Platforms: PlayStation 4, PS Vita
‘Akiba’s Beat’ follows the story of Asahi, a lackadaisical twenty-something living in the city of Akihabara, aka Akiba. When Asahi stumbles upon a strange manifestation in town, he’s confronted by a young girl who tells him of the power he has and the looming threat to the city. Armed with a sword and his new companions, he must face the dangers encroaching on the unaware populace from the dimensional barriers fusing the real world with the dream world before time itself is torn at the seams.
This game is not without its flaws. There could’ve been a great entry here, but the obvious need to stretch out the entire playthrough rather than fill it with engaging content comes off as obvious and boring. Most JRPG’s generally have a heavy element of simple exploration and interaction, but AB might have taken it to an almost annoying extent. The combat is haphazardly propped up with uninspired repetition and the tasks required to get to it in the first place never seem worth the hassle. The personality the game needs is definitely there, but the rest falls totally flat where it should have shined.
The characters feel likable and even relatable, despite the story and world in which they’ve been placed.
Considering the gameplay features such a profound need to have long-winded conversations that overwork the ‘skip’ button, at the very least, the characters are pretty interesting and sometimes pretty funny. Asahi is a directionless, lazy millennial living in Japan. He has no real plan for his future; he’s just going through the motions and feels perfectly content just ordering in and gaming all night. He’s clearly a good kid, but without a definitive purpose. His personality manages to be pretty consistent throughout, especially when it comes time for him to step up and fulfill his hidden destiny.
After meeting the mysterious “Orange Girl” (her name later revealed to be Saki), she and the talking cuddly creature floating beside her, Pinkun, reveal that Asahi is part of a specific sect of humans able to detect and enter “Delusionscapes”; alterations in reality caused by dreams seeping into the real world. This is why he generally comes off so relatable. As most people in his shoes, he’s pretty reluctant to fight, but finds it in himself to brag even after a minor victory. He maintains his likability due to his budding friendship with Saki. After their first battle, he’s pretty much over the whole thing and wants to bail on the entire operation. The only thing that brings him in is being a sucker for a pair of sad eyes, especially when they belong to a guilt-tripping Saki as she details the graphic imagery of her brutal death at the hands of the monsters she won’t be able to fight on her own. The dynamic between the two, Asahi pulling away, Saki dragging him along, is the main catalyst to let the characters grow as people.
The story is simply uninteresting. It’s hard to pinpoint why it needs to be told and seems like just a backdrop for some occasional combat.
The main plot revolves around the idea that reality can be altered if someone wants something enough. It plays into an almost quantum mechanical manipulation of reality that Asahi and company need to deal with. Essentially, when someone’s dreams are extremely powerful, they can inadvertently manifest “delusions”: tears in reality between the real world and the dream world, which can devour the real world entirely if left unchecked. This is not the problem with the story. The problem emerges when it’s revealed that a side effect of a delusion coming through is a localized timeloop; the same day repeating over and over until the delusion has been closed. Since our crew of charming heroes is predestined to stop these, they are aware of the timeloop, which means they live the same day over and over.
Basically, it means our characters now have to interrogate the exact same people time and time again to see where the differences in those experiences lie in order to track down the delusions. Several cutscene conversations end up forcing you to run back and forth just to start a new conversation. All the abrupt stopping and starting messes with the momentum and removes from the game. Even the dramatic separation of the Delusionscapes and the real world results in jarring and unfocused pacing. Most of your gameplay consists of talking and talking, often repeating the same conversations and situations as a result of the timeloop. Despite the valiant and often successful attempts at injecting humor and even the occasional pop culture references into the dialogue, they typically work best in small doses, which this game doesn’t seem to understand.
The city itself is simple to absorb with a layout that looks big, but very concentrated without making players feel like they need to talk to all the NPC’s in order to garner story intel. You know who your targets are because they’re usually the people that aren’t mono-colored, featureless silhouettes. Despite how user-friendly the world turns out to be, the repetition seems superfluous and makes you feel like you’re just killing time between killing enemies.
The combat is not without its flaws, but can be fun at times…assuming of course you actually get to see any.
One of the most obvious problems is the gameplay balance. The combat only occurs in very specific Delusionscapes, with the rest of the game fluffed up with NPC interactions. When you finally discover the door to the dream world, you’ll find a very basic layout of platforms and walkways with roaming enemies and loot boxes peppered throughout. The enemies themselves follow the tradition of adopting the aesthetic of their environment, like speakers and amp gauges for the audio map or bright pink and shiny stars for the pop star world. The enemies aren’t ever that difficult to defeat, but most of the challenge comes in the combat controls, which might take some getting used to.
There is a hack-n-slash feel to it like most games of this type, but your attacks are very basic and come with a small cooldown, which prevents you from stacking combos as you please, as well as encouraging more active movement and evasion. Once you unlock “Imagine Mode”, you’re essentially given an ultimate form that grants you and your team unlimited attacks, but only once it’s been built up.
Your fighting is only improved outside of Delusionscapes with your equipment. You’re able to purchase new clothing items and weapons which increase your base stats, but the biggest drawback is the lack of customizability. Even though you might buy a hat or coat that boost your defensive stats, they are equipped in name and numbers only, leaving Asahi in the exact same rags from the start. If you find yourself in a game that treats simple articles of clothing as your main armor with beneficiary stat changes, there’s no reason why the added detail of physically seeing it on your character should be overlooked. This is a huge missed opportunity, of which the game seems to have no shortage.
‘Akiba’s Beat’ starts off strong with a lot of potential, but like its directionless protagonist, the whole experience comes off as more unfocused than anticipated. While each of the elements used aren’t necessarily detriments, the way in which they are implemented leaves something to be desired. The game is crippled by its lopsided ratio of dialogue cutscenes to actual combat. There is a great deal of dialogue to sift through, but it makes you literally live out a ‘Groundhog Day’ nightmare by way of premise which just becomes tedious over (relative) time, despite its charming and quick witted main characters that give the game its only real sense of personality. The only combat you ever see is within the constructs of the Delusionscapes, but those experiences are padded with so much running around and repeating the exact same interactions and conversations that you might find yourself looking more forward to seeing it end than caring about how it ends.