Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed
It had been a pretty bad night for gaming. I’d just finished my ultimate run of SaGa Frontier the night before, which had been a thoroughly satisfying experience. Now, though, it was time for something new, so I excitedly tore into Ultra Street Fighter 4. I played around in Training Mode, trying to perform each character’s special moves, and failing miserably at all of those double quarter circle things, and, realizing that I’d never survive the actual game, I moved on. Next up was Sonic Generations, and I’ll address my many grievances with that at another time. On to Mirror’s Edge, which is an intense, action-packed Platformer that has you using parkour, which is the coolest concept eve- wait… it’s in first-person? Who puts a jump-heavy Platformer in first-person!? It was the next game that really blew me away with how fresh and interesting it was.
Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed was a game that had interested me ever since I’d heard about it from E3 2014, and remained one of those few games that still interested me and didn’t wind up exclusive to a console I will likely never own. In fact, my dad picked it from my holiday wishlist based solely upon its title. The premise, if you remember from my E3 commentary, was that you fight a bunch of invincible vampires by wearing them down and tearing off their clothes to make them explode in sunlight. Oh, there she goes; that pervy old lady playing a game about ripping off people’s clothing. Listen, I’ve been living with the same woman since 2006; I’m not so hard-up for bare skin that seeing someone in his or her underwear is going to send me spiraling into debauchery. Just put aside your inner pervert for a second and reassess this; doesn’t it just sound so bizarre that you want to try it? Well, I can say without a doubt that Akiba’s Trip certainly delivers a unique experience.
Akiba’s Trip centers around the theme of clothing, and like any good game, it is built very well around this core theme. Not only do you have over 450 pieces of clothing available to collect and wear, but also 80 different weapons. The equipment is equivalent to that in a Dungeon Crawler in that there is no Ultima Weapon or Erdrick’s Armor, but rather each item has a randomly-generated attack or defense value, which can be improved through crafting and the like. If you’re into playing dress-up, you’ll have a great time matching garments together to make outfits, so that your significant other can sit in her armchair and roll her eyes at you, declaring, “You’re such a girl.” You can go around town, fighting to rack up money and steal new items to build yourself up, and there are tons of different shops to visit. In fact, it’s almost like a 3D spiritual sequel to River City Ransom… with people exploding once you strip them down to their skivvies.
Great! So, how’s the combat? Well, you’re gunning for three different garments: tops, bottoms, and headgear. Each button is mapped to a different zone, so to attack someone’s shirt, you press square, circle for someone’s pants/skirt, triangle for someone’s headgear, and X for a useless jump kick that you should never use, but with a system this well thought-out, you won’t have to. Tap the button repeatedly to form combos, press the button while moving away from your target to perform an unblockable attack, or press and hold the button to grab the garment. If it’s been worn down enough, you’ll snatch it right off of him or her; if it’s close, you enter a button-mashing sequence that wears it down further, possibly resulting in snatching it right off; if it’s nowhere near ready, the person will shout something at you and just brush you off. It’s very well structured, and you never have trouble hitting the right part, like you would in something like Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. Once you successfully rip of a garment, you may enter a quick-time event that lets you chain strip your assailants, but the button you need to press corresponds to the garment you’re about to rip, so at least you know what to expect. In large groups, it’s best to be strategic, wearing down all of everyone’s garments, and then go for the big chain-strip finish.
Great! So… how’s the combat? Well, it’s a complete trainwreck. On paper, the system works perfectly, but then again, so does Communism. When you’re actually in combat, the buttons do pretty much whatever they want. Sure, circle will make you attack the person’s bottom, but will you sweep kick, grab, or do this weird thing where you get down on all fours and do like a cat… head ram… thing…? Well, that’s up to the game to decide; you know how the controls work, but they don’t actually, you know, work. So, rely on one of the many weapons, right? Sure, there are several different types, but there may as well be only two: clunky garbage that takes 3-and-a-half-years worth of wind-up to actually swing, and gloves. Now, I didn’t expect much finesse out of swinging a computer monitor at someone, but I thought that at the least, a plastic bat would be useful; I’ve had plastic bat duels in real life, and they can get pretty intense; some of the neighborhood boys were a little frightened of me.
The best picture I could get of that weird head ram thing.
To make matters worse, people can just randomly join in the fight; each person takes a while to strip down, and in that time, four more can swarm in, making the fight not only harder, but impossibly long. On top of that, the camera never moves on its own; you have no lock-on button center your camera on him or her, so you have to keep tilting the right analog stick, lest you spend too much time punching (or missing) someone off-screen while four other people are beating the stuffing out of you and undressing you from behind; it’s like recess all over again. So, you keep attacking, hoping that you execute the attacks that you want, and that would be enough of a hassle, but you have a hypothetically unlimited number of reinforcements to battle, and while juggling all of that, you have to keep adjusting the camera. Better yet is when, in the midst of all of this, you want to switch targets; good luck. Your target is chosen automatically, so you just have to kind of walk around and jiggle your position until the game chooses the person you want to hit, and in a crowd of eight opponents, you do really need to pick them off strategically. Oh, and hope against all hope that the police don’t notice your scuffle and join in to arrest the lot of you, because they’re almost invincible, at least at the beginning of the game; you may as well be attacking the town guards from Ultima 3: Exodus.
As you’d likely expect from something like this, the game has a cel-shaded anime aesthetic, and while I’m not generally a huge fan of the modern anime look, it gets the job done. The city looks like a city, and there are these occasional weird Earthboundesque ads that are photo-realistic, creating an amusing contrast. What really shines in terms of visuals is the clothing. As I mentioned, there are countless different outfits that you can put together, and the developers actually did put some thought into making several different garments go with several different other garments, just like in a real person’s actual wardrobe. Building a wardrobe starts with having two things that match and expanding in either direction, branching out where you can, and Akiba’s Trip does a good job of simulating that. There isn’t any kind of style rating or anything, so it doesn’t actually matter, but it’s a really nice touch.
Not bad, but Sweetie, you need to accessorize.
The graphics also provide a very good feedback in battle. You have durability meters for your clothes, and as the numbers decrease, the color of the font changes. If you pay close attention, you’ll also notice that when you hit an enemy’s clothes, that article will flash a certain color. Said colors mimic those in your own meters, so you know how far down that particular garment is. It’s very helpful, too, since enemies don’t have their own meters, but then again, when you’re fighting eight at once, you really can’t do something like that, so this is a very nice compromise.
My only real visual gripe may or not even be really visual in the strictest sense. I have trouble navigating 3-dimensional environments; you know this. Akiba’s Trip throws you into the city with a map so useless that it may as well be called the mini-crap, and no compass. That’s right: you have no idea in which direction you’re actually facing until you memorize the layouts. Worse yet is that there are always tons of people on the street, each with their own name tags of varying colors, and said colors each mean something different. Imagine walking down the streets of New York City at about 1 in the afternoon and having a brightly colored bubble over each person’s head, and try to find a specific person when their name tags are things like “Otaku” and “Privileged Skank”. Again, neat in theory, but in practice, there are so many stimuli that I felt like my eyes were going to burst out of my head and flee in terror shouting, “NOPE! NOPE! NOPE!”
Aaaaaaaaa! Too many stimuli!
The basic premise of the game is absolutely fantastic and easily enough to carry it through to the end. Even after you get to the point at which you can strip people down without drawing the curtains or giggling like a little schoolgirl, it holds up, because there’s more to it than just novelty. Taking away the obvious truth of what you’re doing, mechanically, it’s just like if Devil May Cry were to have one of those gigantic ship bosses from R-Type that has several different parts to destroy. After a while, it does take on that sort of sentiment, too; the novelty fades, and it becomes no stranger than eating a mushroom to make yourself large enough to break bricks that used to be little mushroom people. I suppose that it is with a bit of irony that in an industry with so much hypersexualization, a game about ripping the clothes off of people in broad daylight doesn’t really sexualize its characters beyond the obvious.
In fact, even though the characters are little more than just bland tropes, they aren’t used as mere vehicles for sexualization. You have the mysterious girl, the childhood friend, the stereotypical “wacky foreigner”; you know the drill by now. Yes, it’s one of those games where you build up affection points to follow the “path” of winding up with a specific girl, leading to a bunch of different endings, but it’s not a hentai game. Aside from having to play the same game over and over again just to see how each crappy love story plays out, I don’t necessarily mind this sort of thing, but what bothers me is that it affects character customization. You have the ability to build any kind of character you want, but you have to play as a male your first time through. It’s fine to have to unlock things, but if the reason is, “I really, really want you to experience this crappy love story that we’ve thrown together in about 5 minutes, and I don’t want you to ruin it with same-sex pairings,” then there isn’t any point to it. Actually, one of the minor NPCs is a girl that is absolutely obsessed with male same-sex relationships – a self-proclaimed yaoi queen – so the absence of such a possibility seems odd. Speaking of NPCs and anime tropes, when you bump into most anyone on the street, they make this exaggerated stereotypical noise that gets really irritating when you’re just trying to walk to somewhere, though it is kind of funny to Magenta Thompson them to the side.
Aside from that, the writing is pure gold; the basic plot is that you got turned into a vampire by a pharmaceutical corporation because you permitted them to “run some tests” in exchange for a rare anime figurine. Forget what people say about Travis Touchdown; the protagonist of this game is the real otaku. The satire runs pretty deep here, too; your menu is actually a collection of apps on your smartphone, my favorite of which is a not-so-subtle jab at Twitter. Now, I’m not actually on Twitter, so I’m not exposed to its climate, but I’m guessing that this is pretty true to life. You have all sorts of people ranging from the bombastic dolt that tries to speak in Elizabethan English (and fails pretty miserably) to immature trolls that take jabs at one of the transgender users, repeatedly calling her “trap”. I am, of course, in no way okay with the term, trap, but, as this is a satire of internet culture (and if my time spent on forums is any indication, a pretty accurate one), then yes, you would most certainly run into people who use these kinds of slurs. Your little sister nails a lot of the rest of the Internet conventions, coming up with countless new ways to call you Bro. It is pretty entertaining to hear someone refer to a boy as Bro-ccoli, when that boy actually is that person’s brother, and gives one cause to wonder exactly why this whole “Bro” thing has decided to resurface from the depths of our cultural wastelands. Plot twist: boys used to call each other “Bro” back in the early ’90s; it isn’t a new thing.
Need to find vampires? There’s an app for that.
The audio department isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great, either. The music isn’t the usual bland, orchestral dead horse that’s dragged out to continue rotting in the sun for most modern games, but it isn’t terribly memorable, either. The sound effects do their job; nothing atrocious, but nothing particularly cathartic or interesting. The voice acting is the only audio element that really gives me much of anything to say. For the most part, the actors do their job well enough, but there are two notable exceptions. The first is Kati, the “wacky foreigner” from Finland. Now, I know people from Scandinavia; I had a professor in college from Finland, and have a very dear friend who lives in Sweden. I know how a Scandinavian accent sounds, and not only does Kati’s voice actor not get it, but she also constantly slips in and out of this poor attempt at an accent; it’s like calling Miss Cleo for a free tarot readin’. It’s pretty clear that the entire voice acting budget was spent on was spent on the brotagonist’s (I couldn’t resist) little sister, Nana. She has this weird, low-volume, fast speech that perfectly fits her character and wouldn’t seem at all out of place in a Scott Pilgrim adaptation. Combined with her strange lexical features, it makes her the only memorable character of the lot.
Akiba’s Trip has a lot going for it, and not all that much going actively against it. I’m really not sure what kind of score to actually give it, and I know that sounds like a cop-out. Were I to rate it based upon its stylistic merits, it would easily be a solid 8/10; the premise is great, and the writing was some of the few legitimately funny scripts I’ve seen in video games. Were I to rate it as a game, though, it’d probably be somewhere around a 2/10; for as much as I liked about the game, I couldn’t stand to actually play it. Were this an anime, I’d probably watch it and enjoy it a great deal, and I’m not a huge anime fan. I do find it sad and perhaps even a bit ironic that in this age of clones, one of the few unique games to come out would’ve done well to steal its gameplay from other, more popular games, like Devil May Cry or God of War; tighten up that combat, and you’d have a very solid game.