First Impressions - Akiba's Beat

by Dustin Bailey,

It's tough to talk about Akiba's Beat without invoking a few other games, both because it's a pseudo-sequel and because it patterns itself after a huge RPG series that just saw the release of a very successful new entry. Unfortunately, while Akiba's Beat sets itself up for those comparisons, it suffers greatly from them on both ends. After several hours with the game, it's already feeling like a tedious role-playing quest with wooden characters, tiny environments, and repetitive combat.

The previous games—the Japan-exclusive Akiba's Trip and its sequel, which saw worldwide release—were goofball combinations of fanservice and comedy which saw you stripping the clothes off of light-sensitive vampires so that they would melt in the sun. Set in Tokyo's otaku mecca, the sites of the district were recreated with some degree of accuracy, even accounting for the rampant vampires and clothes-stealing heroes. It would be a stretch to call Akiba's Trip even a “cult” classic, but it was goofy and unique enough that it managed to stand out.

Akiba's Beat shares its Akihabara setting with the previous games, but that's about it. It's an all-new cast, new story, and new threats to face, none of which have any relation to the previous games—even the in-game Twitter equivalent has a different name. It trades in the action stripping combat for a more methodical (but still real-time) RPG system, complete with dungeons and discreet battle screens.

You're in the role of Asahi Tachibana, a NEET drawn from his shut-in lifestyle by Saki Hoshino and her wisecracking familiar Pinkun, who end up partnering with Asahi when it becomes clear they're all trapped in a Groundhog Day-style endless Sunday. That cycle is connected to a series of supernatural delusions that have cropped up in the district, where people and places have rearranged themselves into twisted visions of the dreams of certain individuals. You've got to track down the individual behind each delusion, discover an entrance to the dungeon which represents their desires, and defeat the Grand Phantasm at the center of it—on and on until you discover the real reason behind everything that's happening.

If the idea of entering dungeons representing twisted fragments of people's minds to correct supernatural events that are becoming dangerous in the real world, well, Persona 5 did just come out. The comparisons are mostly surface-level—the combination of everyday streets and supernatural dungeons, the way your plush-like mascot comments on the state of each battle you enter, and the way you can get the drop on enemies by attacking them with a weighty sword strike in the field—but there's enough there that it's clear Akiba's Beat is using that successful franchise as a frame of reference.

That comparison does not do the game any favors. The characters here are dull and scarcely move beyond the archetypes they're built from—and sometimes they don't achieve enough characterization to reach the dubious distinction of “stereotype.” The idea of dungeons representing delusional dreams should be a natural fit for exploring what's going inside a character's head, but the entire arc of the first dungeon is that some guy really missed when Akihabara was about cool electronics instead of idols and anime. Subsequent locations have at least slightly more depth than that, but the arc of breaking these delusions still hasn't managed to add any life to the characters, and the job isn't done any better than the overlong dialog sequences. This is a game where you'll be paging through mountains of conversation waiting for the characters to realize the story point that became obvious thirty minutes prior, and that wait can be agonizing. The few hours I've spent with the game aren't enough to get a true sense of whether these characters are going anywhere, but the early characterization has not been promising.

On the subject of dialog, it's also worth mentioning the frequency with which your helper character will chime in as you're exploring both the streets and the dungeons. There are a handful of lines that'll play each time you walk by a save point, or a door, or a store, or get near an enemy, or treasure, or get into a battle, or do a certain type of attack, and the rate at which these chirps hit is absolutely infuriating. You might think that's a minor point, but with no apparent option to disable this dialog those same handful of lines will drill themselves into your consciousness. You might hear the exact same line three times in the span of thirty seconds—and that's not a rare occurrence. Though the option to switch helper characters comes in deeper into the game, the repetition hits so fast it's tough to imagine that change fixing the problem.

Though the digital recreation of Akihabara maintains its basically accurate layout, it's a pretty small environment to play host to an entire game. Random pedestrians are depicted as neon silhouettes, and it's a striking look—the first time you see it. After a bit of time in the tiny play area, though, the lack of humanity in the background contributes to a lifeless feeling in the streets. Every shop hosts the same handful of items, and there isn't much indication of the huge, colorful variety of stores and cafes Akiba is known for. For one of Tokyo's liveliest and most vibrant districts—especially for the game's target audience—the tiny, mostly lifeless depiction here is very disappointing.

The combat, at least, has a speedy, accessible feel. After meeting an enemy in a dungeon, you move to a separate battle arena where you fight in real-time. Your movement is typically restricted to a 2D plane against a targeted enemy, but you can switch targets and break away into 3D movement at any point. Your moves are governed by an AP meter—use up all five points with a weapon combo and you'll have to wait a few seconds before attacking again, forcing you to make use of guards and dodging to mitigate enemy attacks. It's a neat introduction of turn-based mechanics into a real-time system that gives combat a nice flow. Special attacks have your standard array of healing and elemental damage effects, and you can activate those with a slightly clunky combination of an analog stick direction and the press of a button.

It moves fast, but there's no real sense of depth, and the stiff controls don't bode well for more challenging late-game encounters. The first few dungeons on the default difficulty have been easy to a degree that can only be described as mind-numbing, but at least the challenge can be adjusted at any time. There's no extra layer of resource management, either, since SP is recovered with basic attacks, leaving no sense of endurance as you move through a dungeon.

The titular “beat” comes with the game's super gauge, which gradually fills across battles as you do damage. Fill it halfway, and you can use a skill to unlock Imagine Mode, boosting your damage and abilities. Fill it all the way from there and a song starts playing which offers specific bonuses throughout its duration, giving its biggest boosts during the chorus. You can unlock and equip different songs with different effects. It's a neat idea, but so far the battles—even boss fights—have been over so quick that the music barely has a chance to get going.

It's tough to pick out anything particularly notable about Akiba's Beat. Its combat has some neat ideas, but isn't particularly exciting, and its story is so dull and its characters so one-note that it's tough to want to keep pushing on. I hate to keep comparing it to other games, but trapped between the trashy charm of Akiba's Trip and its own aspirations to be like the excellent Persona titles, Akiba's Beat doesn't have much identity of its own beyond the neon colors.

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