A sense of deja vu...

Otaku’s unite! As Akiba’s Beat, the latest action role playing title from Japanese developers Acquire finally makes it way westward after originally seeing a release last year in its home country - so was it worth the wait?

Do not attempt to adjust your television set, your game signal is now under our control as you are welcomed into the outer limits - of Akihabara.

Just a few moments of strolling around the digital reconstruction of this now fanatical location, I was struck with not only a sense of emptiness within its barren, binary streets but of an acute deja vu.

I’m sure I’ve walked these streets before - I mused - it all feels so familiar, am I too suffering from a delusion?

In fact, if you have played 2014’s Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed you’ll join me in believing you have indeed gone a little loony. But thankfully the answer is far more logical than a self-induced delusion, with the two games sharing not only the same developer but some deeper gameplay ties also.

Likewise, if you have ever visited the real world location - upon which both the aforementioned and Akiba’s Beat are set - then you’ll have no problem finding your way around, with the developers aiming for lifelike parity of those now famous streets. Unfortunately the same can't be said for the visual fidelity those streets are rendered in, opting for a far more stylised approach that honestly works to its benefit and is completely understandable considering the game is also receiving a release on the PlayStation Vita handheld.

As your player character of Asahi wakes up every late afternoon of his perpetual Sunday, he’s tasked with meeting up with a growing set of comrades - fellow ‘delusers’ who are also able to perceive these hidden mirages - as you partner to investigate an amplifying number of ‘delusionscapes’ stemming from its citizenry and encroaching upon the city streets. It’s all extremely low-budget, Persona-lite in its eccentricity, throwing in a token mascot and even attempting to emulate a simple day and night system, but the real caveat in Akiba’s Beat is the dialog between characters.

Having completed Akiba’s Beat using the traditional Japanese voices with English text (which I oddly had to set every single time I loaded up the game, a curious oversight) it was quite apparent to me how much added context flavouring that localising talent Xseed have injected into the title. That’s not to say the same personality may not exist within the original dialogue, but it’s obvious the western in-jokes and popular media the team have infused within the title.

That dialogue itself plays out in a heavyily visual novel-esque fashion, with simple, barely animated character portraits. But, every now and then you’ll be given a Sunday treat in the form of a full anime cutscene that I just wish there was more of - alas I suspect the budget just wasn’t quite there for anything too elaborate. From one story segment to the next you’ll be forced to commute - thankfully by the use of fast-travel points - to different marked areas upon the map, which is sadly the game worlds only use and you’ll find it to be cumbersome task in short order.

After a little investigation work and locating the source of a particular delusion - which is in essence a dungeon - you and your party will then be transported to the dimension within and tasked with traversing through its many floors before finally defeating its end boss awaiting you - or Grand Phantasm as it's referred to - putting the delusion out of commission for good.

Each delusion is uniquely themed, aiming to represent the particular owner's inner quandary; a young girl for example is an aspiring Idol with the dungeon visually looking very upbeat, with dance floors and an adoring audience, whereas another is adorned with ticking clocks or grafitti. Whilst the layout structure largely remains the same - except adding gated switches in later dungeons as the game progresses - the visually variety is welcomed and creates very different tones as you traverse through each one. What will remain the same however is the enemies lurking within, with each set being a mere palette swap and attacking you on sight.

Whether you choose to initiate combat yourself - and even gaining some added attack damage if you manage to hit the oncoming monster - or the enemy rushes to make contact with you first, Akiba’s Beat will switch from its ordinarily third person person exploration mode into an enclosed combat arena.

The combat within Akiba’s Beat is a bit of an odd beast mind you, with developers Acquire opting not to go full steam ahead into action roleplaying territory and instead crafting a bit of a hybrid system. Whilst you're free to roam around the enclosed area with your four active party members - which you can take control of at any time using the directional buttons - and switch up which of the many enemies you wish to target, any melee attacks (using Square) or skills - using a combination of Cross with the left-stick or right by its lonesome - will use up AP or Action Points. Once your AP is whittled down to zero, your entire offense will be temporarily stunted until a few seconds pass for your stock to replenish itself, meaning any combos - or Beats as they’re called - you may have racked up until that point will be lost during the momentary pause.

In the opening ten or so hours, with your AP quickly dispersing after a few hits it can feel deflating, with your combo flow constantly interrupted; thankfully by upgrading the equipment of your characters - that have comically taken the form of actual PC parts such as CPU and RAM - that momentary pause becomes a thing of the past, and the gameplay loop of dispatching monsters from one quick encounter to the next, with a whole variety of magic and acrobatic moves at your disposal transforms into quite the fun, if mindless gaming affair.

Consistent use of those skills mind you comes at a slight cost; that being your second temporarily finite resource called SP (Skill Points). As you level each character up, certain skills will become unlocked and available for use which have to be manually assigned. You’ll eventually gain far more than you can allot on any specific character ranging from healing, reviving a fallen teammate, special melee attacks or ranged spells infused with different elements.

Each of these aforementioned skills requires a set amount of SP to use, which can only be gained back by either attacking enemies using standard melee moves (pressing Square) or through use of items in your inventory. Because of this, I found myself generally favouring the melee based characters far more than the healer or magic-based, due to the enemies consistently interrupting any spells - that require your character to remain still as a meter charges - negating the SP cost and causing damage in the process. Thankfully within nearly every battle you’ll have a full party, with your AI comrades taking over any role you choose not to.

And aspects of that forethought is both a blessing and a curse within Akiba’s Beat. There’s frankly a lot of gameplay systems on offer, from allowing you to set specific commands in battle for AI, choosing a support (non-combative) character who grants special effects, the purchasing of equipment in shops and even including a whole Trading Card mechanic a little later on in the game.

Juxtaposed against this though, is the obvious lack of explanation for the functionality of such game mechanics - merely touting that Trading Cards are now available - or at the eleventh hour as you unknowingly acquire mega damage-dealing EX attacks, something you would only be aware of if you carefully read the flavour text accompanying the unlocking of said skills. This curious decision making also blends itself into the most major aspect of the game, leading you to believe through the game's title alone, that music must play a key role. It doesn’t. None of the characters (outside of the aspiring Idol) have any connection to music, and it seems the developers merely threw in some headphone artwork during your ‘super special attack phase’ (the Imagine Gauge) for the heck of it that feels completely out of place.

Much like the story itself missing a beat by not delving deeper into the possibilities presented by its groundhog day scenario, it feels like the developers just weren’t quite sure on how to blend the mechanics of Akiba's Beat into a cohesive, thematic package - and don’t get me started on any of the sidequest stuff, which puts the waste into time waste, then has the gall to make fourth wall breaking jokes about it.

Fans of the developers previous work (Akiba's Trip) will find a lot to love in Akiba’s Beat, as this not quite pseudo-successor emulates much of its gameplay loop and even the barren cityscape of Akihabara itself. With a cast of your usual archetypical characters and a ton of mindless gameplay on offer, there’s a lot of bang for your buck, and you’ll easily spend up to a hundred hours chipping away for that elusive Platinum trophy.

For everyone else though, the quirky character interaction whilst delving into a few dungeons may present a chuckle two, but it’ll only get you so far. You’ll quickly find there’s just not a whole lot to Akiba’s Beat, as it attempts to pad out its 20 hour or so content into an 80 hour package, that misses out on delving into a truly intriguing story and a lack of cohesion in its mechanics for the overall themes presented.

Review copy of Akiba's Beat provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    17th April 2017

  • 3 Out of 5 Stars
  • A lot of padding

    City serves little purpose

    Lacks cohesion between theme and mechanics

  • Quirky dialogue

    Combat is eventually fun

    Varied systems

Game Info

Acquire, XSeed & PQube presents Akiba's Beat - PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita Akiba's Beat
Rating: 12
Release Date: May 19th
Platform/s: PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita
Developer/s: Acquire
Publisher: PQube (PAL region/s) & XSeed (NTSC region)

  • Akiba's Trip
  • Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed

Yes, the language rarely falls into innuendo and no bad language is present.

Acquire originally created the Tenchu series of games.

The game features a hidden dungeon that has a lot of requirements for the player to unlock.

Two recruitable support characters are also hidden within the game.

Akiba's Beat features both fully voiced English and traditional Japanese dialogue.