Anyone who goes into Akiba’s Beat expecting a direct sequel to the popular ‘Akiba’s Trip’ will be left disappointed. Whilst it’s considered a spinoff of sorts, they’re both completely different games. I mean, one has you beating vampire-like creatures and stripping their clothing to help vanquish them, whilst the other is just an action RPG with no real standout features. There’s no doubting that the whole Akihabara vibe is present in both games, but from a gameplay standpoint they’re barely alike. Does it mean Akiba’s Beat is a bad game? Not at all, but it’s not a particularly good one either…
Akiba’s Beat puts you in the shoes of Asahi, a young man who does nothing with his life except explore the streets of Akihabara, play video games, and read a ton of manga – living the dream, right? Things take a weird turn though when he realises he’s living in a ‘Groundhog Day’ type situation, with one day repeatedly playing out over and over again. To make things worse, the dreamy ‘delusions’ (or desires if you want a more fitting term) of the citizens of Akihabara are taking on a physical form on the streets, posing a threat to the true reality. It’s up to Asahi and his friends to help people overcome these ‘delusions’ and ensure that the harmony of Akihabara is maintained. Of course, it gets a little more complicated than that, but you’ll find that out in the game. Let’s just say it’s not too shy with going into depth with its cutscenes that seem to drag on and on and on…
That’s probably a little harsh; I mean, yeah, the game does have cutscenes and conversations that seem to go on forever and with often very little story progression taking place, but I actually liked the concept behind the game. It felt incredibly ‘Persona’-like, except with incredibly lower production values. The idea of people’s desires and thoughts taking a physical manifestation and terrorising people is interesting though and it did keep me entertained, even if they did typically just boil down to a bunch of encounters with different monsters.
It also helps that Akiba’s Beat features a pretty colourful cast of characters. Despite each and every character being clearly defined by a stereotype (you’ve got your Goths, emos, idols, ‘NEETs’, etc.) the way they interact with each other makes for some really entertaining scenes. It’s as if the game is self-aware of the fact that everything is held together by stereotypes, at times openly mocking itself and pointing out the predictability of the situations characters find themselves in. The translators have done a good job on the script too, ensuring that you’ll be left smiling at the things characters say. Don’t get me wrong, the sometimes complicated nature of the tale often made me feel like I was out of the loop, but at least I found the cast comical. It’s a good job too – have I mentioned that you’ll spend a LOT of time with cutscenes in the game?
Whilst the story is interesting though, the actual gameplay itself could feel mildly repetitious over time. You’re given the freedom to explore Akihabara in true RPG fashion, though most of the time you’re simply tasked with talking to people to gather information and eventually tackling the ‘Delusionscapes’ – the game’s equivalent of dungeons. These ‘Delusionscapes’ aren’t simple to make your way into though, with Akiba’s Beat tasking you with finding out who’s ‘delusion’ is creating it before you can take it on and bring it down. This could actually lead to some interesting situations though. With the idea of the ‘delusions’ being based upon people’s desires, they’d often take on some pretty strange forms. This is a game based on the Otaku culture after all, so there are plenty of bizarre and often perverse desires on the mind of folk. It makes for some zany situations in games, and some even zanier dungeon designs.
Whilst these ‘Dreamscapes’ look great and varied from an aesthetic perspective, they felt lacking from a gameplay point of view. You’re essentially running across a series of basic floating pathways, with none particularly complex and easily guiding you directly to your goals. Whilst your surroundings are full of creativity, the actual designs of the dungeons themselves are lacking in imagination. Sure, you’ll come across a few puzzles, but even they feel incredibly uninspired and like they’ve been tacked on just to make you do something different outside of walking and battling. Whilst plenty of other RPG’s dungeons have worked in similar ways, at least they made the locales more interesting to explore. It’s all well and good to have vibrant backgrounds in these dungeons, but when they all FEEL the same you can’t help but to start getting a bit bored.
At least the combat is a bit more entertaining, but even that manages to miss the mark. Having been a fan of the ‘Tales Of’ series I thought I’d get on incredibly well with Akiba’s Beat’s battle mechanics, and whilst they do share a ton of similarities, I couldn’t help but to find that everything felt a lot more sluggish here. You’ll run around open arenas and freely attack enemies from all angles, but you’re restricted by your ‘beat’ meter (a sort of energy bar). Now, this sort of thing has been done in other action RPGs (the ‘Tales Of’ series included), but in Akiba’s Beat I found it incredibly restrictive. Rather than being able to string together fluid combinations to dish out stylistic attacks on your opponents, you’re instead forced to hold back after landing a few hits. It does stop the game becoming a button-masher in some sense, but at the same time it eliminates the empowering feeling of being in control of battles. As you progress through the game and your characters become stronger it’ll be less of a problem, but during the early hours of the game I found it incredibly restrictive.
It does redeem itself a little with the ‘Imagination Gauge’, a meter that when filling up can be used to give your character a boost in power. Not only that, but the restriction of your combo count is lifted too, giving you the chance to unleash a brutal barrage of damage upon your foe. If you use the meter when it’s completely full the whole party will feel the benefit, giving everyone a boost in stats that’ll certainly give you the upper hand on the battlefield. It’s a neat little system that does make fighting feel a lot more enjoyable, even if it is only for a short time.
Akiba’s Beat’s combat gets better as your team become stronger, with things like stringing attacks together and using more powerful abilities making it feel more enjoyable. It’s not that you’re weak or anything early on, but rather that you’re not able to really unleash yourself upon your opponents. I think a lot of it boils down to the fact that it isn’t as accessible or fluid as other action RPG’s combat systems. I’ve already compared it to the combat from ‘Tales Of’ and rightfully so – it’s almost identical from a design standpoint. The actual delivery is inferior though, with almost everything that felt great in the ‘Tales Of’ games feeling dumbed down and slower in Akiba’s Beat. The combat mechanics aren’t horrible by any means, but they’re definitely underwhelming.
The game isn’t all that great from a visual standpoint either – I’d actually go as far as saying that its predecessor, ‘Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed’, looked a lot better. Whilst the actual area and character designs themselves are imaginative and it’s a treat to explore Akihabara, everything felt a little washed out and bland. It doesn’t help that the NPCs of the city are all single coloured silhouettes either; whilst I’m sure this seemed like a stylish design choice to the developers, it just makes your surroundings feel lifeless and uninhabited. Much like the combat and dungeon design, it simply feels like Akiba’s Beat is trying to provide more of what we’re used to in an action RPG, but ends up dumbing it down completely in the process.
Akiba’s Beat isn’t an awful game, but it’s certainly underwhelming. There’s a lot of potential for it to offer an enjoyable action RPG experience, but instead it strives towards competency with almost every element of the game being bettered by other titles.
Whilst the story is enjoyable and the characters well written, the package as a whole isn’t that great. I’m sure some RPG fans will enjoy their time with Akiba’s Beat, but with so many better options available it’s pretty hard to recommend.
Release Date: 19/05/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation Vita