Playing Akiba’s Beat was a mixed experience for me, the game had a lot of quirk and charm, but I just cant ignore the fact that nothing seems new. Akiba’s Beat is the 3rd game in the Akiba’s series but only the second one that has been released in the west, the first game on PSP never left Japan. Although this entry changes up its formula from the previous games a bit, it still keeps the main theme of being a youth and exploring Akihabara.
The story here starts with our protagonist Asahi Tachibana, who is currently living an average life in Akihabara. Asahi is a NEET and quite proud of the fact, as it seems to be a constant topic of conversation for him. One Sunday while on his way way home Asahi notices that the local train station seems a bit different. Shortly after he bumps in a mysterious girl named Saki and her strange familiar, a weird short imp thing named Pinkun (who while cute is perhaps the most annoying mascot type character ever introduced in a JRPG to date)
Saki informs Asahi that the reason the station is different is because a delusion is intruding into reality and that like her, Asahi is a deluser (someone who can see the illusions in the real world). Delusions are basically a dungeon that appears when someone’s fantasies start taking control of their mind. In the case of Akihabara’s delusions it’s usually formed by someone who misses when Akihabara was in the grip of a fad and cant let go. Saki explains the only way to erase a delusion and save the victim’s mind is to enter the dungeon, fight their way to the middle and beat the Grand Phantasm, a sort of boss who guards the delusion.
After entering the delusion alongside Saki and Pinkun Asahi discovers he has a weapon and can fight the monsters in the dungeon. Together the 3 beat the Grand Phantasm and rid the delusion. Shortly after they discover they’ve ended up in a time loop, doomed to repeat the same Sunday over again. Asahi decides to team up with Saki to get rid of all the delusions and find a way out of the time loop as they go. Along the way they meet other delusers and try to uncover the mystery surrounding Akihabra.
I should also note the translation here is really quite, well cringey. There’s memes galore and the writers never miss a chance to reference something, no matter how old the subject matter might be. It feels kinda like a lazy way of writing, although having not played the Japanese version I don’t know how close to base the translation is here. But that aside it ruins a lot of the story and it seems unnecessary.
Gameplay in Akiba’s beat is unfortunately basic in a lot of ways, each chapter in the story following the same sort of formula. Discover a new delusion, try to discover who owns the delusion, getting the delusion to open and finally clearing said delusion. Players are able to walk around Akihabra, it only starts as a small area but gradually opens up more. Its a real shame that there’s nothing to do though. Players cannot enter any of the buildings with the exceptions of the dungeons themselves, so after looking at all the landscapes a few thousand times you’ll quickly grow bored of the environments, this is somewhat alleviated by a quick travel system that eventually unlocks though.
The battle system here is quite similar to the combat found in the Tales games in that you enter a small ring where the player can run around in 360 degrees whilst attacking with normal attacks or special attacks that drain a skill point gauge. Players can bring 4 characters into battle along with a 5th member who doesn’t participate but instead acts as support, such as healing you or restoring your skill points. It’s admittedly pretty simplistic and gets stale a bit too quickly, a fact that is not helped at all by the severe lack of enemy types.
In fact, outside of bosses enemies all seemed to be re-skins of about 10 or so basic enemies. Combat does get a bit extended after the Imagine gauge is added. A bar that once filled can be activated to enter imagine mode where the music changes (based on what CD you chose to equip to which character you’re playing as) In Imagine mode the player gets stronger and can attack continuously without losing steam. Imagine mode last until the bar runs out, although over the course of the game you do unlock parts to make it last longer.
Players can buy many things from the stores located around Akihabra that all benefit your stats. Whether it be clothing, parts for your weapons (referred to as PP) or even trading cards, which if you’re the type of person who tries to collect them all you’ll be either satisfied or annoyed immensely here as while there’s quite a lot to collect you seem to constantly get doubles, triples and even quadruples of a card before seeing a new one. Either way it’s a fun little distraction.
As you play through the story you will occasionally run into the chance to play a special side mission for your team mates. These serve as a chance to flesh out the characters in your team a little more, or at least they should. I found most of them to be boring, most usually involving running from spot to spot on the map until the character indulges a bit more about themselves to Asahi. These really feel like wasted opportunities and not really as informative as they could be.
Graphically Akiba’s beat is a mixed bag, despite being a PS4 title an Vita version was also developed along side it so there have been cuts made to ensure the game could run on both systems. Some character models look ok, but others are real messy. The dungeons whilst having a lot of colour are most of the time very ugly, and pale to the simple sights one can finding just walking through the games version of Akihabra. Also many NPC models are presented as a single colour blob. To put it simply the graphics here are all over the play and can sometimes become a bit of an eyesore.
Music, for the most part, is dull. One thing I feel most JRPGs have if nothing else is a good catchy OST. Most of the time in Akiba’s beat though you’ll be beset by boring tracks that never really stand out at all, even the battle theme is dull. The best tracks here are found in the CDs players unlock during the game that can be activated for Imagine mode. Most of these tracks were fantastic, it just makes it all the more ponderous that the rest of the tracks are so lame in comparison.
At the end of the day Akiba’s Beat is an alright JRPG, even if it gets by mostly by just ticking the boxes in the checklist for all games in the genre. It’s fun and quirky but alot of the time it’s mistakes will take away from its beauty. The biggest thing working against Akiba’s Beat is the fact that so many great Japanese RPGs have been released this year, its hard not to compare it to these titles and wonder why it doesn’t do more. Still if you’ve finished up those other titles Akiba will surely offer some enjoyment to you.
Note: This review was based on a PS4 digital copy provided by the publisher.