Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed Vita Review
Videogames may not be the most diverse medium when it comes to experiencing different cultures, but there is no doubt that Japan is one of the most prevalent countries depicted through videogames….at least through the lens of otaku-colored glasses. Recent Vita titles like Danganronpa and Persona 4: Golden have taken place entirely in Japanese settings and starred exaggerated characters based on the various Japanese archetypes (the otaku, the fashionista, the delinquent student, etc).
Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed may be the most celebratory (and parodic) depiction of Japanese culture yet. Acquired by Japanese developer Acquire, XSEED Games continues their role of being the greatest (only?) third party supporter of Sony’s low-selling portable system by publishing another quirky Japanese title where the main concept is, once again, centered around stripping characters…except this time, everyone’s invited to the pants-less party.
As the title may suggest, Akiba’s Trip takes place in the non-fictional city of Akihabara, where an underground organization is kidnapping and transforming ordinary people into “Synthisters”, an army of not-quite-zombie, not-quite-vampires who patrol the city in secret to steal the social life energy of the unsuspecting public. The main character (named Nanashi by default) is the latest victim to be turned into a Synthister, but conveniently manages to retain his individuality, thus escaping his confinement with the help of a mysterious girl named Shizuku. Together, and with the help of several friends and allies, the duo scouts the streets of Akiba to expose the Synthisters, literally, through sunlight, their one weakness.
But in order to do so, they must expose the Synthister’s vital areas to the sun’s UV rays, which means disrobing them from head to toe until their nearly-naked bodies burn into a crisp. If you were expecting some clever-yet-arbitrary mechanic to subtly remove the Synthisters’ articles of clothing, rest assured that the cast of Akiba’s Trip settle things the old fashioned way…through random acts of violence. Battles take place like an oldschool beat-em-up, where players and enemies wield whatever happens to be lying around, be it umbrellas, boxing gloves, computer monitors, shopping bags, etc to deal damage to three specific areas of the body (head, chest and legs) to damage the opponent’s piece of equipment. Once a certain piece is flashing, that’s the signal to attempt a grab move that literally tears off the piece of clothing. Once all three articles of clothing are removed, victory (and the spoils of loot and exp) is yours.
This would most likely be the part where you would roll your eyes over yet another Japanese game that uses perversion towards females as its key feature. Unlike games like Dead or Alive, however, Akiba’s Trip really does make the effort in making its lewd mechanic all-inclusive; both male and female characters get caught up in the disrobing free-for-all, and where titles like Senran Kagura clearly try to titillate with their visual imagery, Akiba’s Trip skews toward the wackiness of its concept without lingering too much on jiggle physics or upskirt shots. This is not to say that the game’s concept is acceptable for everyone, but it’s still refreshing to see an absurd gimmick play out without the developers constantly attempting to pander through titillation.
Where it does pander is with its otaku-heavy aesthetics; the premise of Akiba’s Trip may be fictional, but its representation of the famed shopping district may possibly be the most accurate depiction ever seen in a videogame. NPCs litter the streets, with specific titles classifying their roles in Akiba’s culture (tourist, otaku, yaoi fan), while nearly every single building is flashing with ads for the latest Anime or videogame (many which are officially licensed by Acquire, Sega, and other known companies), while various forms of J-pop, J-rock and even J-rap are playing inside each convenience store. Speaking of stores, the game features no limit to the number of shops players can enter, spending hard-earned cash on equippable items or unlockable bonuses. These items work like a typical RPG in that they give off stats that either increase or decrease parameters like attack, defense and durability, though you require higher levels in order to equip higher level weapons and gear. Unfortunately, the game does not give any indicator on what level you require in order to equip a specific item.
As for the combat itself, it’s as manic and insane as you would expect, doubly so as regular humans can get involved in the mix as well as Synthisters; random people can be attacked and disrobed for your sadistic pleasure, but cause too much trouble in the streets and a police officer may get involved (and come with very high stats, which make them virtually impossible to defeat, much less disrobe early on). Get caught and you’ll be fined for disrupting the peace, and if you think you can get by without any yen in your wallet, the debts add up, making it much more difficult to acquire the necessary gear and/or upgrade existing gear.
Watching the player character combine martial arts with stripping like some sort of perverted Jackie Chan never ceases to be amusing; not only can players learn new moves to get the drop on enemies, but certain actions may also result in a stripping chain where carefully-timed button presses lead from one disrobed opponent after another. It’s just too bad that the tight corridors result in some out-of-focus camera work, while the lack of a lock-on feature makes the action a bit too random in a tedious way.
Outside of combat, the game is filled with neat little touches, including a Twitter knockoff named “Pinter” that perfectly replicates the anonymous banter between online otaku, for better or worse. There is also a relationship system between the main character and his female colleagues, a given in most games of this nature. The localization is also top-notch with lots of humorous puns and dialog choices, even if the characters themselves aren’t quite as memorable. In addition to all of the loot and branching dialog options (including a Bad End right from the start should you choose the wrong options), there is also unlockable content after beating the main story, including the ability to change the character’s appearance to any male or female character in the game (though this does not affect the story and is purely cosmetic).
In the end, a few technical shortcomings keeps Akiba’s Trip from reaching true greatness, but not from becoming a very recommended title. The Vita lineup may be sparse, but the amount of content and quirkiness coming from games like this continue to deliver to its Japanese-obsessed fandom. The subject matter may not be for everyone, but there is no denying the charm and polish that went through this game that resulted in one of the most unique experiences seen in both consoles and portables.