It’s very easy to dismiss a game like Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed for the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. Who wouldn’t scorn a game that has the player undressing the enemy in the heat of combat — especially when those stripped to their undies are usually of the female persuasion? As perverted as the premise may seem, there’s more to this game than cheap sexual thrill. What’s inside is a tongue-in-cheek and amusing, albeit flawed representation of otaku culture delivered by developer Acquire and published XSEED Games.
Rumors have been spreading across the Akihabara district, such as men turning into fairies for preserving their virginity past thirty, and the player discovers that the one about abductions has a ring of truth to it. Lured in by the false promise of anime figurines, Nanashi, the protagonist, is turned into a “Synthister,” a vampirish creature that feeds on the energy of otaku, by a shady organization hellbent on conquering Akihabara. A mysterious young woman named Shizuku Tokikaze defeats Nanashi’s captors and saves him with a “blood contract” initiated through the lips. Nanashi then sets off to defeat the Synthisters by exposing their weak skin to the sun; to do this, he must disrobe every Synthister walking down the sunny streets — while avoiding the same deadly fate himself.
It’s pretty clear that Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed doesn’t take itself seriously. The method of stripping your foe fits the perversion associated with otaku without indulging heavily in objectification. XSEED has also gone the extra mile by having the Western release of the game include artwork of males stripped to their boxers, which is just as titillating as the ones featuring scantly clad ladies. As comical as the pokes at otaku culture are, the English translations are even more worthy of praise. From the Airplane! and The Simpsons references to the many creative ways the protagonist’s little sister calls him “bro,” XSEED has successfully captured and perhaps improved the Japanese geek-centric humor in the game for American audiences.
In its attempt to replicate the best and worst aspects of otaku roaming Japan, however, the game may have hit too close to home. It’s easy to miss, but in a “Pitter” conversation found on the player’s cellphone, an online user call another a “trap,” clearly meant as a transphobic insult that’s sadly common on online message boards. A later conversation has the same Pitter user called out when the slur is uttered again, but the first time was enough to ruin the experience some were having with the game. To its credit, XSEED has addressed the controversy, saying it was only translated as a belief that the insult was intended as a parody of the harshness and stupidity of online users. The publisher has also stated that, for future games, more thought and consideration will be put into translations. Whether you agree or disagree with the debate, it’s good to see XSEED engaging in the conversation rather than ignoring it completely.
The game’s virtual depiction of Akihabara is accurate to a tee. It’s a little surreal to see a district that modeled itself after video games and anime recreated in a video game of its own, but the atmosphere that has defined otaku culture is all here: the electronic shops, maid cafes, anime previews, and J-Pop music playing in the background. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Western release is that it retains all the real life Japanese ads to preserve authenticity, managing to overcome any licence legal issues that could have easily degrade the game. If you can’t afford a plain ticket to Japan, Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed is the next best thing.
Don’t let the level-up progression and dialogue tree fool you. As much as it may appear to be a role-playing game, its true nature is that of a beat ’em up brawler. Equipped with the clothes on your back and whatever ridiculous item you can get your hands on, your main objective here is to fight and strip as many enemies as you can, either by yourself or with the help of a computer-controlled comrade. There are three main ways to attack: middle attacks aimed to weaken shirts, low attacks aimed at the pants (or skirts), and high attacks for enemies wearing headgear. You’ll be expected to travel to certain points of Akihabara outside of a few side missions, either on foot or through fast travel on the game’s map, to patrol the streets and strip any evildoer at large.
The combat leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t take long for the beating up and stripping of whoever comes your way to become repetitive. Even with chain-links and collaborated attacks, there’s not much variety. You can change the fighting style of your character, which are hilariously stylized but are done more for appearance than providing depth. However, the type of weapon you use — whether it be a laptop, cat gloves, or an anime hug pillow — does have its own advantages and disadvantages. I personally found the giant leek to be the best at disposing enemies.
Controls are a little imperfect as well. It’s easy to mistake the Vita’s camera-center button with a defensive stance, as both inputs share the same shoulder button. A jumping ability is present in the game and is meant to be used as a jump attack to knock back foes, but the move itself is clunky to perform and is honestly forgettable. I wouldn’t say the combat lacks any form of joy, as I did enjoy a few bouts during my playthrough, but for a game that relies heavily on the same fighting scenario, it really needed something to spice things up.
The game has a few issues in terms of technicality. For both the PS3 and PS Vita versions, the framerate is inconsistent. It’s evident when making your way through the crowded streets of Akihabara or taking on multiple enemies. It’s disappointing that much of the district is broken up into numerous loading points as well. The loading itself rarely takes long and you can fast travel to specific location for easy navigation, but the immersion of exploring what Akihabara has to offer is spoiled in the process.
For a game that appears shameless at first glance, the problems with Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed leans more on the technical side than its presentation. Even during moments of mediocrity, however, I found myself coming back to the imaginative world of Akihabara and the fun characters that reside there. Unlocking new character customization, game modes, and a desire to see what the other relationship routes has to offer — I finished with best friend route, by the way — has motivated my return to be sooner rather than later. It may not be true for everyone, but for me, the writing and atmosphere were enough to forgive it for gameplay aspects that were less successful. Plus, there’s no denying the juvenile joy of stripping someone down to his drawers.