The most Japanese version of Groundhog Day to date
I first experienced Akihabara several years back, through a little game called Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed. I remember it well. Akiba was cramped, full of weird people, and had more crazy events going on than I cared to count — and that was before getting roped into the whole “fighting bad guys by stripping them down to their underwear” thing. Akiba was quite unlike anything that I had ever seen before, and I found myself falling for the fictional representation of this real-life place pretty hard. (What a NERD!)
Because of that, I’m sure that you can imagine how excited I was to play Akiba’s Beat. Yet another chance to immerse myself in Akiba’s wild culture? Sign me up! I soon realized however that, much like how Akiba itself never stays the same for too long, so too did this most recent Akiba title drastically change its tune. There were things about Akiba‘s Trip that I missed (and I’m not talking about what you think I am). But hey, I wasn’t going to let something like that stop me. And in the end, I was glad that I didn’t.
It’s a Hard-NEET Life
The latest Akiba title once again centers around the story of a zero-turned-hero. This time, we’re introduced to Asahi — a self-proclaimed “Career NEET (Not in Education, Empoyment, or Training) — who has made it his goal in life to live it up by doing as little as possible. Things go smoothly for him in the beginning; he sleeps past noon every day, drowns his waking hours in video games and anime, and somehow manages to even have a pretty nice-looking apartment (thanks to his parents, I’m assuming). All of that changes pretty quickly, though.
Asahi soon finds himself stuck in a time loop, repeating the same Sunday over and over again. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the very fabric of space has also begun to corrupt and distort. Doors to alternate dimensions known as Delusionscapes have started appearing all around Akihabara, contorting the district to appear how others believe it should appear. Spooky stuff! And what does Asahi decide to do about it? Absolutely nothing! He’s lazy, remember? Unfortunately for him he gets roped into the hero role anyway, thanks to a mysterious girl named Saki and her hoodie-wearing “uglycute” familiar Pinkun. The NEET lifestyle was fun while it lasted, right?
A Different Kind of Akiba
Akiba’s Beat may be a new game, but it takes place in a very familiar location — Akihabara. …Which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Those of you who have played Akiba titles (or those familiar with the actual district) should feel right at home when hitting the streets. For those not in the know, Acquire, the Akiba series developer, is actually based in real-life Akihabara. They’ve got front-row seats to the district itself, and are able to see firsthand how Akiba changes each year. They’ve done amazing work in the past, translating Akihabara and everything that it represents into video game format. And, while they did a great job re-creating Akiba physically, its spirit was strangely — and sadly — not nearly as prominent as it should have been.
Akiba’s Trip, as bizarre as it was, was just that — your own little trip to Akihabara. Between a plethora of quests, the district’s varying shops, and wonderfully crowded and advertisement-heavy atmosphere, exploring every little nook and cranny of Akiba was a must. No two parts of it were the same. And, strange as it may sound, it almost felt real. But that isn’t really the case any more.
Akiba‘s Beat is a different breed from Acquire’s previous titles in the series. Though still a satire, it isn’t quite as whimsical as its predecessors.There’s a much larger emphasis on storytelling and character development. Akiba’s Beat‘s shift has strengthened it in some regards, but at the cost of making Akihabara itself second banana. Every shop sells the same thing. Exploration is very linear. Even the atmosphere has been watered down — there are fewer ads and generic NPCs are all faceless and one solid color, making them look less like people and more like ghosts. It also felt like the graphical quality was worse off in this game than it was in Akiba’s Trip, which released all the way back in 2013. I’m not sure just why Acquire decided to set things up like this, but it absolutely killed the immersion.
Same Old Places, Brand-New Faces
Acquire’s decision to shy away from making Akihabara as believable as possible wasn’t merely “wasted effort” on their part, however. Rather, they directed their focus somewhere else; the game’s characters. While I still mourn the loss of the previously exploration-intensive Akiba, I can’t deny that the story of Akiba’s Beat hiked the overall quality of the game way, way up,
Though a JRPG through and through, Akiba’s Beat almost has enough plot progression and spoken dialogue to land it in some kind of weird pseudo-visual novel genre. I’m being serious when I say that you’ll be spending as much, if not more, time listening to people talk as you will actually traversing through dungeons and bashing baddies. That might sound a little bit intimidating, but Akiba’s Beat had a way of making it work— thanks to its impressive cast that is not only well-written, but voiced by a number of talented actors.
Akiba’s Beat is openly satirical. Because of that, you’d probably figure its cast to be filled with tropes. And it is — very much so, in fact. From zero-to-hero Asahi, to Idol wannabe Riyu, to snobby Gothic Lolita Kotomi, and the rest in between — everyone fits nicely into a trope. But it’s done so well that it’s hard not to like them. Akiba’s Beat doesn’t try to skirt around the fact that everyone’s a stereotype, but embraces it instead.With so many games trying to distance themselves from normal character tropes, journeying with Asahi and the gang felt comfortable, familiar, and fun. Sure, there weren’t a ton of surprises along the way, but Akiba’s Beat didn’t need them to keep its narrative alive, and incredibly enjoyable.
The other aspect of Akiba’s Beat that makes it stand out from its predecessors is its inclusion of dungeons, known in-game as “Delusionscapes”. Despite what the name may lead you to believe, Delusionscapes mesh with Akiba in a pretty neat way. Akihabara has always been known for two things; its ever-changing ways, and its intensity. Over the years, Akiba has been a lot of things, and is continuously undergoing change in accordance with whatever may be popular (and lucrative) at the time. Regardless of what the hot topic in Akiba is, it always manages to go full-force in whatever it’s doing — and attract scores hardcore fans of said trend in the process.
Though Akiba may change at a near-constant rate, the same can’t be said for its people. Everyone has their own idea of what the “ideal” Akiba was, or what it should be. And it is those very ideas, those delusional states, that cause Delusionscapes to appear. Although normal people can’t see Delusionscapes, they have the potential to threaten reality. And it is for that very reason that Asahi must (reluctantly) take them down.
Venturing through Delusionscapes absolutely screams Persona 4. Not only are they based off the twisted ideals of humans, but exploration is largely similar as well. In fact, aside from Delusionscapes not being procedurally-generated, it’s exactly the same — which was both good and bad. As much as I liked the classic dungeon-crawling vibe, I couldn’t help but feel that Akiba’s Beat could have done more to spice up the adventuring. There were a few puzzles here and there, but those all boiled down to needing to go to a different part of the floor that you were on and hitting a switch before you could progress. Other than that, it was pretty much just following your map from Point A to Point B. That isn’t to say that dungeon-crawling is bad, however, or that it isn’t fun. I did enjoy it. It was just a tad uninspired.
Otakus in Action
With Delusionscapes taking on a very Persona 4 vibe, you would assume that combat would be turn-based. But you would be wrong! Rather than fully following any one game, Akiba’s Beat once again switches things up in the combat department. What game, if not Persona 4, does it base its combat off of? Why the Tales series, naturally.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever played a game that utilizes the Tales-style 3D combat that isn’t an actual Tales game. There really aren’t too many of them out there. It seems like it would be hard to get combat like that right. That certainly didn’t stop Akiba‘s Beat from successfully replicating , though. If you’ve played any sort of modern Tales game, you’ll feel right at home with Akiba’s Beat‘s combat system. The controls are smooth, maneuverability is easy, and its battles are fairly balanced. The “AP System” it has implemented is a little weird at first, due to the fact that both offensive and defensive maneuvers consume AP, but gaining more AP is as simple as buying better equipment. So much for that problem!
Akiba’s Beat also introduces a cool way to turn the tables with its Imagine Mode. Represented by a gauge in the bottom-lefthand corner, Imagine Mode charges up while you land hits during a fight. After building it up to a certain point, you can then unleash your stored-up power. Imagine Mode does two things. First, it powers you up. Not only can you chain an infinite number of hits during this mode, but your strength also increases with the more hits that you land. Secondly, it changes the background music from the normal, somewhat bland, battle theme to a number of enjoyable songs that you the player can choose from. There are plenty of Imagine Mode tracks, each boasting different playtimes and stat boost rates. If I’m being honest though, I just picked the ones that I thought sounded the coolest. Don’t judge me, okay?
A Tale of its Own
Akiba’s Beat is definitely a niche game. It knows its audience, has done its best to cater to them, and has ended up with mostly positive results. While it wasn’t exactly the Akihabara adventure that I had been hoping for, I still really enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a standard, serious JRPG then you might want to keep looking. If you can appreciate a trope-filled homage to Japan’s nerd culture as a whole, Tales and Persona-style gameplay, and enjoy a game with plenty of dialogue, then this one’s for you.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: Vita, PS4 ; Publisher: XSEED Games ; Developer: Acquire ; Players: 1 ; Released: May 16, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99 (Vita), $49.99 (PS4)
Full Disclosure: This review is based on PS4 & Vita copies of Akiba’s Beat given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.