Known mainly for the Tenchu, Way of the Samurai and Shinobido series, and more recently for his contribution to Square Enix during the development of Octopath Traveler (for all the product details we suggest you go through the Octopath Traveler review) , the Japanese studio Acquire is celebrating the 10th anniversary of AKIBA’S TRIP, a bizarre action adventure series in which the player was called to literally tear off the clothes of the enemies encountered in the streets of Akihabara. Originally launched in 2011 on PSP and re-released a year later in the “Plus” edition, the first episode of the franchise has never officially left the borders of the land of the Rising Sun, which is why Western audiences were able to roam around the well-known neighborhood of Tokyo only after the release of AKIBA’S TRIP 2 (which on our side of the globe has been renamed to AKIBA’S TRIP: Undead & Undressed) and AKIBA’S BEAT (here you can find our review of AKIBA’S BEAT).
Although we had long since given up on the idea of filling the gap in the collection, Acquire and Marvelous took advantage of the anniversary to celebrate the series – and the more than half a million copies sold – with a remastered version of the progenitor, which at this round has assumed the name of AKIBA’S TRIP: Hellbound & Debriefed. Intrigued and fascinated by the idea of being able to rediscover the origins of the brand, we therefore jumped on the reissue, unaware that we would have found in our hands a product even more deficient than we had anticipated.
Vampires and hunters in the Otaku Mecca
A real paradise for fans of Japanese electronics and anime, the Akihabara area is famous all over the world for the extraordinary concentration of specialized shops where you can find action figures, video games, cosplay costumes and much more, without forgetting the characteristic thematic places such as maid cafes.
In that idyllic place, however, there is a dangerous threat: a race of vampires known as Shadow Soul (or Kageyashi, if you prefer the original name) hides among ordinary people and is slowly turning into recluses all individuals with a promising future in the eyes of the nation. By order of their monarch, in fact, the Shadow Souls inject into their victims a fluid that makes the skin particularly sensitive to sunlight, encouraging the unfortunate not to leave the house and to get away from society. Worried about the fate of a dear friend who has mysteriously disappeared following a phone call, in the early stages of the campaign the protagonist runs into the vampire Yuu Abeno, who reduces him to death as a punishment for sticking his nose into matters other than him. concern. One step away from the end, Nanashi (the Japanese equivalent of Nameless) is however saved by the pretty Rui Fumitsuki, a peaceful Kageyashi prone to coexistence between races, who, finding himself running out of options, decides to make the boy drink his own blood and turn him into a Shadow Soul.
With the sudden arrival of the NIRO, a special police force that hunts down supernatural beings, Rui is forced to flee without giving explanations, while our avatar is taken into custody and questioned about what happened. Unable to transform him back into an ordinary human being, NIRO declares its intention to exploit the amazing skills acquired by Nanashi to fight fire with fire, which is why the boy receives a brief training and is enlisted in the secret battle against the Kageyashi.
As explained by agents Midou and Sejima, Shadow Souls can only spin during daylight hours if most of their skin is covered with clothing, otherwise they dissolve under sunlight without leaving any trace. The task assigned to Nanashi will therefore be to scour the streets of Akihabara and literally leave all the vampires encountered in their underwear, trying at the same time not to get his clothes ripped off (an eventuality that triggers an immediate game over).
Wacky and unable to take itself seriously, the plot of AKIBA’S TRIP: Hellbound & Debriefed is of a disarming banality, also due to the presence of clichés, telephone twists and stereotyped characters. If the story is dull and unable to thrill the user, we add gods extremely verbose dialogues, even the most patient consumers of visual novels may struggle to find valid reasons not to prematurely abandon the title and persevere for the approximately ten hours it takes to reach the credits.
The only real merit of the narrative system is to be found in the possibility of influencing the outcome of the story with one’s choices, so much so that the game includes a series of routes and as many different endings. Thanks to the reduced longevity, the title boasts excellent replayability, especially if the player decides to go through each of the various routes and collect all the collectibles scattered around Akihabara.
The art of undressing
If the story leaves much to be desired, on the playful front AKIBA’S TRIP: Hellbound & Debriefed does not perform much better, and unfortunately it tends to get boring and repetitive after only a short hour.
As mentioned above, the player’s aim is to leave the enemies in underwear, which is why the repeated pressing of three front buttons allows you to damage the upper, middle or lower part of the opponent’s body: if every single attack achieved it reduces the resistance of the enemy clothing, increasing the probability that it will fall apart, a prolonged pressure instead allows you to take off a garment and add it to your collection. Unfortunately, the combat system does not provide special techniques and the combos are roughly all the same, as a result the action translates into button, unbridled mashing and sporadic quick time events that are not at all stimulating. Worse still, during our test we ran into a difficulty curve that was anything but reasoned, with dizzying peaks and equally sudden drops. Also because, since all the NPCs encountered on the streets can throw themselves into the fray, transforming the alleys of Akihabara into battle arenas, during the battle with a vampire it happens too often that one or two human passers-by are hit: when this happens, the avatar finds himself surrounded and the chances of getting out with his clothes still on drop drastically.
In this regard, it must be said that the cumbersome animations and the poses that Nanashi assumes when putting away or extracting the equipped weapon play to the detriment of the user: while the former greatly limit the speed of movement and above all the precision of the attacks (there is in fact no lock-on and the avatar it frequently tends to attack in a direction other than desired), the latter interrupt the advance and moreover offer the enemy an easy target.
As if that were not enough, a rather frequent and annoying bug prevents the character from taking up his weapon and moving on to the fight phase: when this happens, Nanashi remains motionless for several seconds and only after having suffered the enemy’s offensive is it possible to move him or go to counterattack. The icing on the cake, the controls are affected by very slow response times, the dodge is very inaccurate and the camera gets stuck behind the walls, making it impossible to read the screen correctly. These are burdensome problems that a remastered should have solved at least in part, but which today as then penalize a gameplay that is not at all articulated and aged badly.
Between look and practicality
While the growth of the character cannot be altered in the least, so much so that its attack and durability parameters automatically go up with the level increase, its appearance is almost entirely modifiable.
With the exception of the face, which can only be changed with the New Game + skins, the avatar has in fact the possibility of wear any clothing blown to the enemy or otherwise bought in the many shops that crowd the streets of Akibahabara. Not surprisingly, AKIBA’S TRIP: Hellbound & Debriefed features hundreds (if not thousands) of different weapons and costumes with which to customize the character’s appearance and increase his stats: from televisions to megaphones, the unlikely weapons increase offense and alter the attack patterns slightly, while the clothes and accessories only influence the look and overall resistance of the clothing used. The correct selection of clothing and the continuous renewal of the equipment are in short essential to be able cope with the “capricious” difficulty of the title, a pity only for the absence of a pronounced role-playing component and an articulated crafting system (some garments can be improved, but the benefits are really minimal).
Is there therefore a valid reason to approach AKIBA’S TRIP: Hellbound & Debriefed? The answer is “more or less”. If it is true that the version proposed here of the Akihabara neighborhood is that of 2011, and therefore it is less modern, broad and detailed than the one included in the already more tempting AKIBA’S BEAT, anime and manga fans have always been attracted to the “Electric City” however, they may be charmed by the characteristic buildings of the area and the many mini-games scattered here and there.
From the fighting game cabin to the UFO catcher, passing through the maid café and the tasty dishes prepared by pretty damsels in costumes, In short, Akihabara has retained some of its charm. It is on the graphic level that the landscapes are not convincing at all, as Acquire has not carried out any reworking of the textures, but has limited itself to raising the resolution to the classic 1080p. As a result, these appear very spartan and are recycled relentlessly, which is why the environments are too similar to each other. The same applies to polygonal models, damn edgy, inexpressive and affected by embarrassing animations.
On the other hand, while on Nintendo Switch there are noticeable drops in frame rate in the most exciting sequences, on Sony machines the game runs stably at 60 fps, as you would expect from such a light and dated product.
Turning to the sound side, the musical accompaniment of AKIBA’S TRIP: Hellbound & Debriefed even includes some sung pieces (complete with video!), But overall it does its job without praise and without infamy. Traces of the soundtrack will hardly remain impressed, if not those repeated until exhaustion. Nothing to complain about the original Japanese dubbing, which thanks to the involvement of the likes of Kakihara Tetsuya (Natsu Dragneel in Fairy Tail, Tenma in Saiya Seiya – The Lost Canvas, Simon in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann) presents a much higher level of acting if compared with the English-speaking one. Finally, good the localization of the English texts, which we found smooth and error-free worthy of mention.