Akiba's Beat is developer Acquire's follow-up to their cult hit Akiba's Trip 2 (aka, "Akiba Strip"), where players controlled a normal otaku (anime nerd) who gets caught up in a war against vampires that must be stripped nude in order to be defeated. Acquire had a lot of craziness to grapple with if they wanted to create a direct sequel, so instead they decided to make a "spiritual sequel" called Akiba's Beat, a Tales-esque action RPG that's a bit less goofy, but still heavy on real-world Akihabara Japanese atmosphere.
For those not in the know, Akihibara–"Akiba," for short–is the name of an area in Tokyo where fandom reigns supreme. Game shops, Manga shops, themed cafes and maid cafes rule each street corner and strip, and fashion reaches new levels of absurd-ism. With the Akiba's series of games (of which Akiba's Beat is the second to have come stateside,) developer Acquire has used action-based gameplay and visual novel-esque storytelling to bring players into the brightly colored otaku world of the real-life locale.
Enter Asahi, the hero of Akiba's Beat, who happily wears the title of "NEET" ("Not in Education, Employment, or Training.") Content to sleep all day and play games or watch anime all night, Asahi wants nothing more than to be left alone and exist only to consume, and not work. Unfortunately for him, Asahi runs into the pro-active Saki and her funky, toy-like floating familiar Pinkun, who reveal to him that he's one of the chosen few who can defeat dangerous delusions that threaten the fabric of reality in Akiba. What's more, he can't refuse this new charge, as whatever is causing them is also making the same day repeat forever!
Armed with vaguely musical-themed weapons, Asahi, Saki, Pinkun, and future party members thus must enter "Delusionscapes" in order to defeat the Grand Phantoms, whose defeat will collapse the delusions and reset the world to normal. Where prior Akiba's games have been off-the-wall goofy, Akiba's Beat takes a slightly more Persona-esque approach, with less fan service, and more social satire.
The characters are likable, with Asahi being lazy without seeming jerky, and with Saki providing the hero with the drive to become less useless. The English voice acting is down-right excellent, with experienced talent like Erica Mendez (Sailor Moon S, Dragon Ball Super) and Chris Patton (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Fullmetal Alchemist) heading the cast.
The game plays like a combination of the contemporary Persona and Tales of. . . games. As in Persona 3 and beyond, dungeons are entered as additional locations hidden inside the real world, wherein monsters are battled in a quest to extinguish the dungeon. Like Tales games, battle is initiated by approaching enemies that are visible on the map, with bonuses given for striking enemies before the battle begins. Once battle starts, a small arena is formed, where the player can control one character of his party at a time in real-time combat. Character control can be switched on the fly, and enemies are targeted one at a time. Once an enemy is targeted, movement is locked onto a 2D plane, from which the player can "free run" or side-step with a shoulder button press.
Like any good action RPG, there are several resource bars to manage while in battle–a life bar, Action Points, a mana bar, and a beat meter of sorts. The life bars' functions are obvious, and the mana bar for each character allows them to cast special attacks/spells, and rebuilds itself slowly. The Action Points (AP) system will trip players up in the beginning, as it limits how many actions can be taken before a cool-down period, and if you aren't paying attention, you'll be combo-ing your way to a freeze moment, when you've expended your AP and vulnerable until it builds up again.
The beat meter is Akiba's Beat's version of a limit break, and builds by launching attacks. Once it builds half way, players can activate a music track (many of which can be unlocked) to play over combat, and stat buffs are given to their team. Once activated, the beat meter then continues growing with attacks until its full. When that happens, players can go full beat-battle, causing the arena background to turn black, and granting strong attack buffs when players fight to beat of the music.
The AP system works well, and buying new computer parts (gear for your weapons) and clothing (equipment) can enhance your AP limit and battle prowess. The music collecting device is a nice feature, especially if you enjoy J-Pop, but the madness of a multi-character battlefield, combined with the not-really-free-flowing AP combat, makes timing attacks to the beat near impossible. The game is kind in difficulty, seemingly to account for this, but there is a challenge to be had, and boss battles will kill you if you're not strategic with your actions. This is pretty much how players will tackle the game, however–using basic attacks and spells primarily, and only messing with the beat system now again to break up the norm, as it's impossible to use as intended.
Outside of dungeons, players go to various quest points around Akiba, and talk to various NPC's to fulfill story and character quests. The story quests progress the game, while the character quests build character backstory and relationships ala Criminal Girls. Akihabara is once again faithfully recreated, but seems much less alive this time around. There are noticeably fewer licensed shops to run by or visit, and non-quest NPC's are represented as 2D silhouettes ALWAYS–not just when far away, but even when you're right up next to them. This may save processing power, but load times on the PS Vita don't seem to benefit from it, and players will have a 10 to 30 second load time between each fast travel area of Akiba. What's more, the battle-less quests between dungeons will have you running back and forth across this somewhat barren Electric Town, and you'll start to miss Persona 4 's endless dungeoning.
Oh, and there's no stripping here. True, Akiba's games were never blown up to the fan-servicing level of the Senran Kagura series, but there was a goofy joy in beating every enemy, regardless of gender, into an underwear-less weakling forced to flee from the battlefield. Gone too is the romance aspect of the game (okay, not completely, but it's part of the story instead of existing as a very definitive entity of it's own.) All of these changes make the game feel bare bones, and leaves us feeling that we should have a real Akiba's Trip 3 around the corner.
graphics and sound
The graphics in Akiba's Beat are very similar to those in Akiba's Trip, but somehow less detailed. Enemies and player models are more shiny, and while they're not displeasing, the lack of the dramatic clothing changes we'd been given access to in the prior Akiba's Trip games leaves us once again feeling like there should be more.
A positive change is the increased use of full-on 2D animated cut scenes, which are well done, and compliment well the increased use of "live 2D" emoting in the visual novel-style conversations, which are a large part of the game. The portrait work in those sections is also quite nice, and unique enough in style to separate themselves from the countless anime-themed games released each week.
The music is good, as the game's title implies, and the music tracks that are unlocked throughout the gameplay are worth listening to. Add to that the excellent English voice work, and Akiba's Beat comes out well above average in the sound department.
Akiba's Beat is a decent action RPG that lacks flash, but has above average elements, such as a great real-world setting, awesome music, and peerless voice acting. The story is entertaining enough, but the zaniness of prior Akiba's games is gone, leaving an absence felt right to the core of the experience.
Is it worth it? To otaku freaks like us, sure–Akiba is still a totally cool place to experience, and while the look and actual licensed content is limited, the story and NPC commentary build up a social outline of the anime-fan lifestyle that those of us outside of Japan can only imagine. But if that's not your thing, you'll probably find too much loading, and too little visual flare to keep on fighting other people's delusions.
|+ Great Akiba atmosphere||– Not as whacky as Akiba's Strip|
|+ Excellent English voice acting||– Loading times are a smidge too long|
|+ Decently deep combat mechanics||– Visually sparse|