There was a time when I worshipped anything from Japan. My teenage years were spent ravenously consuming any piece of Japanese media I could get my hands on, be it video games, anime, or manga. I once thought that anything Japan produced was automatically good, adopting a systemic preference for obscure games by virtue of their obscurity alone. In recent years, however, as the relationship between Eastern and Western game publishers has improved, we’ve seen an increase in localizations for the types of games that would’ve never made their way stateside back in the 1990s. With the increased availability of niche titles has come a gradual realization on my part that “unusual game” does not equal “good game.” A perfect example of this correlation (or lack thereof) is Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed, a game so thoroughly Japanese that it couldn’t hide its sensibilites even if it had Phoenix Wright-level localization changes.
Akiba’s Trip is game about prowling a digital re-creation of Akihabara, Japan to hunt synthetic vampire-esque beings by stripping off their clothes and burning their flesh in the sunlight. The journey is punctuated by such off-the-wall events as entering a cosplay contest, shopping for rare figurines, and — oh, yes — preventing the creation of a dark utopia powered by the essence of consumerism. Whether this sounds hilarious or nightmarishly stupid is completely subject to the tastes of the player; I was able to accept Akiba’s wacky premise with minimal fuss, but what I couldn’t accept was how mind-numbingly repetitive and boring the game becomes almost immediately. Less than an hour into the story, I had a bad feeling that the game’s structure was never going to change, and that expectation went woefully unchallenged for the remainder of my playtime.
The format of Akiba’s Trip is thus: read some dialogue that invariably leads to an excuse for patrolling the streets, fast-travel to the designated location, fight superhuman “Synthisters,” and repeat. Forever. There is absolutely no variety in objectives throughout the main story, and although side quests exist, they are fetch quests that prove to be identical at their collective core. Areas are laughably tiny, and although the attention to detail in representing the real-life shops of Akihabara is impressive, there’s nothing to do aside from fight and shop for equipment. To make matters worse, loading screens separate every slice of the city, adding to the tedium of getting around. There isn’t even much going on visually; environmental textures are muddy and low-res, and while characters have fluid animations, they’re all based on the same low-poly model.
Regrettably, Akiba’s real-time combat — the game’s one and only substantive system — seems hilarious and fun at first, but quickly devolves into a dance of repetition and frustration. The player attacks enemies’ clothing in one of three places (head, torso, or legs), wearing down each piece’s durability and eventually stripping the enemy down to his or her skivvies, defeating them in the process. At first, it’s admittedly pretty amusing to watch Synthisters being knocked into the air with everyday items like computer monitors, glow sticks, and action figures, but the fun quickly stops when the novelty wears off. The camera is a complete mess, often getting caught on objects in the environment, and targeting specific enemies can be a headache. To add to the frustration of constantly being stun-locked by hordes of enemies, I experienced several graphical glitches that teleported characters around as a result of poor collision detection. The only way any skirmish differs from another is in the number of combatants and their HP pools. There are no additional systems or mechanics in place, making every single encounter tedious and predictable.
No aspect of Akiba’s Trip is good enough to label as a “saving grace,” but I can appreciate where it tries hardest to capture the player’s attention. Most of its good elements come by way of XSEED’s localization, as usual. The game is incredibly self-aware, to its benefit, and the dialogue can occasionally be genuinely funny. I appreciated the absurdity of some player dialogue choices, like when I was able smugly tell a villain “Your ideals are bad and you should feel bad.” Likewise, the game’s English voice cast performs very well, given the ridiculousness of their lines. I also respect the hard work that went into the game’s small details, like a faux Twitter feed accessible via the main character’s smartphone and an encyclopedia where the player can view reproductions of real-life flyers handed out in Akihabara, along with comical descriptions of every item in the game. This sort of world-crafting would be more impressive were it nestled in more engaging gameplay mechanics. Instead, it merely elevates the game from a disaster to a deeply flawed experience.
I hate to be so negative about Akiba’s Trip, especially after a promising showing at E3 this year. It’s the kind of game that presents all of itself immediately and steadily slopes downward until the player has had enough of its repetitiveness. It’s unique, certainly, and there’s nothing quite like it on the market, but a comical premise does not automatically translate to a compelling game experience.