For many who have followed North American publisher XSEED Games over the years, when they heard the announcement for Akiba’s Beat, the name instantly rang a bell to their ears. The publisher localized and released Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed on the PS3 and PlayStation Vita (with an later PS4 port) and while it didn’t set the sales charts on fire compared to a Final Fantasy title, it did quite well and picked up some well-deserved popularity. So when developer Acquire and XSEED Games returned with a JRPG versed in that same vein, expectations were high. And some might say that bar was unfortunately a bit too high in some regards.
The idea for the narrative itself is an interesting one, at least in terms of video games where it hasn’t really been played out all that much compared to films. Early on, the characters find out they’re stuck in what’s essentially a time loop of sorts (if you’ve ever watched the film Groundhog’s Day, it’s essentially this in a nutshell) where Sunday keeps repeating itself. The core cause is the “delusions” of Akihabara’s citizens (much like Akiba’s Trip, this also takes place in real-life Japan, or at least an idealized version of it), and it’s up to the protagonist and his fellow cast to break the loop by getting rid of the delusions.
The initial problem is that many of the people that make up the main cast are typecast in a manner which makes them inherently unlikable depending on how much you like or dislike specific stereotypical anime tropes. For instance, you have the jobless “NEET” (essentially means “Not in Employment, Education or Training”, which surprisingly the game basically expects the player to know) who disrespects everyone, someone who’s tough but actually has a problem coming to terms with their own feelings, etc.
While the game eventually does do a good job building out these characters, mainly through the side missions, there is times they essentially drop the ball by spilling out tons of exposition for no good reason for long amounts of time. This isn’t really the fault of the localization as it’s likely also present in the original Japanese text, however, but it’s still a fault with the game itself. One thing I did enjoy is that the game got slightly meta in the fact that the characters eventually begin to reason if it’s right to intervene in other’s affairs. I won’t spoil how they link things together and how it works with the real world, but it does make you think at least. XSEED also did a good job with the localization in terms of the non-playable characters and the overall game world.
The battle mechanics should be similar to anyone who’s played Namco Bandai’s modern Tales of series entries, although not as much depth is present here. Like in a modern Tales of entry, you explore 3D dungeons that have monsters inside them. Upon encountering one, you’re transported to an arena where you face off against them in a real-time battle. You have one button for normal attacks, another for skills and you can use the analog sticks to vary which attacks/skills are executed. There’s also a third additional button used for evading enemy attacks and/or jumping. The issue I had with Akiba’s Beat is that their implementation feels like a knock-off to put it nicely, as the attack animations feel more like you’re whiffing instead of nailing the enemy even when you’re actually dealing damage. Additionally, certain movements are oddly quick in their animations, while others are painfully slow and will tend to mess up your timing as you’ll accidentally alter it too much in the wrong direction to overcompensate.
There is an added wrinkle in the “Imagine Field” mechanic that’s introduced not too long into the game, but it feels more like an afterthought than anything else. The game makes it seem like it fits in with the game’s “Beat” title musically by fighting alongside the “beat” of the music to do better in battle, so naturally you’d think it’d be some sort of a rhythm mini-game or timing your attacks to some degree — unfortunately that isn’t the case. It’s just a simple meter that increases the more you deal damage, and once its filled you get to play an anime song of your choice in the background which increases your damage output until it concludes. This combined with the enemy HP in general feeling like they padded it out to make the difficulty artificially harder (especially regarding bosses) is just the icing on the cake. If it wasn’t for the narrative eventually getting somewhat interesting, the disappointing battle mechanics honestly would have dampened the whole experience for me overall.
Visually, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, like in Akiba’s Trip, Acquire did a great job in making this feel like Akihabara by recreating the famous locales, shop locations, etc., of course with copyrighted names changed around with humorous touches where necessary. The flip side is that the world overall feels more lifeless than it did in Trip, as instead of NPCs filling the streets as actual NPCs, all of the environmental, non-important NPCs are now generic single-color models. If you played last year’s Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE, it’s similar to the approach done there. Alone this isn’t a bad change stylistically, but when you have issues in other areas such as the battle mechanics, it makes this change feel cheap in retrospect.
2017 has been surprisingly strong year for Japanese RPGs, with Namco Bandai’s Tales of Berseria and ATLUS’s Persona 5 releasing to high acclaim. While there’s some highlights to be found in Akiba’s Beat, it falls short of the bar that Acquire themselves set with their release prior with Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed. There’s a beat lurking here for JRPG fans who played everything else this year and want something new, but unfortunately it’s much fainter than many would have liked it to have been.Akiba's Beat was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Code provided by XSEED Games. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Characters, while initially unlikable, do grow as the game goes on.|
|The localization overall (i.e. non-playable characters and world) are localized well by XSEED.|
|It does feel like you are in Akihabara.|
|Battle mechanics are by-the-numbers and the animations feel clunky and airy.|
|The switch from fully modeled NPCs to single-colored models is an odd choice.|
|With its negatives stacked against it, with the other high-quality JRPGs already out this year, it provides a hard case for the game as a whole.|