This review contains mild spoilers for an early plot point.
I want you to imagine your deepest, biggest wish. Don’t tell me, just write it down on a piece of paper and think about it. Maybe it’s that dream job you always wanted? Perhaps it’s to fall in love? Maybe you will take on that tower burger at your local restaurant? Dreams and wishes are beautiful, aren’t they?
Now imagine that your biggest wishes and dreams are nothing more than delusions and thanks to your delusions you have caused monumental damage of the fabric of space and time. These delusions are crawling out your basement, killing your chickens, eating your aunt’s prized quiche and affecting day to day life by repeating the same bloody Sunday over and over again, you vicious, heartless, self-serving, selfish bastard. You are the personification of scum, you’re a wanker, I hate you, your mother hates you and your pets think you’re a dickhead too. Thanks to you, you may have bought around the end of the universe with your nonsense fantasies, of true love, gluttony and career aspirations well done, give yourself a pat on the back, you absolute monumental jizzmonkey!
And that ladies and gentleman, is almost verbatim the first cutscene of Akiba’s Beat. Within the first five minutes you are invited to this magical lecture of wishes, delusions and destroying the universe explained to you by a man in a funny hat and cape. With that in mind you are given the impression that Akiba’s Beat could either be something truly special and unique or something that is going to confuse you to no end.
It miraculously does both; there is something special to Akiba’s Beat, but it’s buried to the neck with nonsense mechanics and long plot points that will have you checking your watch or your social media out of frustrated boredom every five seconds.
After being taken through a tutorial, where you learn some of the basic fight mechanics, you are whisked off to the magical land of Akihabara, Tokyo. You take control of the story’s protagonist Asahi Tachibana who proudly refers to himself throughout the game as a NEET. For those who may not be in the know of this abbreviation, it is actually an old British term for “Not in education, employment or training”, which has taken on a life of its own in modern day Japan.
The world of Akihabara is hands down an inviting, beautiful and colorful world, which contributes to the overall formula of why the game does work well. The graphics are cool, crisp and generally looks like an anime show coming to life before your very eyes. The NPC’s are all of different colours, and while there is not a sprawling landscape of individual character models like you would see in bigger franchises which is a little bemusing to begin with, you do grow accustomed and even appreciate the method behind the madness.
Off the bat, Asahi’s personality is that of a job shy, wise cracking, lazy anime teen that seems to be a staple trope of the genre; though as a character he is harmless enough, you get the awful sense that most of these characters are going to be your typical anime hit list of characters. So, wise cracking sarcastic character, check. Straight-laced serious bossy person that is void of any personality? Enter Saki Hoshino.
You are introduced to Saki and her companion, who I can only describe as an adorable pug on acid, Pinkun, he serves as your advisor of the game. Pinkun can tell you enemy strengths and weaknesses and can indicate to you where treasure is near and will even give you some extra HP in battle if things look a little bleak, however you will get annoyed by his voice very quickly, like all sidekicks in anime and JRPG’s, there’s a fraction of adorableness, but a bigger fraction of annoyance as he keeps shouting obnoxious insults and tired one liners, each and every battle. Thankfully, there are other sidekicks to this game and they are far less annoying.
Saki learns that Asahi is one of the “chosen ones” someone who can see the delusions that are cropping up all over town, after a long yet interesting cut scene on delusions, delusionscapes and those who can create these delusionscapes, called “de-loosers.” You are whisked off to the first delusionscape and do battle with the monsters that dwell within. It is clear that most of the effort towards this game went into the delsuionscapes.
Delusionscapes serve as your typical dungeons, and as the game progresses they will get longer and more puzzling as you navigate your way around them. Each delusionscape has it’s own identity that matches the de-loosers deluded wishes and with the previously mentioned sharp presentation on hand, I actually found myself enjoying running around these delusionscapes, combatting the creative and interesting looking monsters the game had to offer.
However, getting to the points where you play these delusionscapes is where Akiba’s Beat gets torturous.
Chapters are generally broken down into two parts, with the second part featuring the journey into the delusionscape and taking on the bosses (or “grand phantasms” as they are called), while the first part of every chapter seems to be a very long hour and a half to 2 hour runaround. You get maybe a 3 to even 10 minute dialogue sequence in which our protagonists find another clue, or are taught the different subcultures around Akihabara, such as Otaku’s or the maid culture (which to my amusement actually does exist in Akihabara), then it’s off to another part of the town where you are treated to more dialogue in which your main objective is trying not to fall asleep.
If there is one thing I can praise the developers for, it is throwing in fast travel; you are going to need it a lot. It’s not that the map is even big, but there is a horrible habit of one objective being on one end of the map and the next being over the other end.
With all the talking and running around, by the end of chapter 2, I was little annoyed. By the end of chapter 4, I wanted to throw myself off a bridge. By the end of chapter 6 there wasn’t a Morrissey or The Smiths song in our reality or that I could create a delusionscape over that could have topped the mind numbing depression I gained enduring these long cut scenes.
It’s a shame, because some of the dialogue between the characters can be quite funny and dare I say a little risque with its social satire; there were a few incidents where I openly laughed with some of the one liners and exchanges. The 4th wall jokes can be really irritating, but the overall interaction with the characters does present a certain charm that grows on you. If only they could trim some of the fat, but I don’t think there are enough chainsaws in the world to trim that down.
It would also benefit you to learn a few things on Japanese laws and culture in your spare time, especially knowing that the age of consent in Japan is 13 – that’s something I admittedly didn’t know until playing this game. There was a huge chunk of Chapter 2 that made me feel a little uneasy knowing that you are trying to stop 20 year old overzealous male Otaku’s getting a little too infatuated over the 14 year old pop idol, Riyu Momose, who joins your party as the token mage after saving her. While it doesn’t get too over the top and they really are just fanboys with a crush for their idol, it does leave a bit of a strange taste in one’s mouth.
There are things to do in Akihabara, of course; there are the usual upgrade shops, challenges for cash and there are side stories for each of the main characters. The benefit to those side quests is that they do an impressive job of fleshing out some of the characters, however, this comes at the price of, you guessed it, more fucking dialogue. You do end up having to wonder if you’re playing a video game or just an interactive anime on Netflix.
The battle system also lets this game down. Put simply, there is no challenge at all, unless you want to count the various human bosses and grand phantasms with ridiculous long health bars as a challenge. It really is a case of smashing the square button until you have run out of combo points, moving out the way until they are refreshed, throw in a special move with the X button, rinse and repeat to victory. The crowning jewel mechanic for this is the ‘Imagine Gauge’ and, if I am honest, I have no idea why they have it.
Humour me on this, because after several hours I still cannot find a way to describe this system. Think of it as the game’s limit form as it were; as you fight on, the gauge builds up and, after completing a special move while holding the square button, the battle screen changes into what I can only describe as a hyperactive J-Pop music video on some serious strain of LSD. Lights flickering, so many explosions going everywhere even Michael Bay would say that it is too much and constant visual overloads of bright colours, volume bars and everything else that makes you want to throw your joypad at the TV and run for cover.
In all sincerity, I can only describe the Imagine Gauge as one of my more fevered of meltdowns on a disastrous night out and just like those meltdowns, none of it leads anywhere but abject misery and spilled takeout on the floor.
There are no special or extra moves during Imagine Mode, no QTEs where you and your team unleash a devastating combo, it’s just a two to three minute J-Pop song that gives you extra damage, handy when you just want to get through a boss in as little time as possible. Other than the luxury of finding new CDs for your collection, it really is a pointless mechanic that serves very little to the plot along with the trading cards you need to collect in order to give your party some stat boosts.
There is something special to Akiba’s Beat, and if I am honest, the biggest criticism I have of it is that it’s an intriguing and compelling anime concept cosplaying as a video game. If this was a standalone series you could find on Netflix or Crunchyroll, where the story could be trimmed down into manageable 20 to 30 minute chunks, then I could easily see myself getting behind this. Alas though, long dialogue, a bland battle system and very little to do in between really does let Akiba’s Beat down. If you’re a hardcore veteran of the JRPG genre, you may get some fun out of this in small doses, but anyone casual will be switched off by the third chapter.
Copy provided by PR.
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Big-time JRPG fans will find something worthwhile here, but the bloated dialogue and dull combat systems quickly overcome the attractive visuals and music to make for an experience that most players will quickly tire of.
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