Posted on August 20, 2014 AT 06:30am
Buffy-tan the Vampire Stripper
As the PSP found new life in Japan and a host of developers helped boost up its library of offerings many years ago, I kept an ever-vigilant eye on the most intriguing releases, always gauging if they’d ever have a chance of making it to the West. One of those was Akiba’s Trip, a peculiar game where players ran around one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations—Tokyo’s electronics district known as Akihabara—hunting down and defeating vampires by stripping them of their clothes (thus exposing their skin to sunlight, burning them to ash).
So, Akiba’s Trip and I have been Internet friends of sorts for years. We’d keep up with each other, check in every now and then, but the realities of life and our different places in the world made it seem like we’d never actually meet. Of course, things have changed in the last couple of years, and PSP games that were never given a second thought for release outside Japan have been suddenly making the trip thanks to re-releases or sequels on the Vita.
And that’s how I’d finally come to say hello to Akiba’s Trip in person: by way of its Vita-released sequel, Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed.
Undead & Undressed begins as main character Nanashi takes up a suspicious job offer due to the promise of “rare character goods.” Instead of limited-edition figures or sought-after CD releases, he finds himself the subject of a strange secret experiment to turn humans into creatures known as Synthisters. Before the process on Nanashi can be finished, a mysterious girl named Shizuku saves him, but she soon after tells our hero that, unless he drinks of her blood, his humanity will be gone for good. The duo meets up with the Akiba Freedom Fighters—a group Nanashi hangs out with that makes it their mission to keep the streets of their beloved section of Tokyo safe—and we’re whisked away on an adventure to stop the Synthisters, uncover the secrets behind their creation, and save not only Akihabara but also the entire world.
Let’s be real, though: All of that is secondary to the fact that, yes, this is a game where you’re undressing vampires on the streets of Akiba. For good or for bad, that’s the reason anyone—including myself—has heard of Akiba’s Trip, and it’s the point that has caused many a debate on the value of what developer Acquire has crafted here.
Let me first clarify how this aspect of the game plays out, because having a legitimate understand of what Akiba’s Trip is (or is not) is pretty important. Almost all combat in the game sets its win conditions on your ability to strip one or more opponents—and while most of the time, those opponents will be Synthisters, there are occasions where they’ll instead be normal human beings. Every character in the game (ever Nanashi) has three types of clothing items they can wear: headgear, tops, and bottoms. In turn, you have three corresponding types of attacks—high, mid, and low—each of which targets a specific article of clothing. Do enough damage to a hat, shirt, or pair of pants, and you can rip it off of your opponent, and success comes from ridding an enemy of whichever of these three types of clothing they’re wearing. Normally, your foe will be left only in their underwear, and they’ll run off in distress; under certain conditions, however, you can also strip them totally naked—with their naughty bits covered up by well-placed orbs of light.
So, taking all of that into account, we come to the big question: Does Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed go too far? I’ve seen some reactions to the game that say the idea is disgusting or potentially encouraging of sexual assault. I can completely understand and appreciate those concerns, and I would never say that they’re wrong—but I’d also say that I usually didn’t feel that way. Akiba’s Trip is played up as silly, ridiculous, and over the top, like something I might’ve seen in a cartoon from when I was young (and artists got away with things they’d never get away with in children’s programming today). There’s almost no sexuality attached to the stripping of clothes here, beyond the virtual pin-up pics that you can unlock for specific male and female characters after beating them. That’s also part of what kept things from feeling too creepy for me: men and women are treated as equals in Akiba’s Trip, and you’ll be going after your fair share of both.
The times when Undead & Undressed started to make me a little uncomfortable was when I’d be presented with human targets in some of the missions, especially when my goals seemed rather questionable. An example of this—and this’ll be a quick spoiler, so jump to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it—was when I was tasked by a young lad to go “calm down” the game’s homage to Akiba-based J-pop supergroup AKB48. The girls, I’m told, are getting out of hand, and it’s my job to survive a battle royale with all 48 members while stopping their protest (the only way I know how). The thing is, these are regular human girls in their late teens or early 20s, and they’re revolting because they’re sick of the treatment they receive at the hands of their creepy fans. Having personally witnessed how unsettling some Japanese idol fans can be, I instantly sided with the girls, and I was bothered by how the situation was presented, as well by its arguments for who was right and who was wrong. It would’ve been a much better situation had a group of Synthisters been trying to pass themselves off as the group—or if I could’ve chosen who to side with, the girls or their fans.
The clothes-stripping mechanic in Undead & Undressed did lead to one of the game’s biggest weaknesses, but not in the way that I expected. Compared to that bizarre core idea, so much of the experience here feels so disappointingly unremarkable. While a number of the sidequests that pop up lead to some funny or unique moments, the core portion of the game is dull far too much of the time. The player can pick from a variety of responses whenever Nanashi is asked a question, but—as per usual in Japanese gaming—there’s little direct difference in how the game plays out, no matter what you chose. Meanwhile, the Akiba Freedom Fighters could have been plucked from any random anime series (given how generic they are), offering almost nothing of value beyond being tools to help the story move along. (XSEED’s translation is typically excellent, especially given how much Japanese otaku culture they needed to rework into English, but they can only do so much with what they’re given.) The game does have one character that actually shows a lot of personality—your younger sister, Nana—but it’s almost as if Acquire’s entire charm budget was used up on her.
While I would never have imagined saying these words before going into the game, Akiba’s Trip is too safe. This should have been a crazy, over-the-top story playing up the stereotypes and wonderful real-life ridiculousness of Akihabara. Instead, it’s an average Japanese action game with a potentially controversial gimmick—and the same is also true for its gameplay. Undead & Undressed’s combat is certainly never bad, but it’s also never great. There’s a wide variety of weapon types you’ll pick up along the way, and the different movesets and attack styles these choices provide offer players some real depth in discovering what to use or master. Still, battles far too often break down into button mashing until the particular article of clothing you’re targeting gets weak enough to yank off. Given how much you’ll be doing that throughout the game, you’ll soon be wishing it had a far more robust (and polished) fighting engine.
There is, however, one way in which Undead & Undressed absolutely excels: its re-creation of Akihabara. The game’s anime-inspired, cel-shaded visuals are great and work well for the characters that inhabit the streets of Akiba, but those streets themselves are the true star. Having been to its real-world counterpart a number of times now, it’s amazing to visit portions of the game and instantly recognize stores, buildings, or other city features. While Acquire wasn’t able to get full rights to all of the brands and companies included in the sections of Akiba they reproduced, there’s a huge amount of “reality” here—and it’s interesting how much of an emotional impact that attempt at true re-creation has while playing. I do desperately wish Acquire had more technical know-how, however, because the loading between each segment of the district breaks some of the illusion. Still, for those who have visited Akihabara, the sights and sounds waiting for you in Undead & Undressed will instantly bring back fond memories. And, for those who have yet to go, this may be the closest you can get without buying a plane ticket.
That world building hints at the huge potential under the surface of Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed—so it’s a shame that the team at Acquire seemed unable to truly understand how to build upon the good ideas that they had. Still, I don’t at all regret the time I spent playing the game. I’m glad XSEED took a chance on bringing it over, and I’m thankfully to finally be able to check off another title from my “you’ll never see these PSP releases in English” list.
I suppose my friendship with Akiba’s Trip ends the way many do when born over the Internet. You talk about how much you have in common, you can’t wait to meet each other, but when you finally do, you find out that the reality of who we really are can’t always live up to the legend that’s built up around us online.
|Developer: Acquire • Publisher: XSEED Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 08.12.2014|
Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed is much like the real-world electronics district of Tokyo that it attempts to re-create: Sometimes it excites you, sometimes it underwhelms you, and sometimes you just so happen to wander into that particular back-alley shop and get very, very creeped out.
|The Good||Some interesting concepts mixed with a fantastic re-creation of the real-life Akihabara.|
|The Bad||How normal and by the book so much of the game feels outside of its clothes-stripping mechanics.|
|The Ugly||Some states may require you to register as a sexual predator after playing.|
|Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed is available on PlayStation 3, PS Vita, and coming soon to PlayStation 4. Primary version reviewed was for PS Vita. Review code was provided by XSEED Games for the benefit of this review.|
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