Review: Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed

To establish background, it’s pertinent to state that I’ve developed a real affinity for quirky Japanese titles. Games like Bulletgirls, Uppers and Gal Gun are proudly displayed in my gaming collection, a testament to the weird. The fandom of these odd games ties directly to the 2013 Western release of Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed. A shameful amount of time was spent digging through the PS Vita port of the title, exploring the streets of Akihabara and being a general nuisance of the denizens filling said streets. It was a imperfect, but highly-entertaining beat-’em-up that enthralled me with its charm and eccentricity. A turn-based follow up eventually landed on our shores with Akiba’s Beat. Once again, I was enamored with the characters and the recreation of the nerd district of Tokyo to the point that I was more generous than other reviewers. I mention all of this to let you know that I was extremely excited to play the series title that never made its way to English audiences until now, with a dash of concern that my personal fandom would contribute to a more positive review than might ordinarily be warranted. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed. That enthusiasm smashed itself ashore on the rocks of some design issues, however, leading to a disappointing experience.

For those who played Undead & Undressed, the general crux of the following will sound familiar. Rumors of odd happenings in the Akihabara district have been spreading unchecked across social media. It got to the point where to protagonist’s friend decided to check it out. Having not heard anything from the buddy in a while, the hero also travels to the district, finding the mate in a heap in an alley. Soon, the hero is attacked by the villain Yu and left for dead, only to be saved by Rui. The hero is found, recuperating, by the secretive organization NIRO. They explain that Akihabara is plagued by vampires. Furthermore, the hero is now one of the undead. The choice is simple: agree to work for NIRO and live or decline and meet a sunny, burning death. Naturally, acquiescence is the favorable option.

What follows is a brawler/RPG hybrid, a low budget Yakuza style game that forces players to strip their enemies to survive. See, in this world, vampires can survive in sunlight so long as their torso, legs or head is at least partially covered. The only way to take them down is to get the garments off of the foe. In practice, the player needs to smack the enemy around, using attacks that directly hit the head, chest or legs. When the clothing is weakened, it can then be removed. If the player does it right, they’ll get to keep the item. Mess it up and the garment can tear. The main loop then becomes doing a story mission, maybe a side quest or two, earn some cash to buy new garments or skill books and then move to the next story. As time goes on, the player can find themselves in a horror show of an outfit. Running down the streets in a proper business tie and blazer, and luxurious puffy skirt, topped off with a gas mask becomes a huge part of the appeal of these games and the latest still pays off on that front.

Part of the problem is that the onboarding is rough. Players will be tossed into fights with no instruction on how to control them. It took a while to remember how the three attack button controls worked and that it was important to buy move books to actually have a workable combat system. After the memory was jogged, the grinding for cash took place just to buy up what was needed. Still, this is expected for any series vet. The game finally, however, drops a tutorial long after it would prove useful, causing one to wonder why adjustments to the ramp up weren’t made in the much-belated port for Western audiences as this is meant to be a remaster of an old game.

Still, acknowledging that the title is being brought over as originally intended, warts and all, doesn’t alleviate the graphics. In short, this is an ugly game. The original, Japanese version of this game was a PSP title and it shows. As such, one can forgive the blocky building designs and lack of details in the environment. The lack of bringing in higher-resolution textures is harder to overlook. The district is supposed to be covered with advertisements and art generously plastered all over the world, details that made the world feel garish, consumerist and a geek’s dream. Here, with few exceptions, the art is low res, leading to grossly-pixelated messes all over. The textures that represent the storefronts also show a lack any real work, making the entire experience feel like playing a bootleg version of the other games that have been brought west and losing a large portion of the fun (the screenshots in this very review are the best case scenario). What hurts is that there are a few spots where it seemed like real effort was put in, but they are the exception.

What truly causes ruin to the game is the pop in and unclear directions. For example, there was a side quest where the player needs to hunt down a vampire impersonating a police officer. On the first attempt, the evil-doer was easy to find and start fighting, but I ate dirt and had to reload. On the second attempt, the target didn’t pop in. I explored the sub-area for a while before the fake cop popped up immediately in front of me. I was able to take him out on the second attempt, but this had me wondering if there was some sort of backwards compatibility issue as I was playing the PlayStation 4 title on a PlayStation 5. Loading it up on the older system, I quickly learned that no, it was a problem on either system.

What ended up being a showstopper was a mission to find Mr. X. Here, the player is instructed to talk to the master to learn to strip cosplay items, a friend to learn about the history of a fictional anime, and the info broker to take a quest where the reward is learning how to properly cross-dress. Then, with all of this knowledge, the player is then supposed to meet a maid in front of the local maid café while wearing the cosplay gear of IT Witch Maria in order to take a quiz. I spent hours scouring the Akihabara streets looking for that outfit. Checked every store three or four times each, talked to every NPC repeatedly, all the while checking and rechecking the in game To-Do list. I know this quest is able to be completed based on looking at the trophy list and completion percentages, but the only time I saw any cosplay outfits was during the Master’s lesson where the concept of removing cosplay items is learned. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep any of the items when I was done. Whether this was a glitch in the game or if I missed some store, I don’t know. Nor will I ever know. Patience for this issue had long since been reached, with pushing beyond the limits done solely because of the need to review.

Closing Comments:

Before beginning to play Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed, plans to write a screed defending the game while poking fun at the pure stupidity of the gameplay were already in motion. The assumption was that I would adore it the same way I did other games in the series. Instead, Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed is a buggy port of a PSP game with uprezzed geometry, character models and CG cutscenes. Everything else screams of a barebones or incomplete effort. For completionists, it’s cool to have the missing piece finally available in English. Actually playing the game, though, is simply not recommended. If the idea of killing vampires by ruining their outfits sounds intriguing, and it should, check out Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed. It’s simply a superior experience.