Fans of the original Akiba's Trip may do a double-take when they first boot up Akiba's Beat, the latest chapter in the cult-hit series. Gone are the plethora of zombified-like patrons and the naughty means of snapping them out of their funk. Instead Acquire and XSEED Games decided it was time to bring forth something a bit more thought-provoking, crafting a story that plays as a love letter to Japan's Electric Town and its long history. What makes it all more surprising is how much these changes work.
Akiba's Beat puts its main focus on Asahi Tachibana, a NEET who has made Akihabara his place of residency after dropping out of college. After a strange run-in with transfer student Saki Hoshino and her adorably annoying familiar Pinkun, Asahi finds himself repeating the same Sunday over and over again a la Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. The reason behind the repeated day is due to the city being infected with delusions, crafted by people whose dreams have been affecting their real-life surroundings in a very negative way. With a crew filled with a more can-do attitude than even he can muster, Asahi sets out to infiltrate the delusions and set the timeframe right.
One look at Akiba's Beat's story, and it's easy to see some similarities with this past year's Persona 5. Both deal with characters who build worlds out of their delusions, causing the means of the real world to be flipped about in very negative ways. However where Persona 5 was making commentary on the state of overworked humanity and the distrust the older generation has with younger people, Akiba's Beat instead acts as somewhat of a history lesson on Akihabara. Because of its nature, you quickly learn about how much this famous part of Tokyo can change with a blink of an eye.
You soon run into people with delusions that allude to these pasts. A guy wanting to find a better electronics setting, a young girl aspiring to be an idol, and a maid cafe working wishing the maid boom would return with a vengeance are just a few examples of what you can expect to run into in this game. All of these have close ties to the history of Akihabara, which many see as the holy site of all things anime & manga. It's when you dive into the Delusionscapes where you find these parts of history becoming a part of the battle setting.
When it's revealed who is causing each of the delusions to manifest into the town, Asahi and the crew dive into the darker realm and fight off monsters to get rid of it. On the surface it's your usual hack-and-slash sort of battle, until you look into what sort of fight settings you can customize with your characters. There you'll find remnants of Akihabara's entire history in the way you can set up your character's battle system. You can mod weapons with computer chips, go into melee mode via pop idol songs, fix up your stats with the latest geek chic clothing, and even collect trading cards that hone into your offensive/defensive battle techniques. Yes, it sounds very complicated, but after a couple of battles it quickly becomes easy to handle.
Of course battles are not just as simple as diving in and stabbing away. Instead you are only given a limited number of maneuvers before your body needs to cool down. Hence why it's best to learn to evade enemy attacks as best as you can. It's a simple mechanism that will make all the difference in the world, especially if you've stocked up on plenty of items to replenish your HP and MP. Nevertheless for a game that's about the goofy love of geek culture, there's quite a bit of strategy needed to tread on forward in Akiba's Beat. (Let's just say you'll be very grateful to find a save spot here and there.)
Control-wise it can get rather confusing how to attack and the like, as it mirrors the Japanese control scheme rather than the one America is more used to. X button is used for heavy attacks, whereas Square is for lighter ones. (Usually it's the other way around.) Fortunately you can customize your control scheme however you'd like, so if needed you can set it up to something that feels more akin to American third-person adventure games.
Outside of the main plot, Akiba's Beat also gives players the chance to embark on side quests to aid either your comrades or give a struggling store a push in the right direction. It's here where Akihabara's breath of life is showcased in an interesting way. The nods to various anime, manga, and popular figurine shops are very apparent throughout these side-stories, presenting an often interesting look into the mentality of the otaku culture in Japan itself. Very rarely does it attempt to shame the mannerisms of the Japanese geek population (save for a couple creepers here and there), but rather it embraces these quirky aspects as what makes Akihabara such a beloved place all over the world.
Its story can be pretty entertaining at times, thanks to its geeky humor and sarcastic nature throughout the campaign. However those who have zero knowledge of the Japanese pop culture world will find themselves lost within a realm of strange terminology and sights. In laymen's terms: this is one action RPG made strictly for the biggest of Japanophiles, which may turn off many in the gaming scene. For everyone else, though, it's a real treat to see all the best parts of Japan's nerdy realm mish-mashed together into one setting.
For the most part I stuck with the English dub of Akiba's Beat, which featured the voice talents of Chris Patton (Asahi), Erica Mendez (Saki), Tia Ballard (Riyu), and Robbie Daymond (Yamato). Considering its style, it seemed fitting that XSEED Games grabbed some of the more notable names from the anime industry to bring these characters to life for the English-speaking crowd. Because of some liberties taken in the English script it's very weird to switch to the Japanese dub, as I'm sure there are no real equivalents to some of the words used (and vice versa).
Graphically the realm of the game is very much in the style of a third-dimensional anime. While not as stylistic as Persona 5, there's a certain charm to the world that's being presented in its own unique way. It certainly fits well with the mentality of Akihabara, in a way that can be compared somewhat to this past winter's Akiba's Trip anime adaptation. With that being said, the only thing that irked me in the graphics department were those blasted loading screens. Although they only last a few seconds, the fact that I have to constantly go through them when entering another area of Akihabara somewhat frustrated me.
- Fun, fulfilling battle mechanics
- Interesting story, great voice acting
- Surprisingly educational
- Loading screens are a pain
- For only Japanese fanatics
- Controls take a bit to figure out
Akiba's Beat may be only for the biggest lovers of Japanese culture, but the heart it delivers is surprisingly big and bountiful. While some may miss the crazier antics of Akiba's Trip, those who stick around will be rewarded with a big story, great voice acting, and some surprisingly strategic hack-and-slash battles. It may not be the most boastful of Japanese RPGs to roam the block this year, but Akiba's Beat knows how to get loud and let gamers know it's here to play.
Promotional consideration provided by Cody Martin of ONE PR Studio. Reviewed on the PS4.
Background Noise: Cosmic Explorer by Perfume - one of Japan's biggest exports in the entertainment industry is its idol industry, and no other group does it better than Perfume. Their 2016 release was one of that year's biggest gems in the pop scene, with such melodies as "Cling Cling," "Flash," and "Miracle Worker" bringing forth some of the most hum-inducing songs to come out of the Land of the Rising Sun in years. It's the definitive album to blare while visiting a local maid cafe or in the midst of a figuring shopping spree.