretty much it. Who would’ve thought these officers would have such a death grip on fabric? Even more problematic, they might even arrest a vital enemy that you were meant to strip during a mission. This happened to me two or three times where I had to leave the map, then come back and start the fight all over again because the cop got a little excited by a knock to their head from my opponent that was meant for me. It’s not game breaking (from what I can gather), but it’s definitely annoying to keep an eye out for cops. Man, and I thought I didn’t have to worry about stuff like this in Japan!

Great post-game feature or GREATEST post-game feature?
Great post-game feature or GREATEST post-game feature?

Those are pretty much all my thoughts on Akiba’s Trip. It’s unique, inoffensive (and if  you were offended, a member of the localization team wrote a thoughtful post addressing a particular issue about it, so please be just as thoughtful and understanding while reading it), and like a good beat ’em up game it’s damn easy to get started and straight into the fun. Wait, why is this review reflection months after its release!? U-uh-uguu… Hey, check this out! Akiba’s Trip is being released later this year on PS4 with nifty new features (having your friends comment as NPCs during your prowling in Akiba is enough for me check it out when I get my hands on the console!).

 

Buy Akiba’s Trip; Undead & Undressed for PS3 or PSVita.