The video game industry is always striving for more. With recent open-world games, such as Rage 2 or Breath of the Wild, players are given a gargantuan amount of freedom to play the game as they choose—consequences to the wind. With technology becoming more accessible and revolutionary, games, especially with a AAA budget, are pressured greatly to deliver as much as possible to keep a player motivated and interested. From this expectation of quantity comes a scrutiny of those that provide a much shorter experience, where consumers are much more aware of the ratio between time spent and money paid. With this in mind, I turn my attention to Akane, which is so simplistic in its mechanics that it may as well be DLC for a much bigger game.
What players can expect with Akane is a lost art in the realm of modern gaming: no filler. I was struck off-guard with just how straightforward the game was, which promised nothing but a single aspect: survival. Minimalism would be a pleasantry compared to how little is broadcast here, especially if one were to ignore the tutorial mode. Almost like a challenge to the giants of the gaming industry, Akane does away with any and all excessive frivolities. What it lacks in formalities, it gains in pure emphasis on gameplay.
One of many surprises with Akane came with its story, which is practically nonexistent. If one were to simply boot the game up and start the main mode, they’d be transported immediately into gameplay—no intro sequence. All the player has for context is a short cutscene prior to the game’s menu displaying onscreen. The date, the setting, and Akane, aware of her inevitable demise, speaking to a bunch of baddies as if they were worms. A bold choice, to say the least, to leave further discretion out of the way.
Where any other aspect of story comes in is through the tutorial mode. Akane is a rare title that makes its tutorial mode almost necessary to get the full experience of the game, presented as a prequel of sorts to the current setting of the game. It shows Akane in a dojo with her master, training upon the techniques necessary to become a proper fighter. A typical way to weave a gameplay tutorial into the story, but one seldom seen on such a small scale. I came out of it almost forgetting I was even in a tutorial mode. While small, the touch is appreciated as something of an indication of motivation for the present fight.
The only other instance of a hint of story comes when Akane comes face to face with Katsuro, her nemesis. One must wipe out a hundred enemies prior to his arrival, which comes with a short exchange between the two. A history is only implied between the two, as nothing else gives context to their familiarity. That is, of course, unless completing the game—assuming that’s possible—has a secret cutscene. I’ve never gotten farther than 400-something kills.
While not necessary, I believe there’s some disconnect between the player and any underlying story when the game presents it in this way. The tutorial mode was interesting for such a small sequence, and I would’ve been open to exploring more of Akane’s upbringing and demeanor. It’s clear the game wants to emphasize its gameplay over anything, but part of me wishes there was more attempt on building Akane as a character. With it, perhaps the exchange between her and Katsuro would have more weight. And perhaps with it, this final fight would feel more fulfilling and appropriately tragic.
The blood which urges the game to run comes through its gameplay. As stated previously, Akane has a very straightforward nature that almost undermines the complexity of its nuances. One has a single objective: slaughter. Continue to rip enemies to shreds for as long as one can, until a single slip-up launches Akane to the afterlife. The catch is that every enemy only takes a single hit to kill, but so does the player, instilling an “All or nothing” challenge with every action. It requires precise planning, quick reflexes, and the right loadout for certain situations.
Equipped with a katana and a gun, Akane is beyond the capability of most enemy combatants, which normally only have a sword. The game’s first benefit comes with having the player more apt for demolition than their opponents, giving trust to their abilities after only a short amount of time. And with the benefit of both short-range and long-range offense, Akane has every advantage over an enemy one-on-one. What makes Akane difficult is the wave, where multiple enemies come from every direction to take a swipe. Other enemy types, such as tanks or cyber ninjas, require alternate means to defeat, making them looming threats among the hoards of common adversaries.
Aside from the standard sword and gun attacks, Akane can also perform special techniques. Filling a bar at the bottom of the screen by killing enemies and building up a speedy kill-combo will enable the player to perform one of two techniques, depending on the volume within the gauge. One is a speedy slash that kills enemies within a directional line (I almost never used it). The other, which requires one to fill the bar all the way, is essentially a screen nuke where Akane slashes through every enemy onscreen (I used this often). Using either technique doesn’t take long to do, thus providing an outlet to differentiate one’s offense to keep the gameplay fresh.
What I think really drives the fun of Akane is through the use of its simple bullet-slash gameplay. Aiming the gun in combat was very similar to the preciseness of aiming shots in Metroid: Samus Returns. Slashing the sword can only be done in the four cardinal directions; with the gun, sometimes it needs to be pixel-perfect. Being able to switch between the two (not indiscriminately—the gun has ammo that recharges with time) is something that adds a lot of flavor to the action aspect, despite being so simple. Akane is a game that pins down what makes a survival action game fun and runs with it.
To further increase replayability, Akane provides achievements prior to every game that one can complete to unlock gear to equip Akane with. Two slots to sub-items, one for the gun, one for the sword, one for shoes, and one for cigarette. Each attribute adds a little (sometimes useful, sometimes only for aesthetic purposes) to Akane’s arsenal that changes up the way one battles. For example, the standard gun is a simple pistol that shoots one shot; the unlockable shotgun shoots multiple shots, but has less ammo. Achievements range from killing under certain conditions to building up combos, some harder and more determinate of luck than others. These otherwise unnecessary additions provide Akane with enough content to keep one hooked for hours, if the gameplay itself didn’t already.
If there’s one issue with the game, aside from personal preference with its simplicity, it’s that it isn’t always completely functional. Katsuro, as a boss, dashes around the screen leaving a trail of pinkish-purple. During my last playthrough, the game saved these trails and froze them within the stage, having them build up upon every new game. It occasionally inhibited my sight and caused me to lose games, and I couldn’t get rid of them until restarting the software. Additionally, the gameplay of Akane is fluid and fast, which it needs to be to enhance its quick-paced action combat. Occasionally, however, I noticed that the gun can jam for about a second before shooting, causing a few unfair deaths. I would love to say that the game is completely bereft of bugs and pleasantly polished, but these instances built up just enough that I felt uneasy about the efficiency of its input.
Graphics & Audio
An aspect of simplicity proceeds within the graphical and auditory components. Aside from the tutorial mode, which takes place in a small dojo, one will see a single battlefield and nothing else. What speaks more to the game than its number of objects are the emotions it evokes. Upon the first playthrough—hell, even looking at the cover image—one can sense an eerie dread surrounding the world. One can read the dystopian palette from far beyond. Lots of dark hues and bright, manipulative imagery populate the stage that will become Akane’s throne.
Akane combines pixel artistry with digital drawings, with pixel-art gameplay and drawn caricatures of people when in dialogue. I’m more inclined to like enjoy the pixel art, though the drawings aren’t disagreeable, either. There’s one instance where, upon using the second of two secret sword techniques, Akane’s face with flash upon the screen and look around with determination. It adds a small, but immersive touch to the weight of the move’s carnage. I almost wish they incorporated more into the combat to better suit Akane’s killer instinct. It seems it always comes back to Akane as a character in the end.
If not for the lack of a story, I feel the auditory aspect is the weakest part of the game. There isn’t much variety to the themes that play across the menus and battles of Akane, and chances are likely that one won’t even notice. I did, however, like one theme, though it seemed to play rarely. I’m unsure if the themes loop in any specific order or at random—I was too immersed in the fight to notice. But if not for that one theme, there’s a lack of individuality to the score that, while not tragic, doesn’t aid in the mood of battle. It’s more of a set piece of oriental tracks to suit the setting. It almost seems to want to both inspire and pay homage, when doing both only hurt the chance it’d succeed at either.