Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed Review: Fighting naked
The eccentricities of Japanese culture are never more apparent than in the country’s most notorious cultural hotspot, Akihabara. From cafes bustling with waitresses clad in maid attire to nigh-obsessive pop idol followings to the rampancy of manga and anime, Akihabara—Akiba, for short—is a veritable microcosm of Japanese media and its many fandoms. Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed is Xseed and Acquire's latest contribution to the area’s colorful history, and has only recently seen a Playstation localization westward. And what better setting for a game in which you fight monitor and baseball bat—because tooth and nail is just old hat—to rip the pants, shirt and everything else off your opponent.
It truly is a faithful recreation of Akihabara.
Indeed, Akiba’s Trip will have you duking it out with all manner of baddies so that you may strip them down to their underwear. Think of it as the finishing move to the game’s 3D fighting, though it does play out just as absurdly as it sounds on paper. There is, however, a fitting context for all the clothes-rending nonsense: Genetically modified, vampire-esque beings known as Synthisters have invaded Akiba and begun draining the life—literally the energy to get out of bed in the morning—from its citizens. Naturally, Synthisters are vulnerable to sunlight, but apparently only if nearly their entire body is exposed to it.
Of course, you’ve got to beat those jackets and jeans into submission before you send them skyward. Enter the game’s fighting system, a three-attack, no-nonsense and profoundly linear affair. Triangle, Circle and X act as head, torso and leg attacks, respectively, allowing you to target the corresponding piece of clothing. Get them low and tear them off. Impressively, this never goes too deeply into pandering territory and remains a simply bombastic display throughout.
Please note: This is a thing. You probably knew it was a thing going into this review, but just know that it is. (image via punkandlizard)
No doubt to the disappointment of many, the only deviation from senseless spamming is the occasional jump or strip attack. Holding the appropriate attack button against a weakened opponent will prompt a strip, which may turn into a chain strip and send your character flying around a group of enemies snatching up threads like a vacuum over loose carpet.
Variety is more easily found in character customization. As you might expect, your outfit plays a crucial role in fights, as does your choice of hysterically slap-stick weapon. Will you be meting out justice with a pink baseball bat, anime love pillow, computer monitor, boxing gloves or a microphone? And will you do so sporting a pin-striped suit, flamboyant parachute pants or some proper cosplay? Options reach well into the thousands, which makes for an interesting game of dress-up as you unlock and acquire new gear. Even the background of your cellphone, the game’s intuitive menu, can be customized with images unlocked at certain points in the story.
Of course, in such a colorful city, there’s more than fighting to be done. As a newly converted Synthister yourself—tricked into such a predicament by a job offer promising payment in rare character figurines—you’ll peruse dozens of shops on the hunt for buff-giving consumables and new equipment; take side missions as an honorary Akiba freedom fighter; make use of an interesting photography mechanic to uncover Synthisters among the crowd; and play through heaps of visual novel-lite dialogue with the help of a remarkably well-voiced cast.
Excellent character arts carries the experience handily.
Some characters are nothing more than flat bags of clichés, but the game’s writing and English localization shines through as one of its most commendable points, every inch of which is satirizing something.
Civilian NPCs range from “privileged skank” to socially inept shut-ins; every extreme and archetype of Akiba society gets a slap. One side mission, titled “She wants the D… on D,” stages an intervention for a girl’s obsession with homosexual erotica. Scores of people flock to social media platform Pitter to exchange rumors and gripes, often adopting bizarre online personas in the process. Amusingly, difficulty settings cover easy, casual and gamer, with the highest difficulty implying that gamers are some sort of super-humans. And did you know you shouldn’t pirate games? Xseed will send their leg-breakers after you, I tells ya.
The whole experience is caked in rowdy, tongue-in-cheek and genuinely entertaining humor, which builds much of the game’s charm. It is openly satirical of otaku, Japanese and youth culture, and carried by a delightful soundtrack harkening back to the funky days of Jet Set Radio as often as it does modern J-pop. Sadly, that’s about where its charm ends.
Despite a wealth of gorgeous character art, the game looks like a PS2-era title, and that’s on a good day. Akihabara is a small play area to begin with, but is split into dozens of still smaller areas by a painful number of loading screens which tend to pour salt on the wound by appearing back-to-back. Environments and 3D character models jump erratically between below average and downright terrible, and character animations are so deep in the uncanny valley that they more closely resemble balloon animals placed between opposite-facing oscillating fans than any sort of human interaction.
Yes, this is the part where the game about stripping anyone you don't like gets a bit hard to follow.
Technical hitches, too, threaten to overtake even equipment options in sheer quantity. The incredibly flimsy camera will take a mile if you give it an inch, and entering a new area spurs a jarring wave of texture and character pop-in that comes on about as subtly as a large rock onto your windshield. There’s also the annoying issue of the ability to restore your clothing’s condition mid-combat (effectively healing yourself) being mapped to the same button as exiting combat altogether. Since enemies never seem to agree to your accidental armistice, this can lead to literal minutes of running and jumping in circles struggling to get the game to let you play it.
Questionable design drags the experience further down. An already brutally simple fighting system is made less interesting by limited defensive maneuvers; dodging, blocking and countering were apparently too big a bill for Xseed to pay off in full and receive barebones coverage. The same is true for any sort of combo system, as the game is button-mashing at its purest. And while visually interesting, chain-stripping is no more exciting than your standard quick-time-event and comes across as though the game wants to play for you.
I was willing to let it at times.
Combat feels arbitrary and quickly grows repetitive, but is at least supported by competent visual novel bits. Standard fare of “be nice to the girl you want to end up with,” to be sure, but certainly far more entertaining than the fighting. Clever if incredulous writing makes for an entertaining ride, although dialogue options themselves are often pigeonholed in a manner akin to the Infamous games—that is to say, with a hard division between the sane, absurd and intentionally rude choices.
Neither abhorrent nor stellar, Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed is just plain not for everyone. It flops as a fighter and never quite takes off as a visual novel and romance-heavy sim, but there’s a certain method to its chaos and rhyme to its reason that will undoubtedly resonate with a particular audience. Somewhere in it is a laugh-out-loud funny romp through a caricaturized city, but one buried by bad ideas and missing pieces. It shines through on brief occasion, but never consistently enough to carry its weight on the hard drives of all but the most avid of JRPG fans.