Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound And Debriefed is a remaster of the first game in the Akiba’s Trip series, which was released on PSP in Japan way back in 2011 with an enhanced version of the game coming out in 2012. If you’ve ever wondered what a niche title is, then Akiba’s Strip is the direction you want to look in.
Set in Akihibara, a whole lot of nefarious goings on seems to be under way through the actions of Shadow Souls, a group of vampire-like creatures. It seems they have hatched a long term plan to take over Japan by attacking and transforming the youth with the most promise into shut-ins, thus leaving them open to step in and fill the important roles in politics and society down the line. Being nearly immortal, they can afford to play the long game.
Enter you, the player character, into this war between the vampires and a mysterious agency out to stop them. When a good Samaritan moment of helping your friend out one late night leads to you been transformed, you’re stuck with no choice but to help said agency and get to the bottom of it all.
Now that alone may seem like the start to a promising wacky anime and RPG, and to be fair it kind of is, but Akiba’s Strip immediately begins to show its niche status by fully embracing and becoming all about the ecchi humour. If you’ve spent enough time watching the various genres of anime and reading a variety of manga, you’ll have come across this humour at some point and therefore know what to expect. But while those moments in many of those shows and books (except the ones dedicated 100% to it) are usually played for the occasional laugh, Akiba’s Trip is about that kind of humour all the way through, sometimes uncomfortably, and creepily, so.
Most ecchi humour straddles a very fine line between hit and miss. So too does Akiba’s Trip. For instance an early game series of pervy dialogue choices results in a game over, which was rather amusing to be sure, while a later mechanic has you paying your kid sister to dress up in various outfits so that you can gain the knowledge on how to strip clothes from someone, all the while looking at her in first-person “Appreciation Mode”. . .
The humour doesn’t just tie into the story and cutscenes though, but also into the games central play mechanics. The title, Akiba’s Trip, is, after all, a play on words for Akiba Strip. You see the only way to defeat the bad guys is by engaging them in combat and stripping them of their clothes. Fully stripped and the vampires disintegrate in the sunlight. It’s both a tongue-in-cheek manner of ridding yourself of the undead and also one of the games original titillation selling points. The more you learn about various clothes, the easier it is to rip them from your opponents and view them, just before they disintegrate if you’re fighting vampires – in all their low resolution, underwear-clad polygon glory.
There’s tons of clothes to collect, some of which can be bought while some you take from your opponents as a reward, along with plenty of different weapons to pick-up. Beyond the narrative, the RPG aspects come into play through earning experience to level up while choosing which gear to equip with the highest durability stats and, of course, weapon attack strength. There are different moves to be learned for your attacks and for weapons by purchasing combat manuals from shops.
As an action, beat-em-up RPG, this is where you’ll be spending most of your time in Akiba’s Trip: the brawling. And there’s a lot of it to be done. Unfortunately, this is also where the game falls down completely. The combat system is, for want of a better word, simply awful. You have high, mid and low attacks, corresponding to the clothes you’re trying to rip from your opponent once you’ve done enough damage, but to call the system unresponsive at the best of times would be too kind. Blocking and evading rarely works and a fair amount of the time it doesn’t feel like you’re inputs are registering, making simple attacks, let alone combos pointless. The camera as well rarely gives you a good view of the action. If you get caught on the receiving end of an attack or combo, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get stuck in a loop of damage that’s difficult to get out of.
It doesn’t help either that the difficulty of the fights seems a little over the place. One minute you can be fighting a thug whose clothes can be damaged in a flash and then the next a similiar thug will destroy you’re delicate sensibilities in seconds. Other enemies can also jump into the fights as well, meaning one opponent can suddenly blossom into two or three. It’s difficult enough to deal with one enemy thanks to the cumbersome system, but any more than that becomes a nightmare. One particular boss that came packaged with four cronies almost had me throwing my controller at the wall as they caught me in an endless loop of damage that I just couldn’t get out of, let alone land an attack on them when I wasn’t been destroyed.
The games soundtrack fares better as there’s both an English and Japanese audio track. Content wise, the game features multiple endings depending on choices you make in the story, adding some replay value for the die-hard completionists and fans.
As far as remasters go, Akiba’s Trip is as basic as you can get. Instead of feeling as though it has been rebuilt from the ground up for modern consoles, Akiba’s Trip comes across as merely an HD port. Geometry for characters and the environments are low polygon while textures flip flop all over the place. Some billboards, for instance, look great while backdrops and world textures tend to look rather low resolution. One of the selling points for this game is the virtual tourism aspect. In fact Akiba’s Trip’s shops are named after the shops that existed in Japan back in 2011. But you wouldn’t know that or be able to tell the difference between many of them as they’re usually presented as one of a few repeating character models against a static background. The backgrounds also repeat in multiple shots and have a low resolution.
Area design suffers as well, as the game is split into multiple small areas that you have to access via the map screen. Now while this is clearly a design limitation from its original PSP hardware and resource limitations, in 2021 these small areas simply don’t fly. It’s even more egregious as this version of the game was said to have been completely rebuilt on a new engine and it simply doesn’t look or feel like it.
As the first game in the long running series, xSeed could – and should – have pulled out all the stops to update Akiba’s Trip for modern audiences and gaming conventions. Mechanics and design that may have been interesting back in 2011 – along with hardware restrictions – simply don’t stand up today. With its multiple endings and sometimes fun story, Akiba’s Tip could have been far more fun than it is, but this low effort port along with a truly terrible combat system will only really appeal to fans of the series while others looking to take a dip into Akihibara are better left looking towards further entries in the series.
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & Windows PC
This review is based on the PC version of the game which can be purchased here for £34.99.
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