Thursday, August 14, 2014

Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed (PS VITA)

As one might imagine from the details disclosed about this game you'll find that "Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed" has a title with multiple meanings. At heart the game is based around the real-life "Akihabara" district of Japan where the main entertainment culture thrives, and where people from all walks of life come to shop to their hearts content. Everything from gaming to yaoi, and even pop idol fandom is what makes up the social aspects of the community who frequents it's many pop culture oriented shops. As such you'll find that the portion of the title "Akiba" actually refers to 'Akihabara' in a shortened way rather than a person, or individual taking a trip. Another intended secret buried within the spelling of the game's title lies with a certain aspect of the gameplay, namely the interesting combat system that was applied. If you were to dislocate the apostrophe at the end of "Akiba", and move the "S" over to "Trip" you'd get the word "Strip" which coincides with the nature of the combat system.

Oddly enough undressing the undead, or 'Synthisters (Synthetic Vampires)' by beating the clothes off of them is a huge part of what you'll be tasked with doing after becoming a part of the undead population yourself. Since you are dealing with vampire-like citizens it only makes sense that exposing their unnatural skin to sunlight would do them in. In the game you, the gamer become the main male protagonist by name, and actions as you meet up with fellow persons of interest. With your Otaku Activist group known as MOGRA by your side, and your new found mysterious savior Shizuku you set out to rid Akihabara of Synthisters, and find a cure for your current state of being. Of course other characters you meet such as Shizuku, a female warrior of a different kind, will have their own objectives in mind as they lend a hand, or try to stop your efforts.

When the game begins, and the anime intro has played out we find a young male otaku who has been duped into signing himself over as a guinea pig to a shady pharmaceutical company for a rare Striprism figure. Through selectable back an forth dialogue between the head pharmacy agent, and this boy who is named as you deem fit it comes to light that the game's main protagonist has been given a drug which has in effect turned him into a life force draining vampire hybrid, otherwise known as a "Synthister". Since he is bound by legal obligation he doesn't really have the option to disobey the organization's request, but does find himself at odds with them when they mention the fact he will be sucking the life out of Akihabara's citizens. Thankfully for his sake though a mysterious young lady intervenes just before the pharmacy agents set to kill him off, because of his refusal of service.

After fighting of the armed guards the young man, and Shizuku (the young girl) flee the scene. Shizuku, who seems to be a legit vampire gives the young protagonist a blood filled kiss for the sake of the young boy's humanity. It seems that being a Synthister for too long makes the individual less human, and more susceptible to the dangers of sun exposure. After receiving Shizuku's gracious gift the clueless young man takes her along with him to the safety of MOGRA headquarters where the adventure of finding what is truly going on begins ...

Gameplay in "Akiba's Trip" is a multi-layered mixture of social interactions, mission oriented meetings, and clothes stripping combat. As the main protagonist you'll have to use MOGRA's unorthodox detective skills, the aid of the mysterious Shizuku, the help of others who make themselves known, and your trusty app filled smartphone. One of the most vital tools that the main character has to help him in his search for answers is his smartphone which contains a variety of different apps. You'll be able to check your email, manage your various articles of clothing, frequent the social media outlet called "Pitter (Twitter)" as well as other things that tie in with character management. You'll even be able to detect the Synthisters from normal citizens/tourists via the smartphone's camera app.

Whenever you (the young boy), and your following companion are not interacting via choice driven dialogue you will be doing the bidding of MOGRA, and other characters of interests via missions, and side missions. While you can go about things in any order regarding the games missions it is the main missions which involve main dialogue events, and clothes stripping combat scenarios that will ultimately lead you to the game's conclusion. You will travel the bustling streets of Akiba as you go from location to location doing as your told in order to find the answers you, and your friends so desperately need. Like the real world Akiba district you will find shops of similar design. Game shops, electronic shops, anime oriented shops, and even cafes that cater to maid loving fetishists are among the sites you'll see as you take this virtual tour through a city plagued by the undead.

One thing to note is that you'll always have someone tagging along to face the fight ahead along with you. Which girl/guy you choose to accompany you will ultimately affect the ending of your playthrough. In a way relationships with friends, and more intimate persons of interest matter in this game. It's also a game about finding out who's who in the grand scheme of things. The missions, side missions, and interactive character dialogue all act as a means to figure out the world around you. With your app filled smartphone you can further explore the behind-the-scenes goings on related to Akiba's contributing patrons, and those characters of interest that you are working with.

Combat in Akiba's Trip is fairly basic, and to the point. Since the game is based in a 3D setting you'll find the experience more akin to a 3D brawler than a JRPG. The point to combat, as one might expect is to strip the Synthisters of all clothing articles, so that the sunlight will destroy them. Removable clothing in the game comes in three types for both the main protagonists, and the enemies at hand. By repeatedly hitting the "Head", "Torso", and "Legs" of an enemy character you'll weaken them into a flashing red state at which point you can strip the clothing article off via an appropriately pressed/held button (TRIANGLE = Head, CIRCLE = Torso, X = Legs). Of course the enemy can do the same to you, and your in-game partner should you fail to take them out first.

Attacking each part of the enemy's clothing also ties-in to the previously mentioned button presses meaning that the "CIRCLE", "TRIANGLE", and "X" buttons will have to be pressed in order to attack. For activating/de-activating your attack stance (which is required for you to fight & fix your clothing article stats) you will need to press the "Left Shoulder" button on the PS Vita prior to engaging in a fight. Holding the "Left Shoulder" button will also act as a way replenish your clothing's health if you can escape from your pursuers long enough to activate the function. Keep in mind though that health items are still very much available, and needed as enemies will stay on top of you like stink on !@#$%^ making the free clothes fix not all that convenient. For blocking purposes you'll need to use the "Right Shoulder" button, and do so religiously as fights in Akiba's Trip are often times gang oriented. Camera angles are also a biggie in combat, and can be managed with the movement of the "Right Thumbstick". Basic movement within the game is tied to the "Left Thumbstick".

One thing to note is that aside from the basic clothing articles the protagonist, and enemies can be equipped with carry-on weapons, accessories, and items which will each help improve the odds of winning a battle. Weapons in the game range from the expected baseball bats to things like capsule vending machines, and even PC monitors. Weapons, like clothing articles come in a variety of different types that each have varying attack patterns. You'll find one-handed weapons, two-handed weapons, and weapons known as large weapons. Single-handed weapons make for quicker mobility while the two-handed, and larger weapon assortment slows down your attacks, and movement significantly. Accessories, and items also act as a boost during combat. They add special effects that tie-in with such things as combos, and environmental resistance. Equipping your character with the best of equipment is a must if you hope to engage in the 4, and 5 star missions that you'll encounter later on into your playthrough.

Something I forgot to mention is that missions, and side-missions are rated on a 5 star basis. One star missions/side-missions will be easy to complete, and will require little effort on your part. Five star missions/side-missions, however will require some definite skill, and strong clothing stats. All clothing articles in the game are graded in a numerical way meaning that the clothing articles with a higher number will have a much better durability. Clothing durability equals life in Akiba's Trip, so making sure your character is wearing the most durable clothing should be your top priority. As far as missions go you will have to eventually tackle the five star main missions, but at the end of it all side-missions are entirely optional, and carry with them an expiration date should you choose to take them on via the provided side-mission smartphone app.

As far as graphics are concerned the game's design leans towards a pseudo-realistic portrayal of the Akihabara district, and it's many shops, billboards, and signs. Some elements are actually ripped from live action videos, or imagery, and displayed on various parts of the Akihabara buildings/businesses. Other in-game elements are more animated, and feature an anime style art design. Characters in the game, for example are shown in two different ways. One such way is a stiff, but animated 3D representation of the characters. Your main character will move about his/her environment as such a 3D model as will all of Akihabara's inhabitants. The other way is shown through dialogue panel art, and smartphone wallpapers. During the interactive, choice driven conversations you will see a 2D anime representation of each character who is speaking, and will hear their voice as well as see various parts of their face move in time with their spoken words. For all of you Japanese faithfuls you'll be glad to know that there is an option in the game that allows the spoken voices to be changed to their native Japanese.

Speaking of voices you will find that the busy streets of Akiba aren't polluted, or overshadowed with a themed soundtrack that most JRPGs incorporate. Instead you will find the atmospheric sounds of the city including the rustling of footsteps, the wind blowing through the alleyways, and even people talking on their smartphones, and amongst themselves as you pass them on your way to where you are going. The only anime, or pop idol inspired music you'll find is when you pass certain stores, and areas, and talk to instrument wielding street performers. All of this keeps the Akihabara experience more genuine, and true-to life. It was definitely a bold development choice to make, but in the end I think it complimented the game rather well.

You will find that "Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed" is a JRPG experience like no other. It offers the gamer plenty to do as they explore the virtual Akihabara district, and uncover the many secrets hidden within. As with the title you'll find hidden meanings in a lot of the in-game content. The triangles of the illuminati, and Obama being called a god are among the many underlying details that have little to do with the game's core experience, but that will intrigue the gamer enough to dig even deeper than the game takes them. Characters are fun to engage in conversation with, and the perverted stripping of enemy's clothes in combat will no doubt have your attention glued to the screen. I even hear tale that there's a way to remove the enemy's underwear, but that it's a hard thing to do. The added fact that the retail game, and official website offer scan images that can be used to extend gameplay beyond the main game mode (AR) will leave you with some significant replay value. As a gamer, and a gaming journalist I can definitely recommend this game as a "Must Buy!!!". It's one of XSEED's greatest gaming achievements yet, in my personal opinion!

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