Akiba’s Beat PS4 Review
There are generally two trains of thought by fans regarding modern day JRPGs: either developers should stick to the genre’s roots with traditional turn-based gameplay, or they should evolve the formula for a more streamlined, action-heavy audience. It’s no secret that Final Fantasy XV, released last year, received some criticism from nostalgic fans by choosing the latter option, while the recently released Persona 5 received an equal amount of acclaim by sticking with the former.
With its third entry hitting the PS4 and Vita, the Akiba series is a unique case for taking the reverse route for its sequel: the first game, released in the West as Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed (technically the second game, as the first was a PSP exclusive that never left Japan) combined JRPG mechanics like items and equipment managing, party members and experience points with a more action-focused combat system that erred closer to beat em’ ups. The premise of stripping down vampire-like opponents to expose their bodies to sunlight was also wacky enough to be memorable, not to mention the nearly accurate recreation of Japan’s most popular shopping district, down to the various subcultures and idol-blaring billboards.
With Akiba’s Beat, developer Acquire has chosen to strip down the series’ mechanics (no pun intended) to follow the more familiar conventions of JRPGs, including random battles and dungeons. The result is a sequel that feels like it has lost much of its identity through its conforming, a sentiment that is perfectly represented by the representation of its titular backdrop: gone are the hundreds of NPC models that walk along the bustling sidewalks of Akibahara, replaced instead with mostly lifeless, colored silhouettes reminiscent of Tokyo Mirage Sessions (that won’t be the only game that Akiba’s Beat will be taking influences from, as demonstrated below). The endless display of billboards, posters and shops that littered the district have also received a visual downgrade, in that many of the brands are now parodic references in place of the real-world advertisements that gave the previous Akiba title a loving sense of realism despite its supernatural premise.
As for the main story, stop me if you’ve heard this one: the protagonist, Asahi Tachibana, is a classified and self-proclaimed NEET (“Not in Education, Employment or Training”, otherwise known as a shut-in), who proudly embraces his laziness by spending every day sleeping or watching Anime. While on his way to meet up with his friend Mizuki (who he has blown off several times due to over-sleeping), Asahi runs into a young girl named Saki, who has arrived in Akiba along with her companion Pinkun (who looks like the kind of poorly-crafted Pikachu knockoff seen on bootleg stores) to close off mysterious doors that lead to another world known as the Delusionscape, which are manifestations of a person’s inner desires that threaten to change the real world. Each Delusionscape is shaped after the person’s desires, including a dungeon built around an audiophile’s love for music, or a would-be idol dreaming of being a star. Despite his lazy nature, Asahi gets roped into helping Saki, as the two are cursed to repeat the same Sunday every day, Groundhog Day-style, while they try to uncover the mysteries of the Delusions.
There are so many Anime and RPG stories about a hapless young man running into an experienced, determined girl to fend off an encroaching force that threatens the world that it makes the premise of Akiba’s Beat almost indistinguishable from its predecessors…except from where it heavily draws influence from them. In addition to aping the look of Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ depiction of Akibahara, Akiba’s Beat‘s premise of dungeons manifested from the unconscious desires of people is very like Persona 4 and 5, down to the talking mascot character that quips throughout battles and exploration (though unlike Teddie and Morgana, Pinkun’s handful of repetitive lines will get tiresome ridiculously fast…be ready to audibly groan every single time the player reaches a save point or enters a dungeon door). What Akiba’s Beat has failed to copy, however, is the engaging cast of characters or story beats that make Persona such a revered RPG series. Though the game does benefit from Xseed’s stellar localization skills (which is especially ironic considering the rather disappointing localization from Persona 5 that has led to criticism), a good translation can’t save a boring by-the-numbers story with one-note characters. Just try and see how long you can stand the constant reminder of Asahi’s NEET status in every cutscene.
As for the gameplay, the biggest source of inspiration comes from the Tales of series; bumping into on-screen enemies will transition into a combat screen where party members and enemies can move around in full 3D, attacking with multiple combos, spells and abilities. Players take direct control of Asahi, but can switch around to his companions on the fly. Each character has a set number of “turns” that indicate how many actions they can take before the cooldown period where they can act again (movement is free and can be used to retreat from attacking enemies). Actions such as attacking, dodging, and spell-casting use up a turn point, which is why it’s crucial to come up with the best kind of combos to deal the most damage. Special abilities use up SP, naturally, which slowly fills back up with successive strikes but can also be replenished with items. New abilities are learned through leveling up, and can be mapped to either stick for shortcut access. As stated above, it is quite literally lifted from the Tales of games.
The one semi-unique element to Akiba’s gamplay is a special bar that gradually fills up with attacks. When the bar fills up to a certain point, players can switch on the “Imagine” mode, a temporary window where attacks do more damage while a musical number plays. While the game implies that this would switch to a rhythm-based mechanic that required careful timing, the goal instead is to land as many hits as possible during the allotted time. On the plus side, it is neat how players can set their own custom song to play during Imagine mode, but the novelty will no doubt pass quickly and do little to enhance the average gameplay.
Overall, “average” is the perfect descriptor for Akiba’s Beat. While there is nothing particularly bad about it, it does little to stand out among the most recent releases that truly revitalize the JRPG genre. It is both baffling and disheartening that the developers chose to rob the very things that made Akiba’s Trip stand out among the sea of Japanese games only to have it conform to a pale imitation of more polished JRPGs. If you haven’t done so already, consider passing over this game in favor of seeking out its more unique (and entertaining) predecessor for cheap.