Akiba's Beat Review
Release Date: May 16th, 2017
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Price: $49.99 (PlayStation 4), $39.99 (PlayStation Vita)
Akihabara. It's a beautiful city that no matter how many times games take us there virtually, it'll always be a sight to see. It's especially a treat to gamers who tend to lean more towards Japanese developed titles that step away from the typical Western FPS and shoot-em-ups we see more and more of from developers. Akiba's Beat brings us just there to Akihabara, and brings the universe of Akiba's Trip with it, being a successor. It may have not been immediately obvious, thanks to the 180 approach Akiba's Beat takes and has virtually no similarity to Akiba's Trip, but it still holds its own, even if all the magic and quirkiness of Akiba's Trip is mostly gone from Akiba's Beat, for better or for worse. It'd be unfair to fully compare Akiba's Beat to Akiba's Trip because they're so different and Akiba's Beat doesn't necessarily come directly after Akiba's Trip in its universe other than the fact that this is a title releasing in 2017 versus 2014 (2013 for Japan) when its predecessor released. A lot has changed and it's best to look at this in an unrelated view and instead as a standalone title that really only shares a name.
Akiba's Beat puts you in the shoes of Asahi Tachibana, a young man that wakes up late, has no real sense of responsibility, no job, and simply hangs around Akihabara all day. One day you head out to meet a friend, where you unsurprisingly keep him waiting and end up late, talk to him, then go back home. You do this seemingly for the next couple of days and you begin to realize something is wrong when you feel like you're repeating the same day and having the same conversations over and over again. It's at this point you meet up with another character, Saki, that clarifies what you're seeing and that only a select few understand what's happening and are trying to stop it. It's from here you start to find yourself in a supernatural setting of Akihabara where you must figure out why the day continues to loop and what you can do to stop it and all the monsters that infest this alternate dimension. The story is quirky and the people you meet along the way are odd, but they all bring a certain flavor to the table that complements the next. The voice acting for each character isn't the greatest, and some will actually surprise you - not necessarily due to poor quality, but the unfitting placement of some - but the dialogue is memorable in both a positive and negative way. There are some portions where the writing gets to be a little eccentric, but the good thing about Akiba's Beat, much like Trip before it, is that the game is self aware in what it's doing, and considering Akiba's Trip was very much a fan service title, and this one continues on the Japanese niche theme, I think the developers and localization team understand that they can get away with a lot of goofiness and that the game itself shouldn't be taken too seriously - certainly not when it doesn’t take itself as such.
When not roaming around Akihabara, players will find themselves in dungeons, known as Delusionscapes, where they'll take down monsters and traverse a colorful atmosphere until they reach the end where they can take down each Grand Phantasm, which is essentially just the boss of each dungeon. These Delusionscapes manifest from delusions residents of Akiba have - usually from one person in particular that has a strong aura for it - and exist because of lies we tell ourselves that we eventually believe to be true, which then lead to an ominous overtaking of a person's consciousness. In a way, it has a slice-of-life approach to it in terms of imposter syndrome, or how humans tend to fight off personal demons or when people are convinced something is real when it's just a figment of their imagination. These are the topics Akiba's Beat touches on as you go through Akihabara and try to fix the seemingly never-ending loop of lies and save people from collapsing onto themselves.
Even though the dungeons look different from each other since each delusion has its own theme associated with it, the dungeons don't necessarily feel different. Dungeons are set up in a way that are so familiar that even though one may be a different color from a previous one, you feel like you're doing the same one over. Maybe this has to do with the whole loop theme the game has as a whole, but it gives a feeling that there was a lack of effort put into the design of the dungeons. Enemies are placed in predictable places, each "section" is a block followed by a bridge followed by a block followed by a bridge, rinse and repeat, and they're separated by floors that don't offer any variety from the last except for maybe a treasure or two. Going through dungeons is made a little more laborious due to the fact that the combat doesn't feel fleshed-out enough, and the odd combination of free-form action and turn-based mechanics could throw some people off. You can only move to and from and enemy, and if you want to move around the specified battlefield freely, you have to hold the trigger. Attacks can't be mashed freely, and instead are labeled by a counter right above your character's health that let you know how many hits you have left before you need to wait for a cooldown. Thankfully this can be raised via items and upgrades you find throughout the game, and can even set to infinite for a short period of time in battle once your special meter is fully reached and activated, but the constant fluctuation of timed attacks, limited moves, and then suddenly switching to infinite is conflicting to each other, and almost feels as if this approach for combat was taken to add more "depth", when really it just happens to make things more inconvenient. On top of that, when your special, or Imagination, is activated, music plays, and the music can be altered at any time to any track of your choosing as you find songs throughout your playthrough, but once activated it gets LOUD. Add that to all the crazy grunts and voices happening with your whole party as you're fighting enemies, and the absurd flashy graphical filters that happen on screen as if Snapchat glitched and melted on your screen, and you're in for a ride you never even asked for. The music selection is solid, though, and it's nice to be able to choose whichever you find as your song of choice to get you pumped when fighting any enemies you come into contact with.
Luckily Akiba's Beat has a nice balance between story and dungeons, so you never really feel overwhelmed and by the time you find yourself saying "just get me out", you're usually out and back on the streets of Akihabara enjoying the sights, taking care of side quests, and getting more familiar with the people around you as well as the stories behind them. Just like Akiba's Trip, however, Akihabara is once again split into portions for whatever reason, so you'll have to hit a button prompt in order to move to the next area. I'm not entirely sure what the design decision behind this is, and I doubt it was to make things accessible for the Vita version when titles like Trails of Cold Steel, Gravity Rush, and so much more have you moving freely in a sandbox with very little loading and transitioning between areas. Acquire is a very competent team, and XSEED is, to me, synonymous with quality Japanese titles and localization, so I continue to fail to see why Akihabara needs to be split into many tiny portions of itself.
Those that have played Akiba's Trip, loved it, and are aware that Akiba's Beat is a successor to it despite it's entirely different premise and gameplay approach will undoubtedly have a lot to be desired when playing through it, but players that jump in with no history of the series will probably find a bit more to enjoy here, especially if they've been interested in games like Tokyo Mirage Sessions or Persona. While Akiba's Beat's combat, dungeons, and overworld aren't as fleshed-out like most other dungeon crawlers, it's fun for what it is and the humor at the very least will make you laugh - either at it or with it. The game offers a nice take of Akihabara that's fun to explore, but still isn't on the level of the aforementioned games, its predecessors, or other Japanese titles that let you freely explore the city such as the likes of Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, not that every game needs to be compared to other titles, but when a title is being sold for full MSRP and it's a bit empty, people aren't going to have as much incentive to pick it up until a sale happens on their platform of choice, especially if they're iffy. Akiba's Beat has a lot to love about it, but it has just as much to be desired. JRPG aficionados will likely enjoy this quite a bit if they're willing to put the time into it, but those unfamiliar with the genre may want to delve into something else first, or at the very least start out with Akiba's Trip, though it's not necessary to play that before Akiba's Beat.
- Akiba's Beat is self aware with some of its dialog, such as moments where things get extremely cringe worthy, and the main character, Asahi, will make mention about how corny and cringey everything is.
- Layout of Akihabara is almost identical to how it was in Akiba's Strip, so for players that played the predecessor, it'll be familiar
- Easy to understand upgrades that are mostly passive, so no need to worry about a multitude of weapons and item management across a bunch of different characters
- Thanks to the simplicity of the controls, remote play works really great with this title
- Combat, while unique, can get hectic, cacophonous, and has so much going on at the screen at once (especially when your special is activated) to the point it's hard to tell what's going on
- It's hard to believe it's a sequel to Akiba's Strip because of its totally different gameplay style and mechanics. The dungeon crawling, art direction, and almost everything else except for its location feels distant from Akiba's Strip, and feels more like a low-budget clone of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
- Akiba's Beat takes its sweet time getting good, and while things tend to get very entertaining about 4+ hours in, a lot of players may not have the patience or be willing to put up with a bunch of repetitive nonsense until then.
- Combat can get a little clunky, and while the unique approach of free-form and turn-based is fresh, its execution is poor and has a lack of polish. Sticking with the free-form action nature of Akiba's Trip would have been much more appreciated.
Much love and thanks to XSEED for sending a review copy of Akiba's Beat for PS4!