Tuesday, August 19, 2014

REVIEW - Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed.

Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed (Akiba's Trip 2 in Japan) is a brawler-lite action RPG in which the player takes on the role of a shameless otaku in the legendary Tokyo neighborhood of Akihabara - a mecca for anime nerds, video game nerds, pop-idol-worshipping nerds and all other similarly-obsessed superfans.

Waking on the operating table of an evil corporation, you discover the fine print in a job contract which promised you exclusive access to super-rare figurines gave the company exclusive rights to experiment on your mortal coil, turn you into a sun-fearing "synthister" and set you loose to siphon away the life energy and passionate desires of Akihabara's uniquely-desirous population.

You are saved by a beautiful and mysterious girl, and the two of you set out to bring down the corporation by single-handedly taking on the synthister menace that stalk Akihabara's streets, cleansing their dark souls in the purifying rays of the Sun... by running up to them in broad daylight and stripping them down to their undies.

At first glance, Akiba's Trip is a serious contender for an "oh Japan" game.  Oh Japan.  Why you gotta' be all about naked high schoolers and tentacles?

But it's not the game you fear it will be when you first learn of it.  It's not the game you worry it'll be when you see its cover art.

(I'll be honest, I love this cover art.)

It's wonderful.  It's a sweet game, in the most earnest sense.  It's one of the most consistently-entertaining, funny, cheerful, endearing things I've played all year.

Your sister is a cosplay-sewing shut-in who speaks in weird monotone and absolutely adores you, forces you to buy her limited-edition shirts and makes you practice superhero poses with her.

Your friends are tomboys, Japan-obsessed foreigners and fellow nerds.  They're the type of people who'll watch an anime marathon to prepare for an upcoming cosplay competition and agree it was the most moving thing they've ever seen (except for the last episode).  There's something sweetly identifiable in all of them, and their jokes tend to be jokes like we'd toss out to our friends in the comforted knowledge that we're in the company of an audience who gets us.

I get it!  (We all get it!)

The real star of the game is the neighborhood itself - an accurately-recreated version of Akihabara that you wander around, doing side-quests, earning cash, shopping and exploring.  It's not stunningly-realized - you can't actually enter any stores and virtually walk around them - but it still manages to turn the player into a willing, fascinated tourist as you get to know the district.

When you walk up to one of Akiba's famous shops, you'll hear some distinctive music playing outside (most of the stores in the game actually licensed their likenesses to the developer, so you'll hear the real music the stores play).  When you hit X, you're taken to a static image of the store as they appear in reality, with their anime mascot or an NPC greeting you and selling you items through a menu system.

As you stroll the streets, you'll be approached by ladies with flyers, and you're free to take one - there are tons of different ones to collect - and it turns out what you've just picked up is a beautiful, high-res image of the actual flyer of an Akihabara store.  It's hard to resist flipping through them and checking out the dense ads and gorgeous images of beef bowls and noodles.

Not a truly open-world game, Akiba's Trip breaks the district into a dozen smaller areas, each a street or two in size, with short (five-second) loads separating them.  When you fast-travel large distances or the game is loading a scene, you'll get an image of a distinctly Akihabaran advertisement as the progress bar clips along.

The story works fine - there's a mysterious power behind the corporation that's producing the synthisters, and it seems like the girl who rescued you isn't exactly human, but its most meaningful purpose is simply to allow the player to get to know its (endearing, charming) characters and set them loose on zany stories.

In Akiba's Trip, I beat the shit out of a satirical take on the AKB48 girls in front of the AKB48 theater. I wandered the area taking snapshots of oversized hot dogs and gorilla-themed curry shops, I hunted synthisters for cold, hard cash, I talent-scouted for a maid cafe and - yes - when anyone gave me any guff, I punched them in their shirt, hat and chinos, and stripped them naked.

The game offers an exceedingly shallow combat system in which you weaken your foe's clothing with repeated strikes to that area - each area assigned to a face button.  X punches them in the pants, circle in the shirt, and triangle their headgear.  R1 is used as a modifier-button, permitting you dodges, counters, power attacks and evades, but the basics are dead-simple: punch your enemy in their shirt until it weakens (circle, circle, circle) then hold circle to go in for the strip.

There's a touch of strategy to it.  The combos and qualities of your attacks are purely dictated by the weapon you wield, and once you rack up a high enough combo (30+ hits), every attack thereafter becomes far more powerful.  You earn experience by performing strips, and you can multiply that earned experience by performing strip chains.

So you walk up to a dude, punch him in his hat, shirt and jeans until they weaken, then break off and attack another foe, and another, and another until you go in for the strip and rip rip rip rip rip rip rip in a (weirdly intuitive) quicktime event that sees you stylishly yanking the clothes off, and so, dispatching, multiple foes in one fell swoop.

Like the Sparkle Hunting moments in Lollipop Chainsaw, there's something that satisfies about the funny, over-the-top animations.  Even taking down a single enemy is gratifying when you do it with gravitas - poppoppop their head, torso and legs and zip zip zip!  I love it when I sweep the legs out from under an enemy and zip their pants off in the half-second they find themselves horizontal in mid-air.  The strip style you get from S-ranking the combat arena's challenges is hilarious, suggesting an otherworldly mastery of clothing, and I've still never tired of the Record of Asuka Style Ninjutsu technique.

Like a true ninja, you perform a strip so incredibly quickly and gently that your target doesn't even realize they've been stripped until you step away, strike a cool at-one-with-the-universe ninja pose and - omigosh!  My hat's gone!

What the-!

Instead of feeling lascivious, Undead & Undressed maintains an upbeat, slapstick tone throughout.  It's cheerful and light-hearted - an utterly charming game that wildly succeeds despite its ankle-deep (yet still, oddly, challenging) combat.

As you strip particular clothing types - cosplay, business, shirts, jackets, skirts, jeans - you earn proficiency in those types.  When your skill becomes maxed in each type, you will thereafter remove that kind of clothing without ripping it - adding it to your collection of garments.

Once you've built up a respectable wardrobe of options, what becomes most expressive about Akiba's Trip is how you style yourself.

You choose your combat style through your preferred weapon (there are about eighty to pick from), and no piece of clothing has any benefit over any other, as there is only one stat - durability - and any item's durability can be raised to the maximum level by simply visiting your little sister and paying her to put her sewing skills to work, combining items into one super-item.  

The game's blacksmith is your geeky little sister.  I love it.  

Yay!  Thanks Nana!

Its combat?  Perfunctory.  Its technology?  Behind the times.  But I love Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed.  

Discovering this game is like walking into a video store and finding something like Samurai Western.  Taking a chance on a game and discovering something so weird and crazy and... charismatic.  Something that's so happy just to be a game, and is thrilled to have you along for the ride. 

I was consistently-entertained for my entire time with Akiba's Trip, and found myself wishing I had more time for side quests, more time to explore.  I want to rip through this game's trophy list, buy an item from every store, collect every flyer, earn every walk animation.  

You can customize your walk animation!  And now that I've beaten it, I want to give it a second playthrough.  At least.  I hear there's a "sister ending," and given that she's the awesomest thing in the game, that really should happen.  

And given that, in New Game+, you can customize everything down to your character model, you can bet your ass there's a Japanese schoolgirl wandering the streets of Akihabara, stumbling around like a zombie.  

And she's gonna' strip this town raw. 


  1. I'm sorry to hear that counter spy might break your heart, but Invisible inc. (and it should totally make it to consoles eventually) will not.

    It's so tense and cerebral. I didn't really think turn based stealth could work!

    1. I keep on tweeting Klei to put it on Vita. Here's hopin'.

  2. and I think you'll find the guard alert sound PLEASANTLY familiar.