Y'know what's nice? Playing a smaller title that actually gets a physical release. You can find some real gems hidden among these non-AAA titles, and honestly I like getting the break as AAA titles all start to blend together. There's something comforting to me about having to learn new systems and to deal with the weirdness that you get when developers aren't intending to sell a hundred bajillion copies of their game.
Akihabara is one of Tokyo's 23 municipal wards, and is the center of Japanese nerd culture. Recently, vampiric villains known as Synthisters are attacking and draining the life-force of Akiba residents, and they've just turned you--an ordinary Japanese fanboy--into one of them. You're rescued by a mysterious girl named Yuki Nagato Shizuku, who has ties to the Synthisters. Bringing her back to MOGRA, the base of your Akiba Freedom Fighters, you're joined by tomboyish childhood friend Suruga Kanbaru Touko, sexy pharmaceutical CEO Hitagi Senjougahara Shion, and your stereotypical kid sister. Together, they and others (including a bouncy, derpy maid and a twintailed idol) set out to dismantle the Synthisters' conspiracy, with the future of Japan (and maybe the world) at stake!
It's funny, though--the more I think about it, the more I see Akiba's Trip as the Japanese analogue to something like Watch Dogs: many popular elements of Japanese bestsellers all thrown together in one package, put on a bunch of platforms, and, uh... not really a lot of money put into making the game look particularly modern. What elements, you ask?
FIGHT! Akiba's Trip is basically a beat-'em-up, skewing closer to God of War than Devil May Cry or a Platinum game. Using high, medium, and low attacks barehanded or with melee weapons, you damage opponents' clothes, then strip them off when they're weakened, exposing the vampiric Synthisters to sunlight and destroying them. By attacking multiple foes, you can wear them down in groups and then perform lengthy QTE-driven chain strip combos, gloriously bringing that Patrick Stewart segment from Extras to life. Depending on which of the girls you've partnered with, you can also build up meter for explosive, high-damage team-up strip attacks. Normally, I'm all for brawlers, but Akiba's Trip is kind of clunky--there's no hardlock, only an unreliable softlock that doesn't let you pick a target in big group fights. Imprecise dodging, occasional hit-detection issues and some questionable controls (back + attack for a strong move, instead of a shoulder button... in a game with softlock?) really sour the experience and make the frequent fighting a chore.
TALK! Most of Akiba's Trip's story is told through visual novel-style cutscenes, with gorgeous character art thanks to the designs of the Monogatari series' Akio Watanabe. Frequent dialogue choices pop up, letting you play your character just the way you want... to a point. For much of the early game, I was playing the neckbeardiest neckbeard who ever necked a beard, but there are long stretches where you're forced to only choose from very lifeless-feeling Paragon/neutral/Renegade options. Thankfully, the translation is fun, and the story is refreshingly self-aware that this is basically a harem anime. This, of course, leads into...
ROMANCE! Through dialogue options and choosing different girls to be your combat partner (and keeping them safe in combat, because moe), you can earn their trust and affection. Does she like yo gangsta walk? Guess what, you're going to end up with her in the game's climax! Just in case you're wondering, yes, there is a "little sister" route, but I haven't touched that because I don't want that kind of red in my ledger.
GIVE ME YOUR PANTS, I'D LOOK BETTER IN THEM ANYWAY
COLLECT! Much like Monster Hunter, Akiba's Trip contains a huge assortment of armor clothes and weapons, but they're appropriately nerdy. There are hundreds of clothing items--male and female, normal and costumey--to equip yourself and your partner with, so you can both rush into battle looking incredibly cool with sunglasses and long coats, or beat the shit out of a hundred vampires while wearing pajama onesies (which is actually cooler). For weapons, instead of greatswords and claw-gauntlets, you get to smash monitors and keyboards into Synthisters, or take them on with plastic baseball bats, poster tubes, and my personal favorite: a giant shawarma rotisserie, which I've dubbed "the giant meat sword."
Warning: do not actually rip people's shirts off and hit them with your giant meat sword... or Neptunia pillow
CRAFT! Because every game under the sun has a crafting and upgrading system now, you can visit your hilarious shut-in little sister (whose "bro" variations I am totally stealing to use in every day speech) and blend all the items you're not using into your preferred equipment. It reminded me a lot of Darksiders II's Possessed Weapons, only in this case you can increase the power of every clothing item you have (hats, shirts, pants, shoes, and underwear) along with your weapons, letting you fully customize your arsenal. It's nothing fancy and it's certainly nothing new, but it's implemented well, and is a solid, balanced option to simply selling excess inventory.
In addition to all this, you get to run around a surprisingly accurate(ish) rendition of Akihabara, mirroring real-world locations in addition to shopping at actual Akiba stores. It really lends an air of legitimacy to this game to not only see the locations, but actually have real brands and famous anime and games like Disgaea, Kodomo no Jikan, and Hyperdimension Neptunia prominently displayed on posters and in-game items (and DLC). The option to play the game with its original Japanese voice acting in addition to a not-bad-at-all English dub is just the icing on the otaku cake.
Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed is sloppy when it really needs precision, and I've seen HD-upgraded PSP games that look better than this modern PS3 title. Also, as you spend a lot of time wrestling with women in the streets to rip their clothes off, it's probably not the best game to play in public, or with your door open, or in the living room. That being said, Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed is a refreshingly silly, honest game that tells you exactly what you're getting, gives it to you on a silver platter, and does it all with a sense of cheekiness and fun instead of the lingering creepiness I was expecting. Its battle system may not win any awards, but it's the complete package--the experience of navigating the trials and tribulations of a modern anime hero--that really makes it worth visiting. Shenmue and Sleeping Dogs let me live out my martial arts revenge movie fantasies... Akiba's Trip will definitely let you live out your light novel/harem-hero fantasies. Not every game has to be Dark Souls... and really, not every game should.
+ A real sense of playful, cheeky fun--this game doesn't take itself all that seriously
+ Lots to do in terms of diverging story paths, collectibles, and romance options
+ From seeing actual, fanboy-popular anime to hearing fujoshi squeal about pairings, there's a real feeling of authenticity
+/- Inconsistent dialogue options don't give you as much roleplaying freedom as you're initially led to believe
+/- With everything said and done, this is still a game about beating people up and ripping their clothes off--do with that what you will
- Frustratingly unpolished battle system wouldn't be an issue if you didn't have to constantly manage huge six-on-two melees
- Visuals are very lacking, with stilted animation and lots of clipping