It's frustrating when a video game does a single thing that makes it difficult to recommend. Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed is a prime example of that situation. The latest game from Acquire, known for its Way of the Samurai games, Akiba's Trip modernizes the Way of the Samurai concept and brings it to a big city instead of ancient Japan. With a slightly self-effacing sense of humor and a great amount of detail, Akiba's Trip could be an easy recommendation for someone looking for a lighthearted game in the style of Way of the Samurai. However, one element can be difficult to sell to people who are predisposed to liking the rest of the game.
Home to everything from popular electronics to idol singers, the Akihabara district, also known as Akiba, is the nerd mecca of Japan. A group of pseudo-vampires known as the Synthisters has descended upon Akiba to convert the most materialistic people into one of their own. Synthisters can't stand the sunlight, and they live to buy rare models and expensive video games — and steal the life energy from those around them. The player is Nanashi, who's been kidnapped and turned into a Synthister but has managed to stay true to himself. He's rescued by a strange girl, and with the help of the Akiba Freedom Fighters, the two must defeat the Synthisters and expose them to the sunlight to revert them to normal, healthy humans.
Akiba's Trip has one of the best localizations I've ever seen. The dialogue is snappy, well written and genuinely funny. The characters are rather clichéd, but the dialogue is funny enough that it's not tedious. It helps that the game has a sense of humor about itself. The localization also presents inside jokes and references in an accessible way, although a few may be obscure. Even the item descriptions or mission descriptions are hilarious. There's some good variety in the story, and the multiple endings and character routes encourage multiple playthroughs.
There is, however, an elephant in the room. If you couldn't guess from the title and cover art, Akiba's Trip features a lot of stripping. The combat system is based on the idea of removing clothes from your enemies. This is largely played for comedy, but it's also trying to be racy. This mix of the two doesn't do the game any favors. The title is equal-gendered, with a split of male and female enemies, but gender doesn't really dull the distinctly uncomfortable feeling you get when your character punches someone in the face and then rips off their clothes while the opponent yells. This is made creepier by the fact that many of the people you fight request that you "teach them a lesson" or something similar. At no point does the game take any of this seriously, and every character treats the event like a minor embarrassment. That doesn't change the fact that you're going to spend a huge chunk of your time in this game tearing clothes off of teenagers who wear skimpy lingerie or bondage gear underneath.
You'll spend the remainder of your time exploring Akiba and fighting Synthisters. You can enter various shops, and there's a lot to explore if you take the time. Various NPCs populate the area, both human and Synthister, and you can pick fights if you want. If an NPC has a piece of equipment you need, you can fight him or her for a chance to take it. There's not much in the game to do aside from fighting and collecting equipment, but there's a variety of things to collect, so it can keep you busy. You have various missions to complete but can also take on side missions if you want to earn extra money or uncover rare items.
Every character in the game, including the player, has a maximum of three health bars — one each for the head, body and legs. Unlike other games, the high, medium and low attacks don't correspond to the hit intensity but rather which part of the body you're attacking. Repeatedly attacking an article of clothing damages it. Once the clothing is damaged enough, you can hold one of the attack buttons to try to strip it off. If you succeed, the enemy loses one of their health bars. Remove all three, and they are defeated.
The easiest thing to do is to strip off a piece of clothing as soon as it is damaged, but if you wait or damage multiple enemies at once, you can perform a chain strip with a simple quick time event (QTE) that strips multiple enemies at once, like the chain kill mechanic in Way of the Samurai. Each successive strip you perform earns you an XP bonus. With enough successive chains in a row, you can perform a special final attack that strips an enemy of their underpants. (The characters are covered with glowing sparkles that hide anything M-rated.) The latter has no mechanical value except being the only way to get items for the Underwear equipment slot, and that's pretty pointless even from a customization standpoint, since it's covered by clothing most of the time. Still, the XP bonuses are high enough to make it worthwhile, since it can put you ahead of the curve.
Combat can sound button-mashy, and it is, but there are some rewards for careful play. The combo chain isn't interrupted by taking damage but drops quickly once you stop attacking. The higher the chain, the higher your attack damage. Repeated quick and effective attacks can boost the damage you do with any given weapon. If you're careful, you can inflict insane amounts of damage with the weakest weapons. Enemies hit extremely hard and can empty your life bars in a few seconds, though. To compensate for this, you can try to "fix" your damaged clothing. If you succeed, all remaining health bars are restored. This takes a few seconds, and pausing to fix your clothes can frequently lead to dropping your combo chain.
You have the option to bring a partner to participate in the story with you. They function as AI-controlled partners who follow the same basic rules. They can be ordered to attack or back off and fix their clothing, and they'll eventually be customizable with equipment and gear. Their attacks also fill the chain meter, and they can be stripped like anyone else. The big advantage is that they allow for team-up attacks. When you fight alongside a partner, you fill up a Unison meter, and once it's full, you can unleash an attack against a targeted foe. The team-up attack does massive damage and automatically strips an enemy if it empties their health bar. It's far from necessary but a good way to quickly take down high-level foes.
Combat runs into the problem of being too easy. The combat can be enjoyable, especially if you're stringing together counters and performing long combos, but it quickly gets tedious. Enemies aren't aggressive enough to compensate for the fact that you can regenerate health. As long as you aren't surrounded, it's tremendously difficult to die. You need to take a lot of damage without regenerating health or be hit by a attack at low health, and enemies aren't aggressive enough to pose a serious threat. About the only time combat gets dangerous is when you're facing huge swarms of enemies, and that is due to a combination of awkward camera angles and the increased chance of being stunned by multiple attacks at once. Bosses have boosted stats and end up being less dangerous than large swarms of foes because they don't have any special moves beyond hitting hard, and they only have a few backup minions.
The meat of Akiba's Trip is in collecting customization items. Every character is based on roughly the same model, and this means pretty much everything in the game can be collected. This includes obvious things, like clothing and weapons, but you can also collect less tangible things, like walking styles. You can also customize your stripping moves with a variety of over-the-top attack animations, ranging from ninjitsu to telekinesis. Finishing the game unlocks even more customization options for a second playthrough, including model adjustment, skin color, and even making everyone in the game twice as tall or half the size. It's fun to collect things, especially since each has an amusing blurb in the game's encyclopedia. You also have a simple weapon and clothing fusion system that lets you upgrade equipment, so you can use any item you like, as long as you're willing to invest the in-game money.
Akiba's Trip is a rare game in that it has a picture-perfect representation of a real-world area. There are plenty of games set in a big city like New York or Chicago, but they often only superficially resemble their real-life counterparts. In comparison, many areas in Akiba's Trip are recognizable. I showed the game to a friend who had been to Akihabara, and he was able to point out specific places and guide me to one of my goals. The game uses real-world shops and layouts to do the most accurate version of Akihabara possible, and it makes it feel more realistic. Seeing tons of advertisements and real-world locations, even if they're from a different country, highlights how sterile and unrealistic most video game cities can be. Even the constant advertisements for various video games feel less like an in-game advertisement and more like a natural part of the environment.
Unfortunately, the detailed Akiba is held back by the immensely small size of the environments. Walking from area to area involves 4-5 loading screens for a really short trip. One of the most egregious examples involves a shopping strip that is divided into four different areas. This means you have to go through a loading screen to walk across the street. The loading times are not too long, but they're so common that they suck a lot of the fun out of exploration. It makes the environments feel small and cramped, and it's frustratingly difficult to tell where areas begin and end. The loading time also negatively impacts the crowds. Characters take forever to pop in, and that can be annoying when you're looking for a particular character to fulfill a side-quest. This even occurs in small environments with only a few people, and the battle arena can take ages to load when only one person is there!
Also holding the game back is the awful frame rate. The game runs poorly, and it really stands out. Walking animations can look stiff and awkward, never mind busy combat animations. The character models are simplistic, since most are built from the same core model. The Akihabara strip is nicely detailed and has a surprising amount of life to it for simplistic environments, and there are some nice animations and amusing visuals here and there. The voice acting is a mixed bag. Some of the voice actors do their jobs quite well, but others are lifeless, which can hurt the humor in certain scenes. Japanese voices are an option, and considering the game setting, that option felt more sensible.
Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed is a frustrating game. There is a lot of good here, including an excellent localization and a lot of really enjoyable customization. It goes hand-in-hand with an awful frame rate, frustrating load times, and a central premise that crosses the creepy line too often for its own good. If you can get past those issues, Akiba's Trip is silly, fun and simple with a surprising amount of charm, and it feels very much like a modernized take on Way of the Samurai. Unfortunately, that's a pretty big if.
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