(Disclaimer – this is a review I wrote for The Vita Lounge originally, hence the difference in formatting. I’m moving it to my own site for archiving sake. If I replay the game one day, I may re-write this for consistency reasons)
Sometimes, despite merely being a mish-mash of ideas from other franchises without any unique ideas of its own, a copycat game can still be a good time. This mantra very much applies to Akiba’s Beat – the new RPG from Acquire that mixes the combat of Tales; the social links of Persona; the world-building of Akiba’s Trip and graphical flourishes from DanganRonpa. The issue is that the game does none of these elements as well as the series inspiring it, but combined Akiba’s Beat is still a good effort and a title you can sink a lot of time into.
Plot is one of the game’s high points and although taking a very familiar trope (a repeating time loop, a la Groundhog Day), experiments with it in fun ways. You play as Asahi, a young NEET (read: lazy) youth who meets a young girl named Saki by coincidence, who introduces him to the world of delusionscapes. See, Asahi can perceive manifestations of other people’s delusions – their strongest desires – which transform into brand new worlds within Akihabara, the game’s setting. These delusionscapes are causing havoc with the city’s passage of time as the individual seeks to relive the same day over and over in their dream world, so it’s up to Asahi and Saki to find the person and nullify the delusion to restore order to Akiba.
If that description confused you, don’t worry, as playing the game makes things more clear. In a nutshell, you’re tasked with exploring dungeons based on people’s dreams in order to destroy them, all within the titular setting of Akihabara. The title experiments with this concept rather interestingly, posing questions such as whether it’s right to destroy someone’s delusion when they’re simply escaping from a society which has rejected them. Sadly things take a long while to get going properly, but once they do there is an intriguing tale here that I wouldn’t have expected.
The cast are an eclectic bunch, but as with the story impressed me more than I thought they would. While Asahi wasn’t a particularly likeable character, party members like Riyu with her strong sense of morals make for interesting foils to some of the rest of the team. Supporting characters can be interesting too – such as Nana, the maid with a past she’s clearly running from that you’ll slowly unravel over the course of the game; or Akari, the perpetually upbeat freedom fighter. Sadly, as with Asahi, some of the other party member can be a bit of a miss – Pinkun in particular remains annoying from start to finish and feels like he was only included to fill a Teddie-from-Persona-4 shaped mascot hole.
The world they inhabit is a heightened reality version of Akihabara – Tokyo’s ‘electric town’, nowadays home to a bastion of otaku culture. This means you’ll be travelling around maid cafés, watching idol concerts and crawling through chuunibyou dungeons – the game is very much rooted in its Akiba setting and I can definitely say it won’t be for everyone, although if you made it through Steins;Gate you should be alright.
Except, at times this feels like a poor imitation of Akiba thanks to low-quality aspects of the presentation. For starters, all the licenced shops are gone despite being included in the game’s predecessor Akiba’s Trip – a bizarre oversight. And while this is normally a town overflowing with crowds of people going about their business, you won’t find this here – NPC’s are simply block-coloured silhouettes, similar to DanganRonpa Another Episode. As such, it turns what is an otherwise impressive open-world hub into a small, cheap-feeling set of interconnected rooms.
The presentational disappointments don’t stop there – draw distance is laughably bad, with characters popping in right in front of you. Worse still, distant objects and buildings are covered in a weird blue fog which looks like they’re simply waiting to be fully animated. Things like trees look like they’re made of paper that’s been glued together; textures on surfaces are generally quite poor and the worst offender of all is the load times – which are both frequent and lengthy. It makes running around the overworld an absolute chore.
Yet, all these frustrations evaporate once you’re in the game’s dungeons. These are generally gorgeous looking areas all based around a theme – sound; dolls etc., that pop with colour and vibrancy. Distant objects are clearly visible and enemies are properly shown based on what they actually are, demonstrating a much higher level of effort went into this aspect of the title. The best part of all is the character models, which are detailed and feature a great deal of animation both in and out of combat – at times they feel like they were made for a completely different game than the one they’re in.
So story and presentation is all well and good, but what do you actually do in Akiba’s Beat? At it’s core, the game is a very Persona-inspired JRPG told in chapters where you spend a largely equal amount of time in character conversation; exploring the overworld and doing side-quests; exploring the dungeons and engaging in combat. It’s a tried-and-tested formula that works, although is beginning to wear a little thin in imitators such as this that don’t quite nail the finer details.
At any given time you’re largely given free reign to explore Akihabara – a map will show shops where you can upgrade your equipment (there’s actually a lot of options available here to customise your character, which was a nice touch); points of interest to interact with as well as quest markers. Fast travel facilitates better movement around the area, but you’ll find that things like side quests are pretty dull as they largely consist of moving from one area to another to talk to characters until they’re over. Even the main quest largely only involves travelling from A to B until the entrance to the delusionscape appears, after which it’s straight into dungeon crawling – there’s little variety in what you’ll be doing.
Dungeons are a little more engaging, thanks to some basic puzzles required to progress. These are never anything more than press x switch to open the route to y switch which brings you to the exit, but they’re enough to keep things interesting on the pretty backdrops. Enemies are represented by their character models on the map, meaning you can either choose to engage or try to run around them – attacking first gains you a combat advantage, Tales-style.
Also lifted straight our of Tales is the combat, which places you in a 3D arena in real time with the ability to swap between party members at any time. The issue is that things just feel so… flat and lifeless, especially if you played 2013’s Tales of Hearts R. There’s no real weight to your sword swings – enemies rarely react to being hit, and special moves lack any real punch. Things like weaknesses to certain attacks; spells with cast times and aerial combat are all present here, but it’s not enough to make Akiba’s Beat feel special in any way.
The game’s gimmick – and part of its title – is that fighting is tied to music and you’ll be able to enter ‘imagine’ mode once you’ve attacked foes enough and filled a special bar. During this a special track will play and you’ll be able to combo indefinitely and ‘burst’ to increase your damage – yet, it doesn’t feel any different to any other mode of this kind in an action RPG and the music element feels redundant as you don’t need to time your hits for any bonuses.
In fact, music in general feels fairly redundant as there’s little in the way of memorable tracks here, despite the potential for there to be. The sound package is saved by voice acting – nearly every line here is voiced in English and most of it is actually pretty decent, each character having a distinct personality and delivery. Some come off better than others (particular shout out to Nana’s voice actress) but generally the quality here is high which is something XSEED should be commended on.
Overall, then, Akiba’s Beat is an incredibly mixed bag – elements of the presentation and combat let it down, yet the story and characterisation remain a saving grace. It’s not a game I can recommend to everyone and it takes far too long to get going, but I can definitely say I enjoyed my time with it in spite of its flaws.
Akiba’s Beat is an enjoyable JRPG with an interesting plot and some nice characters, that’s really let down with some cheap presentation and repetitive gameplay. It’s definitely still worth you’re time if you’re after an action-RPG on Vita and its low points definitely don’t outweigh the highs, just beware that you’re going in to a fun – but flawed – experience.