Akiba’s Beat review (Vita)

Akiba’s Beat is Acquire’s follow-up to 2014’s Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed. It’s available for Vita and PS4 – we played the handheld version.

Having never played Akiba’s Trip, my first thought upon seeing the announcement for Akiba’s Beat had me thinking this was going to be a spinoff game featuring rhythm-based gameplay, much like Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Reading up a little more I realized this wasn’t the case, although the music is one of the stronger points of this game.

Akiba refers to a popular district in Tokyo, in which the game takes place. It’s part of the city that’s popular for its abundance of manga and anime, and that features here as well. You play the role of Asahi, who is proud to be on the fast track to nowhere – playing video games and reading manga all day. Before too long, Asahi realizes he’s caught in some kind of groundhog day-type loop, in which he experiences the same events over and over again. At the same time, the manga-fueled delusions of the people of Akiba are starting to come true, and so it’s up to Asahi and his friends to uncover the mystery.

akiba's beat2

A large part of the game unfolds as a visual novel, meaning that there are plenty of screens to click through before you get to some of the more traditional gameplay. In this, you’re running around Akiba looking for small rifts in the fabric of reality that give you access to mini-dungeons in which you have to battle with enemies in an odd hybrid of real-time and turn-based combat. Essentially, you’ll hit your opponent a few times before you have to back off again in order to recharge your attack (beat) meter. It’s a strange design choice that draws out battles for way too long, especially during the first part of the game where your beat meter runs out quickly.

Speeding things up momentarily is the “Imagination Gauge”, which is sort of a ‘special meter’ that fills up during combat. When you activate it, music starts playing and you can pummel away at the bad guys without fear of losing your breath and having to take a break. It’s basically just button mashing until they are defeated or the music runs out, but at least it takes the long (and boring) waits out of the regular combat.

akiba's beat3

In between the combat and visual novel portions, you can walk around a 3D version of Akiba in search of characters and/or your next confrontation. This looks impressive on the Vita, but the area is disappointing in terms of how little is going on besides the waypoints you encounter. This makes both the combat and the free movement sections feel like filler, with the most interesting bits reserved for the character and story development that takes place in the visual novel cutscenes.

Characters are diverse, extreme, and very colorful (in the eccentric sense) – they even reminded me of the excellent Danganronpa series at time. The writing (and gameplay) isn’t up to the level of that series, but the story is definitely entertaining enough to follow. It’s a hefty 3GB download for the Vita, but it’s spent on high quality visuals and voice acting for the story portions, which helps bring the game alive. It’s too bad the interactive sections aren’t up to par, or this could have been a real hit for fans of games like Danganronpa.

Score: 6.5/10

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