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 game does none of these elements as well as the series inspiring it, but Akiba’s Beat is still a good effort – and may be a title you can sink a lot of time into.
The plot is one of the game’s high points, and although it takes a very familiar trope (a repeating time loop – a la Groundhog Day) it proceeds to experiment with it in fun ways. You play as Asahi, a young NEET (read; lazy) youth who meets a young girl named Saki. She then introduces him to the world of delusionscapes. You 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, and as such it’s up to Asahi and Saki to find the person and nullify the delusion; restoring order to Akiba.
If that description confused you, don’t worry too much. Playing the game will make things more clear to you than my attempt at describing it. In a nutshell, you’re tasked with exploring dungeons based on people’s dreams in order to destroy them – all set 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.
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 likable 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. There’s 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 members can be a bit of a miss. Pinkun in particular remains annoying from start to finish, and ultimately 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’ and Japanese home to otaku culture. This means you’ll be travelling around maid cafés, watching idol concerts, and crawling through chuunibyou dungeons; the game very much rooted in its Akiba setting, which certainly isn’t for everyone. Those who appreciate the culture will have no problem however, and if you’ve played Steins;Gate or Akiba’s Trip you’ll probably be fine.
At times however, this feels like a poor imitation of Akiba thanks to low-quality aspects of the presentation. For starters, all the licensed shops are gone despite being included in the game’s predecessor Akiba’s Trip – a bizarre oversight. Also, 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 presentation related disappointments don’t stop there, though. The 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, and the textures on surfaces are generally quite poor. The worst presentational offender of all must be awarded to the load times though, as they are both frequent and lengthy. All of this together makes running around the overworld an absolute chore.
That said, all these frustrations evaporate once you’re in the game’s colourful dungeons. These are generally gorgeous looking areas, and they’re all based around a theme (ie; sound, dolls, etc.). Distant objects are clearly visible here, and enemies are properly shown based on what they actually are; demonstrating that a much higher level of effort went into this aspect of the title. The best part of all is the character models, which are quite detailed. They feature a great deal of animation both in and out of combat, and at times they feel like they were made for a completely different game than the one they’re in.
So that’s 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 RPG told in chapters. You’ll 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 – a nice touch), points of interest (things to interact with), and quest markers. Fast travel facilitates better movement around the area, but you’ll find that things like side quests are pretty dull; largely consisting of moving from one area to another in order to talk to specific characters. Even the main quest largely involves travelling from A to B until the entrance to the delusionscape appears, then moving straight into dungeon crawling. There’s honestly very little variety in what you’ll be doing.
Dungeons are a little more engaging thanks to some basic puzzles required to progress. Puzzles 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 gets you a combat advantage however, taking a welcome cue from Tales.
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, so it’s fitting that you’ll be able to enter ‘imagine’ mode once you’ve attacked foes enough and filled a special bar. During this mode, a special track will play and you’ll be able to combo indefinitely and ‘burst’ to increase your damage. Even so, it doesn’t feel any different to any other mode of this kind, 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 the voice acting, as nearly every line here is voiced in English, and most of it is actually pretty decent. Each character has a distinct personality and delivery, and while some come off better than others (particular shout out to Nana’s voice actress), generally the quality here is high. This is absolutely 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 the end; despite the breadth of its flaws.