Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed Review
Reviewed on Sony PS VitaAlso available on Sony PS Vita, Sony PlayStation 3 and Sony PlayStation 4
2014 had its fair share of downright ridiculous games – who, for instance, can forget the horror of rubbing clothes off of monstergirls in Monster Monpiece, or the conceptual absurdity of Hatoful Boyfriend? And then, just when you thought it was safe to drag your eyes up from the pavement and start looking for another Dudebro adventure BAM! – you get smacked in the face by Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed. Here’s a wet wipe, clean yourself up before we move on.
Ready for the fine details yet? Good. Akiba’s Trip has you take control of Nanashi, a seventeen-year-old otaku hanging out in the mecca of Akihabara - watching anime, collecting limited edition figurines, not reading the fine print on various contracts of evil intent – you know, normal geeky Japanese teenager kind of stuff. It’s the last bit there that gets Nanashi in trouble, and he quickly finds himself transformed into a Synthister (think vampire); after a quick escape Nanashi then patrols the streets of Akihabara, protecting the general public from the Synthister threat, hanging out with his friends at the Mogra game bar and saving the world and stuff – you know, general JPRG stuff.
It’s what happens next that causes such a stir; now, we all know that vampires and vampire-a-likes can’t stand the sun – they hate it, in fact. So much so that if you expose a vampire to the sun then they generally turn into a bit of a wailer and melt away dramatically. Synthisters are a bit more twinkly, in that they can happily walk around in the light without too much skin exposed, but you’d still get the dramatic melting if too much flesh gets out. And that’s how we get to the stripping. Because to stop this Synthister menace you’re going to have to run around Akihabara identifying the nasties and then tear all of their clothes off. Obviously.
Yanking clothes off aside, the combat quickly becomes stale and repetitive; there’s a button to attack headgear, one for shirts and one for trousers, with the idea being to weaken the durability of each item enough to then strip them off of your opponent. There are a few additional moves – a longer animation attack that breaks blocks, or a jumping attack and so forth, but you’ll need to use them only very rarely. In fact, even on higher difficulties where there are huge percentage modifications to the damage you deal and can take, the general tactic of kiting and then turning around for a cheeky combo only lets you down very rarely. Stripping fares a similar fate; if you’ve only damaged an item a little you’ll have to undergo a short button-mashing sequence, and if you’ve managed to wear it down the item will come flying off. If you or your partner have been attacking another item of clothing then you’ll enter a QTE when a button press will strip that off too. The problem is that once you’ve done five or so chain stripping events you’ve experienced all the mechanic has to offer, and yet you have bajillions to go before the end of the game.
Collectable elements infuse the game too; pretty much every piece of clothing you can strip off in the game can be worn, leading to some fairly eclectic outfits for those how have difficulty colour matching. It’s unfortunate then for experimentation’s sake that a level-up system exists for your equipment – by merging them with other items of the same kind and paying a base fee per merged item you can increase the efficiency of your clothes and your weapon. The vast majority of drops you receive will have essentially junk stats, and once you’ve started investing in merging it becomes increasingly difficult to justify changing up the gear. This is even worse for weapons, where each weapon type has a different set of attack motions and probably a special attack hidden somewhere in one of its combos. Most players will find a fairly fast weapon that gives you up to five attacks in a row and then stick with it for the rest of the game. It seems a real shame that so much attention was lavished on an expansive weaponry set, and then wasted by the combination of a non-complimentary upgrade system that locks you in to a levelled weapon and poor NPC AI that doesn’t ask you to move out of your comfort zone at all.
The most utterly surreal factor about all this stripping though, once you’ve gotten over the initial shock and stopped checking over your shoulder for the decency police, is that there’s actually really very little titillating about it at all. Akiba’s Trip isn’t the kind of game where you stroll through the streets attacking and stripping random humans, it isn’t the kind of game where you feel as though you are taking part in some form of quasi-abuse. It’s all just a continuation of the theme of absurdity – the over-the-top stripping animations you can unlock, watching the faux horror of your character as he realises his unmentionables are on display, the ‘I’m melting!’ moments as the Synthisters dissolve in the Sun. Sure, there’s fan service here – some of the later game underwear begins to feel more than a little kinky, and more hardcore players who travel through multiple story routes will gain the ability to change their companions’ underwear, as well as unlock female character models to use in place of the default Nanashi. But, this isn’t stuff you’d just stumble upon, and by the time you’ve got there it all pretty much feels like natural extensions of the base mechanics.
Anyway, enough about stripping – the other star feature of the game is Akihabara itself. Sections of the city are realised enough for you to walk around, spotting sights and shops that you may have seen or even visited. In fact, our very own Luciano, with his experience of the Maid cafes of Akiba, would probably be very at home at some of the less salubrious venues that can be found. If you’ve ever fancied a trip to this haven for gaming then you’ll be in for a real treat as you wander around soaking up the sights. However, there is a payoff – the loading time between areas can quickly become frustrating, and once you’ve gained access to wherever you were heading to, you’ll then need to wait again for NPC pop-in to occur. If all you wanted to do was quickly visit an area to drop off a sidequest the additional minutes spent running in circles waiting for them to appear can be almost unbearable. Other graphical issues are more easily forgiven – some slight framerate drop if you try to fight too many people at one time on the screen (most noticeable during two Idol-based sidequests) and icons representing NPCs who have wandered off too far on one of the high streets. Akiba is a cracking venue for a game, but you can’t help but wish that it was represented truly as an open world, or at least had better optimisation with the loading.
If you think that you could deal with the constant button-mashing combat, or going through the motions with the overly simplistic QTEs over and over and over again, you’ll be glad to hear that the story doesn’t just end after a single run through. Dialogue responses throughout the game shape the second-half experience that you’ll receive, with one in particular having a fairly different structure in how the end-game plays out. It’s a credit to the writing in Akiba’s Trip that even if the mechanics haven’t set you alight that you will more than likely want to try a quick story run-through in new game + just to see how at least one other ending works out for Nanashi. As all of your accrued weapons and clothes also make the transition to NG+ you’ll find that you can quickly power through most elements of the game too, allowing for a more casual approach to the combat spam than before.
Akiba’s Trip is a funny old chestnut; it manages to have a lead mechanic that would make most discerning gamers turn their noses up in air, and yet it delivers that mechanic in a fun story shell that fully understands where the decency line is while working hard throughout to successfully lampoon most tropes and stereotypes of otaku culture that you could probably think of. It’s certainly not a joke game, and the writing quality does elevate it for those who have an appreciation of the material that is being targeted, but the whole combat mechanic becomes so tiresome so quickly that you can’t help but wish the game could have been shorter, the story more focused, instead of the more positive elements of the game losing some of their sheen from hiding behind the rest of it.