When visitors come to Los Angeles for the first time, their expectations of the city are often influenced by media. Quite often, they’ll are a bit surprised that the town doesn’t offer a non-stop cavalcade of exotic sports cars and celebrities, mixed in with the occasional outburst of gang warfare. Similarly, recent release Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed paints a fantastic portrait of Tokyo’s Akihabara district. Coming into prominence as the capital’s post-war hub for consumer electronics, “Electric Town” has more recently transformed into a must-visit mecca for otaku, offering a labyrinthine network of game, manga, and anime stores.
Much like the games which depict the City of Angels, Akiba’s Trip nails both the architecture and overall layout of Akihabara. Anyone familiar with the district likely won’t have to open the in-game map to navigate their way around. Certainly, the title conveys verisimilitude, with a purported roster of over 130 actual stores allowing their likeness and location to be used in the title. Fittingly, ads for SEGA, Taito, and Sofmap abound, while those unwilling to license their logos become targets for parody. But more than a mere façade, players can enter many of the storefronts, where they’ll find authentic J-pop melodies, popular sundries, as well as ladies in a variety of cosplay motifs. Save for the emaciated crowds and traffic, Undead & Undressed offers an unrivaled depiction of the legendary district.
Of course, the game also exhibits a pugnaciousness and sense of peril that’s all but absent from the real-life Akiba. The game’s introductory cinematic finds the game’s protagonist strapped to table, awakened after an illicit medical procure has been performed. After responding to a help wanted ad that promised to pay in rare figurines, the character unintentionally signed a Faustian contract, transforming him into a Synthister. Much like vampires, these beings appear to be normal humans, and trade superhuman strength for a vulnerability to sunlight. But before any orders are issued, a woman named Shizuku Tokikaze liberates the lead, hinting at the motives of your malicious captors.
Soon the story moves to the headquarters of the MOGRA Freedom Fighters, a rag-tag group of volunteers committed to upholding the wellbeing of Akihabara’s patrons. It’s hear where you’ll meet Undead & Undressed’s cast of supporting characters. Although many of Freedom Fighters converge on trope, offering personalities that range from an air-headed Finnish foreign exchange student to a protective father-figure, the game’s dialog is astoundingly witty. Pleasingly, players are given a bit of leeway in the direction of conversations, periodically able to choose a response from three selections. Although your relying don’t have much of an effect toward Akiba’s Trip’s middle hours, they do have an impact on the beginning and middle of the game. Be a bit too insouciant in your initial response and you’ll be ushered back to the title screen. Later, dialog decisions as well as rapport with your AI partner determine which of the nine endings you’ll see (as well as affecting your path in the branching plotline), extending the potential for repeat playthroughs through a New Game+ option.
Much like the Yakuza franchise, the highlight of Undead & Undressed’s campaign can be found its fisticuffs. But where the draw of the SEGA series was the myriad of everyday items players could employ as weapons, here it’s the lure of disrobing antagonists. But using the triangle, circle, and ‘X’ button, the protagonist can target the head, torso, and lower body of foes. Dish out enough damage to one of these areas, and the region will flash red, indicating the possibility of a finisher. By holding down one of the corresponding buttons, players can then remove an article of clothing. If they’re pummeled other adjacent foes, then it’s possible that additional prompts will appear on screen, allowing gamers to string together wardrobe wrenching combos.
While the absence of a cross-buy option for Undead & Undressed is understandable, the inability to share save files between the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita versions is less comprehensible. While both versions target a thirty frame-per second output, each iterations succumbs to the sporadic instance of slowdown when combat gets too busy. On the whole, the Vita version (which also offers AF functionality with the gyroscopic ability of the system) offers a framerate that’s slightly steadier, as well as slightly quicker load and save times. The obvious advantage to the PS3 iteration is text size; even on a humble 37” LCD, portraits and background images offer greater fidelity and the san-serif fonts in dialog boxes are easier to read.
Although the foundations of fighting are well implemented, some of the game’s nuances aren’t as well realized. Although Undead & Undressed offers possibilities like Counters and Indefensible attacks, these optional strikes aren’t easy to pull off, with fussy timing leading to missed strikes and damage from foes. Likewise, blocking isn’t instantaneous, making it easier to temporarily retract from combat and hold the “L1” button to adjust your clothes. This way, it becomes harder for enemies to strip the player of his attire. Fortunately, you’re not alone in your endeavor, with Akiba’s Trip offering a choice of functional companions who can be given general orders via the directional pad.
While combat does reinforce button-mashing, the payoff of removing articles of clothing helps to detract from most of the game’s mechanical deficiencies. Interestingly, Undead & Undressed’s stripping isn’t regulated to the female Synthisters, males get an equal opportunity to become disrobed during the game’s core campaign missions and side quests. It also helps that the game offers a myriad to offensive tools and outfits for the protagonist to wear, which each selection ushering in statistical as well as cosmetic changes.
Performance wise, both iterations of Akiba’s Trip suffer from frequent load screens, making traversal though Akihabara an arrhythmic adventure. Fortunately, bringing up the map screen offers an option for fast travel, but even that option is encumbered as new data is spooled in. On the upside, Undead & Undressed localization is superior, offering capable voice-overs in both Japanese and English. In game text is translated well, with a number of sly references that stateside otaku will surely identify.
‘Strip’ away Undead & Undressed’s fan-service element, and you’re still left with a madcap, engaging storyline as well as a competent combat system. As such, it’s an enjoyable game elevated by an outrageous concept and a fastidious recreation of one of Tokyo’s celebrated districts. Stateside otaku will likely find the prospect irresistible, while more mainstream gamers will likely be irked by a handful of niggling design issues.
Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed was played on the PS Vita and PlayStation 3 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 3 and PS Vita
Publisher: XSEED Games (NA), NIS America (EU)
Release date: August 12th, 2014
Price: $39.99 Retail or Digital via PSN
Language(s): Japanese or English voice, Japanese or English text