We’re in an era where there isn’t a great deal of originality or innovation in gaming. What claims to be innovative is often little more than an old idea with a fresh lick of paint and just a visual makeover. Other times developers try to be genuinely different by creating an amalgamation of game styles and genres into something new. Sometimes it works, but more often than not we’re left with a jumbled mess that’s far less than the sum of its parts.
Then there’s Akiba’s Beat. This is certainly a strange beast of a game… I’d never played the previous entry in the series and was a little apprehensive knowing that some sequels can be difficult to approach as a complete newcomer but what is unusual is the game itself. It doesn’t really fit into any unique category or genre, but instead is a blend of dungeon-crawling action, open world RPG and a visual novel element to drive forward the game’s narrative, yet despite this strange combination it works remarkably well.
Set in Tokyo’s Akihabara’s district (known to locals as Akiba), the game centres around the protagonist Asahi Tachibana, a self-proclaimed NEET who seems to be quite content with his life of unemployment, living off an allowance from his family, playing games in his apartment. A lazy, inactive, and generally unproductive life. Until he is swept up in events that are set to change his life forever. Akihabara is slowly being infested with monsters that are warping reality around them that only a select few, including Asahi, can see. They have been unwittingly spawned from the very minds of the residents of Akihabara themselves, from their dreams and wishes where their unfulfilled fantasies have developed into such strong delusions that they have been given the strength to change reality itself.
These delusions have created pockets of alternative reality that are out of sync with the real world where the individual is trapped within their dream, along with other residents swept along with it. To restore Akihabara to normality, Asahi (quickly joined by Saki Hoshino, another who can see these delusions) has to enter a Delusionscape to combat deluseons (monsters to you and me!) and defeat each boss to return Akiba to normal….
Or so Asahi thought as the world doesn’t seem to want to return to normal as soon as he hopes. Akihabara is plagued with these delusions and until they are all removed Asahi and Saki are trapped in a never-ending loop as the day they start their battle – Sunday – keeps repeating ad infinitum. Others soon join them on their crusade although help is at hand from local stores and even Maids from the local cafés…
Regarded by the publisher as a spiritual successor to Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed, I really wasn’t sure how I’d cope playing the game. Fortunately, the only thing that seemed to carry over from its predecessor was the location (or at least from what I have been able to tell so far) so it’s been easy to pick up and play as a newcomer to the series. The game kicks off at a relatively gentle pace, easing you in telling the back story of the evolution of the delusions and Asahi, his lack of aspirations and his plans for that fateful Sunday and his failed attempts to meet up with a friend for lunch. All of this is presented very much in the style of a visual novel, just like most of the dialogue and investigative story progression throughout the game. While this may seem out of place for a JRPG it works very well, helped with the great storytelling and, artwork and performances from the voice cast.
Once leaving Asahi’s apartment, the game shifts styles again taking you into Akiba itself presenting you with the open world exploration mode allowing you to roam the town itself. This is initally restricted to certain areas, but more parts of the town open up as you progress through the game, as do premises that you can visit to buy equipment and clothing for your party, accessories, weapon upgrades and more bringing the town to life.
Eventually you’ll come across the delusions that you need to tackle and Delusionscapes you need to enter. Each of the Delusionscapes is split over several floors with an array of creatures that need to be defeated before reaching the end of level boss. It’s a typical dungeon crawler affair here, picking up cash, experience and items as you win each battle and each is played out in real time. You have several attacks at your disposal as well as skills for additional attacks and abilities as do the rest of your party. Items can be used in mid battle (fortunately pausing the fight in the process), your fellow party members battle under their own initiative and use their own skills (although you can switch characters at will) but I found that it was best to set up their skills and the battle tactics and just left them to it.
The only thing that I felt really let the game down was the combat during the dungeon crawling elements. While this is an important part of the game, it felt more like random button-bashing than anything else. Being a real-time action based system, you’re only in control of the protagonist so all your other party members are left to their own devices. Their actions are determined by your combat tactics that you set out in advance and any skills that are currently assigned to them for use during battles. Each character has 8 skill slots that can be used so you have to assign these wisely to get the best balance for your supporting characters and hope that they’ll give you the backup you need. There is a secondary combat mode that allows characters to use more powerful attacks through music (utilising CDs that you pick up during play) for increased damage and combos but I found this to be an added complication to an already unwielding system.
Visually the game looks superb with Akiba wonderfully designed and rendered throughout. There are plenty of wonderful touches throughout that bring the district to life through background details in the buildings, characters that you interact with and small touches that you might overlook but that add richness to a world that just draws you in. Despite the size of the area, the Vita handles it well with some clever loading routines to move between sections to keep card access to a minimum so the game flows smoothly.
Sound is also a high point. I was surprised to find that the game offered a dual audio option with both English and Japanese voiceover tracks and as I said earlier the performances are superb throughout from all of the cast and really add to the already rich narrative of the story. Music and sound effects only add to this, making the game an absolute delight to listen to and one that you’ll want to turn the volume up on the Vita whether you’re playing it at home or on the move.
The most important part however is how it plays. Right from the start I found myself drawn in by the story and despite not able to directly relate to the characters on a personal level, I still found each and every one of them – and the interaction between them – fascinating and absorbing to watch. If this were just a visual novel then I think I would have been more than satisfied with the experience as a game, but then adding the additional elements to the game just added even more depth to it as a package overall. While the combat certainly isn’t my favourite part of it (I’m more a fan of the turn-based combat when it comes to JRPGs), some of my favourite games in the genre feature button-bashing real-time battles (Sword Art Online, Tales Of Hearts R) so it’s certainly in good company there.
Moving to the open world element and while it’s understandable not as deep as games like Grand Theft Auto, there are plenty of surprises to find as you wander around. As well as the main story and shops to visit, I loved finding hidden gems amongst the building, side quests for the characters (more additional story elements revealing more about their personalities rather than complex missions but good to play through nevertheless) but regardless I was engrossed throughout.
No matter what aspect of the game I was playing I’ve found it hard to put down since I installed it and haven’t played any other game since and if you’re a fan of JRPGs or visual novels then you won’t go wrong with this one. A fantastic game and one that should be high on your PS Vita shopping list.
At A Glance
- Title: Akiba’s Beat
- Publisher: PQube Ltd
- Format: PSN Download / Physical Card
- Cross Buy: N / A
- Cross Play: N / A
- Cross Save: N / A
- Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Required: 3,172Mb
- PlayStation TV Compatible: TBC