Akiba's Beat Ditches Vampires and Looks to... The World Ends With You?

Akiba's Beat Ditches Vampires and Looks to... The World Ends With You?

No more clothes stripping, just Japanese pop music... and pop culture hallucinations.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

When Akiba's Trip debuted a few years ago, it seemed like just another one of those low-budget games from Japan that hoped to carve a market for itself by catering to a certain segment of the otaku market. Set in Tokyo's anime-and-game Mecca of Akihabara, Akiba's Trip was a brawler whose central mechanic involved stripping the clothes off people in order to expose them as vampires and destroy them.

A few factors set Akiba's Trip apart from so many other otaku games with a heavy emphasis on removing clothes, though. For one, the emphasis wasn't just on stripping girls down to their underwear, but everyone in sight — men and women, young and old. Vampirism crosses over into all demographic boundaries, after all. Secondly, it featured genuinely fun brawling mechanics, with a minimum of low-budget jank. And finally, it did a fantastic job of recreating its eponymous setting, rendering Tokyo's nerdiest neighborhood with the precision you only really ever see in the Yakuza games' renditions of Shinjuku.

So, while Akiba's Trip could have just been another pandering waste of data, in practice it proved to be good, dumb fun. As such, I was all on board when XSEED announced it would be localizing the as-yet-unreleased sequel sometime early next year. Although, as it turns out, Akiba's Beat won't really be a sequel to Akiba's Trip in the typical sense. The story has no connection to the previous game's plot, and according to the director, none of the previous characters carry over. There are no vampires this time, and you're fighting bizarre monsters rather than beating people senseless to tear away their pants. About all Beat has in common with Trip is the general third-person action style... and, of course, its Akihabara setting.

The latter, it turns out, is the result of a personal connection to the developers. Beat's director told me that his studio, Acquire, is based in Akihabara, and he likes to set his games there because he himself is there every day. Based on my hands-off E3 demo, Beat's rendition of the district is more seamless than Trip's, which broke the neighborhood into lots of small pieces linked by screen transitions. Beat — perhaps because it looks to be using PlayStation 4 and PC as its target hardware — doesn't feel nearly so disruptive in its layout. As a result, its spot-on recreation of Akihabara feels even more convincing than that of its predecessor. (The new lighting effects and generally improved graphics don't hurt any, either.)

Unlike Trip, though, Beat only uses Akihabara as a sort of overworld. The action of the game takes place in surreal dungeons, which are based on "delusions" of Akihabara's dwellers — their obsessions. The first dungeon took the form of an otherworldly rendition of the maid cafés (coffee shops where the waitresses dress in elaborate maid costumes and use extremely polite, servile language) that appear so frequently in Akihabara; the second was a strange technological jungle filled with electrical appliances (which used to be Akihabara's stock in trade before video games and anime took over).

Inside dungeons, you battle not in the one-man brawler style of Trip but rather with something more akin to an action RPG, like Tales. You cruise around with a party of characters, controlling one directly (and switching between active characters freely at any time). When your group encounters a monster, the screen quickly transitions to a breakout combat screen where you use various melee and magical attacks to beat down enemies. The "beat" of the title comes in a musical element: Once you build up a combo meter, you can activate your lead character's theme song, which turns the game into a dazzling laser light show and your hero or heroine deals out massive damage.

The combat reminds me a great of the recent Nights of Azure, which is nice given that my main takeaway from that game was that I wished more developers would pour some decent resources into good-hearted B-grade games like that. And here we have one. Thematically, though, the idea of battling through dungeons that represent manifestations of Tokyo dweller's obsessions and fixations seems like an idea taken straight from the pages of games like Persona Q (the dungeon designs) and The World Ends With You (the game's monsters, and the general emphasis on music, come straight from that DS classic).

Not having played the game, I'm not sure yet if there's enough substance on Beat's bones to support an entire adventure. But it looks interesting enough to take a chance on, and I'm happy to see Acquire not simply churning through endless rehashes of the same game design but rather stepping out and trying something different with this sequel.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

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