Game Review

by Jean-Karlo Lemus,

Akiba's Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed

Nintendo Switch

Description:
Akiba's Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed
Vampires stalk the streets of Akihabara! Dubbed 'Shadow Souls' by the secret organization NIRO, you find yourself tasked with destroying them after an unfortunate attack from one of their number. Your method of attack? Stripping them naked and letting them burn in the Japanese sunlight! But there's more to this war than it seems. Will you side with NIRO and strip all of the Shadow Souls? Or will you ally yourself with the Shadow Souls?
Review:

Akiba's Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed is a lot of things. It's a remaster of a 10-year-old PlayStation Portable game. It's a cheeky romp through anime fandom mecca with plenty of fun references. But sadly, it's also just shy of the mark to make it a must-have.

The core conceit for the game, stripping enemies in combat, is an interesting angle. Instead of health, the separate parts of your outfit (your headgear, top and bottoms) have their own durability. The lower the durability, the easier it is to pull off the clothing. Smart fighting opens the door to just stripping your opponent in a few short button presses. Unfortunately, combat takes a long time to get particularly interesting. Early on, you only really have two-button combos to fight with. There are a variety of off-the-wall items you can wield as weapons, from posters to laptops, but these too have limited options for attacks. Learning new attacks requires finding and purchasing new combos from eBooks at stores. It's unfortunate that there are so few options for learning new moves outside of purchasing eBooks at stores. Leveling up from defeating enemies can also teach you new moves, but sadly the game has a hard time registering inputs for special attacks. In my playthrough, Akiba's Trip struggled to recognize the input for my sweep attacks on a regular basis.

Combat also feels unbalanced whenever groups are involved. It's very common for bystanders to get involved in fights after getting tagged by a stray punch. Targeting a specific enemy in a group is a challenge, especially when you're trying to avoid getting hit by someone else in the vicinity. Complicating things further are the occasions where you get into fights in cramped alleys or sidewalks, or when patrolling police officers decide to arrest you for fighting vampires in public. When it works, combat is fun. The basics are simple enough to be immediately engaging and there's plenty of fun strategy to be had. But many of the challenges set before you are more tedious than anything else.

And the tedium extends past the combat. Several story missions require you to have a specific outfit, which might take a lot of money to acquire—money that you also need to buy those precious eBooks. Thankfully, there are sub-missions that allow you to earn money, but these can have unclear objectives, and are also on strict time limits. In my playthrough, I struggled with one mission that required us to find a specific enemy in one of the four regions of Akiba's main street. I found and defeated plenty of Shadow Souls, but none that progressed the event; eventually, I continued the main storyline, costing us the mission and the associated reward. Between the need to learn new moves and the need to acquire expensive outfits to progress the story, it felt like I never had enough money for anything.

Fortunately, Akiba's Trip gives you the option of starting the game over at any moment, allowing you to start a New Game Plus with all of your accumulated outfits, skills, and experience levels. In addition to letting players attempt a new playthrough and follow a different story path, this allows you to retry earlier missions you might have failed the first time around.

In addition to combat and missions being somewhat lackluster, character customization is also quite limited. When the game begins, you're allowed to change your character's name—and nothing else. What you can change over the course of the game are your many outfits, which can increase in durability and offer more protections from enemy attacks. These outfits can range from cheap gear emblazoned with anime characters to fanciful maid outfits. Selecting a satisfying outfit that's a good mix of durability and personal aesthetics is fun, plain and simple.

Sadly, Akiba's Trip's graphics are nevertheless a decade old. While the Hellbound and Debriefed edition features remastered graphics, the character models still look somewhat stiff and blocky. Backgrounds are also simple, but immediately recognizable as Akihabara's various regions and districts. While allowances are made for actual stores and brands, the various locales are lovingly reproduced in such a way that invites exploring them, either as someone who someday hopes to visit the famous Electric Town or just someone who likes anime. A pity, then, that players are assaulted by NPCs for a variety of reasons. I was amused by the palm reading NPC the first time. By the second time she bumped into me in yet another map, I was already wishing there was a way I could be done with them.

One aspect of the game I was always looking forward to was the writing. Your group of friends in-game come from all kinds of recognizable fandoms that roam Akihabara, from the idol-obsessed photographer, to the outwardly-normal-looking hentai addict. I would find myself returning to home base less out of necessity and more because I had hoped these weirdos would have something new and fun to say.

The sharp character writing extends to the many NPCs you encounter. Special attention goes to the 500-year-old valley-girl-speaking vampiress disguised as a schoolgirl who wields a wrench for self defense. The fight against her and her clan of schoolgirl vampiresses was annoying and I had to repeat it three times, but at least they were entertaining. Also memorable is The Master, a bizarre woman who dances behind a veil and teaches you how to strip clothing. She's a weirdo, her Japanese voice actress is apparently an AV star, and she isn't fooling anyone with her flowery talk about stripping people, but she gave me a few laughs.

All in all, I wish I liked Akiba's Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed more. The cheeky writing alone is a lot of fun and makes me want to keep playing. Unfortunately, the rest of the game, with its unclear objectives, repetitive battles, and blocky character models, make this a tough sell. I probably wouldn't be so hard on Akiba's Trip if at least the character models looked a bit nicer, because simple brawlers are at least good to zone out to.

Akiba's Trip's pedigree is such that you probably already know if you want to try it. Longtime AT fans will no doubt enjoy replaying a remastered version of the first game and get a kick out of the new voice track. For other folks who just want a cheeky brawler, I'd honestly suggest you just play a Senran Kagura game again.

Grade:
Overall : C
Graphics : C
Sound/Music : A
Gameplay : B
Presentation : B

+ Many NPCs and side missions are hilarious, this game really nails the vibe of hanging with other anime fans, the outfit variety is fun, New Game+ is a plus, The Master is the best character in the game by far.
Battles are repetitive if not an outright chore, you can't customize your character outside of your outfits, side missions can have unclear objectives, cops keep nosing into your fights against vampires.

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