To anyone who’s lived, worked or visited Akihabara in recent years, you’d probably think of the popular district of tokyo filled with tech shops, electronics, arcades, and more recently, anime and moe culture. In Akiba’s Trip, you get to experience all of that, along with manmade vampires, shady corporations and super human powers thrown into the mix, all wrapped in a somewhat rough yet enjoyable beat-em up thanks to all of the content that supplements the core gameplay.
Playing as Nanashi, one of Akiba’s many otaku, you find yourself waking up after unwittingly volunteering to undergo a procedure to become a manmade vampire, or ‘synthester’ by a myserious organisation in an undisclosed location (all in the pursuit of rare character goods). Just as things were about to get from bad to worse, enter Shizuku, another mysterious character who just happened to break into the organisation’s base as the synthesters were about to dispose of you. Thanks to her help in beating up these assailants, you both escape.
On the verge of keeling over after his vampire surgery, Nanashi is again saved by Shizuku, who lets him drink her blood to avoid dying off before the game even starts. Now, he has to deal with the fact that becoming one of the synthesters has turned him into something not human, possibly inhuman, or even superhuman. And he can’t expose his body below the neck to sunlight either, without facing fatal consequences.
Cursed to walk the earth in his altered, sunlight-weakened state. Nanashi, Shizuku and a gradually increasing group of friends, known as the ‘Akiba freedom fighters’ begin investigating the Synthesters and how their schemes have intertwined with normal Akiba life.
So, at this point, this sounds like a fairly straightforward set up for an origin story; you have a protagonist with a new-found power and must learn to hone his skills to fight evil, a mysterious organisation with countless minions, and your rag tag group of ‘freedom fighters’ who are assembled throughout the story in order to investigate the cause behind all of this all while hunting and fighting Synthesters to prevent any further attacks to civilians. The majority of this boils down to going on regular patrols around Akihabara to complete story and side missions, and fighting Synthesters in the streets and ripping their clothes off to defeat them (as they’re weak to sunlight as well, unless you’ve just stripped a normal human).
The central parts of Akihabara are faithfully recreated, down to the maids handing out flyers, salespeople flaunting their wares and real world ads plastered over buildings, windows and video screens. Even though I’ve only been to Akiba a few times myself, I could instantly recognize the streets, the stores and areas around Akihabara.
While this would seem like a great locale to set an open world(town) game, the streets of Akihabara are instead broken up into specific areas on the map, with loading screens when travelling between street sections. The loads aren’t long enough to be a significant inconvenience (normally a few seconds) but it does break the flow when you’re in game and can get a bit annoying after a while. At least a fast travel option is available, which allows you to just skip directly to where you need to go but I think it would have been better if the whole map was freely available to roam around in a more open-world fashion. Especially with the game recently receiving an updated PS4 release, I doubt the console would have had much trouble handling something like that.
As the story develops, you’ll meet several other characters who have also been involved in this situation and eventually become part of the gang back at your HQ, the game bar ‘MOGRA’ (which is actually a real bar and somewhere I’ll need to visit next time i’m in the area). This is where you’ll usually return to between story missions to regroup with the other characters in the Freedom Fighters. There are several members in the group and you can choose which member you want to travel with as your partner, which links into a sort of relationship-sim aspect of the game and can affect the ending you get at the end of the game. You can improve your relationship with a particular member of the group through as you interact with them more and provide good responses when presented with dialog options during event scenes. I didn’t really put too much effort into this for my first game so I may try to get an alternate ending on the next playthrough.
The side missions which you can take on via your cellphone telephone provide some interesting little side stories involving the people around Akiba, who contact you to help out with various problems. This could involve you helping a guy ask a girl out on a date, hunting some haunted hardware, or facing off against a group of 48 irate idols outside the train station.
If you’re the type of person who spends ages customising their characters in games, there’s plenty of clothing and item customisation options available through mixing and matching hundreds of clothing and items. You’ll be able to get clothing in one of the dozens of stores around Akiba or, you may find some laying around on the street, or even tear some clothes off the backs of vanquished opponents to dress your character however you want. You can even use your smartphone to scan the area and analyse what clothes and items each person around you has, just in case you see something you like and decide to simply take it off them.
There’s also tonnes of weapon options available, with your weapon usually galling into one of 4 types, each giving a different feel in battle: large & blunt impact objects, 1 handed sword-type weapons, larger 2-handed sword-type weapons and hand weapons. Depending on what weapons you have equipped for you and your currently selected partner will affect how they both perform in battle. I didn’t really feel the need to switch weapons too often as I would instead use most of the items I was acquiring to power up my current weapon through item synthesis. Having a good weapon and set of clothes will help out when you get into battles with Synthesters and other enemies on the streets of Akiba.
You notice after getting into a few fights, that there’s a distinct ‘wind up’ on some normal and most special attacks with you fully vulnerable and unable to cancel out of the attack animation. Your choice of weapon can affect this, with some weapons allowing you to fire off attacks in quick succession while others might require a second or two before the attack connects. Even when I had a 1 handed weapon equipped, combat felt kind of clunky and didn’t flow as smoothly as I would have liked, especially when against more than 1 enemy. If you get surrounded, that makes things much more of a hassle as the lack of lock on means you need to line up your character in the correct direction before attacking and there’s no ‘dodge’ action either.
This isn’t helped by the fact that many battles occur on a street with other people walking by and onlookers may suddenly decide to join the fray and start beating you up as well. A battle that begins focused on one or two people for a mission could turn into an endless brawl as more NPCs jump into the fight. On some of the more difficult story mission and side mission battles, your battle area is sometimes isolated from the normal crowds, so thankfully, you only have to worry about the actual enemies you’re focusing on. Being able to block and counter can be of use but again, these get harder to pull off successfully when there’s more than a couple foes around you.
For a beat ’em up, I think the actual fighting component of the game could have done with a bit of tightening up and some refinement, as you’d want to feel like you’re able to take on enemies quickly and effectively without having to constantly worry about preparing your attack while taking the ‘wind up’ time into consideration or dealing with the various other quirks of the combat system.
I actually got more enjoyment from the dialog and script thanks to the great localisation work on the game, making some sequences and jokes genuinely funny, while working through the side missions usually provided an interesting experience as you discover the little vignettes most of them contain.
As for what’s new in the PS4 release, the clothing DLC packs that were originally available separately for the PS3 and Vita versions are now included from the get-go. The main noticeable addition for this version however, is how the PS4’s streaming feature is integrated into the game. At any point when you’re playing, you can start streaming (as with any other PS4 game), but in Akiba’s Trip, viewers can send commands to assist you, make things more difficult or just make something funny happen on screen. Depending on the crowd of people your stream attracts, this can be quite fun, but there’s always the likelihood that there’ll be someone who’s constantly spamming the panties-related commands, just because.