Ah, Japan. Fabled land of technology and weirdness. It takes something special to, as a society, look at an octopus and say “Hey, baby! Whatcha wearing?” Something different is needed to make self mutilation the perfect way to say you’re sorry. (Screw flowers and a note!) And any culture that can produce Helldriver is just freaking rad. So, it came as no surprise to me that Akiba’s Trip, a brawler with a focus on forcibly stripping your opponents, managed to be pretty darn good. What surprised me was why it was good.
When creating the concept for this one, I have to imagine the developers sitting around a table making bets.
Dev One: “I bet you that I can make a dating sim starring birds and get it released professionally.”
Dev Two: “You probably can. I’m going to put together a turn-based strategy game and have one of the special edition items come with a mouse pad featuring breasts to rest your wrist on. It will get released on consoles at that.”
Dev Three: “Amateurs. I am going to make a game about sharking, give it context so that it won’t be offensive to feminists, and get it on all three Sony platforms. Afterwards? Maybe we can do a PC release.”
Well, Devs One and Two owe three a Coke. (Please tell me that’s all that was wagered.) Not only is it fun and silly, I would actually argue that this game is a shrine to equality. While not perfect, I urge fans of beat-em-ups and/or visual novels to give this one a whirl.
The game opens with our hero in a lab, post treatment. He showed up for a job that pays in rare figurines, and found himself to be the sole survivor of the latest batch of medically induced vampirism. Called “Synthisters,” these creatures prey on the public at large, attacking randomly and draining positive emotions and will from their victims. Kind of like Fox News, but with more personality. Through happenstance, he is soon rescued by a young woman named Shizuku. From there, he brings her to his friends, the Akiba Freedom Fighters, and the true story begins.
There are plenty of interesting twists and turns found in the story. I did actually fall for a red herring once, something I can usually see coming from a mile away. And while it is obvious that Shizuku has a “dark past,” what was revealed was interesting enough to keep me enthralled. In fact, while some dialogue scenes could get overlong, I liked the characters in general. You have Shizuku, of course. There’s Touko, the food loving martial artist, Kati, the homemaker type, and Rin, the pop idol. Also, there is the slightly annoying little sister character, there for comic relief, and a father figure to help guide the way. You know what? Here’s a picture.
I kid, I kid. Now, the reason you need to strip clothing is because these sythisters are vulnerable to sunlight. The only way to truly defeat them is to remove all of their clothes so they get a great big dose of Vitamin D. Or sunburn. Or whatever. There are three attack types, head, torso, and feet. All items will need to be removed to defeat the enemies.
Of course, you are also cursed with the same weakness. This is why it is important to continually upgrade your wardrobe with new and better options. If you find a look you like, the option to stick with it is there. The sister character allows the player to upgrade existing items by consuming other pieces to clothing. (Gluing pieces to other pieces, in other words.) This left me thrilled, as I had taken to field military garb, with headphones, cute pink pumps, and dainty little bat wings on my shoulders. And since there are options that can be equipped for how the character can walk, you better believe that I rocked the “girly” options. Now, there were some side missions that required actual cross dressing, so I went the opposite with my frilly clothes and angry stomping lope through the streets of Akiba.
The customization options are part of what makes Akiba’s Trip so inclusive. The other part is, hey, dudes get stripped the same as woman. By Jove, I would say their high pitched, shrill scream of terror and embarrassment is more amusing. I would offer a theory that this is intentional. While the members of Akiba Freedom Fighters treat each other with equal levels of joking and respect, there is still the matter of objectification of women on the streets, with maids and attractive females plying the wares of various businesses, the stalking of females that you are your partners have to stop, and some off hand remarks from some of the villains. I am told that this is an accurate representation of what true life Akiba is like, and I feel that the developers were making a statement of love as well as how it can be better. Or maybe I’m projecting my own politics onto the game and it really is just a silly thing about tearing the clothes off of vampires.
It might be tough to see just how nice they are, but the graphics are gorgeous, too. The cel-shaded look does a great job of painting a world that feels distinctly Japanese. The colors are vibrant and bold, the lines look crisp, and the environments have a huge amount of loving detail. There are real stores represented, actual human music videos projected on large screens in various parts of the city, and plenty of authentic ads. Ah, the ads. Not being from Japan, these high res images featured in loading screens and as posters in the world helped to increase the feeling of authenticity for me. I will say that they are pervasive, though, and I would find myself disgusted if this were an American game with American ads. The “different” factor worked for me. I imagine Japanese audiences might have felt differently.
In the end, though, the “real” feeling is what really sold Akiba’s Trip for me. The world is the true star of this one, a Japanese high-tech utopia for the otaku. I snagged this expecting an “Oh My God, I can’t believe somebody made this” type experience. One where I would laugh in secret and act all offended when playing it around my wife. What I got was a delightful adventure filled with nerd references, both anime and gaming (BARF!), and a love letter/roast of Japanese geekiness. Quite frankly, my time spent here has made me want to visit the real thing more than any tourist board can pull off.