And the Beat goes on:
Despite it’s stumbles, I enjoyed Akiba’s Trip when it came out a few years ago. When I heard the game was getting a music-orientated psuedo-sequel in Akiba’s Beat, I was quietly excited – even if you can’t strip sexy vampires to kill them anymore.
Akiba’s Beat has echoes of groundhog day in its story, with an endless Sunday loop acting as the setting for your trip this time round. You and your team of anime stereotypes have to combat the delusions of Akihabara’s own populace, and it’s here that ugly comparisons rear their head for the first time. Whilst there are enough wrinkles to set Akiba’s Beat apart – especially as the story develops later in the game – it’s hard not to notice how similar the thematic elements are to this year’s Persona 5. I don’t think it’s intentional as I doubt many JRPGs would want to be mentioned in the same breath as that behemoth, but this similarity definitely does not work in Beat’s favour.
The story is okay, for the most part, and the localization is very fun. There’s just an awful lot of it. I consistently went for what seemed like hours between genuine gameplay hammering through dialogue that I never got a say in, and none of it was unique enough to really grab my attention. Exposition is clumsily barfed out by characters every now and then in a text dump and it all starts to wear on you pretty quick.
Akiba’s Beat has shifted the series from a mindless brawler to an equally mindless JRPG, and I’m not sure its for the better. Whilst the active battle system is straight out of a Tales Of game – a series I wish would get ripped off more often – it doesn’t do anything interesting with these arena set ups. You can move freely around the space, lock into a 2D plane to fight enemies with regular and special attack combos and take down threats in a more organic way than most turn based affairs allow. It works – but that’s kind of it. It’s perfectly serviceable, but Beat doesn’t mix it up enough to keep things interesting, and it takes far too long for this game to really start challenging you.
It’s not just the stripping mechanic that was lost in the transition to Beat. There’s a lot less things to do in general, with plenty of tertiary features being streamlined or lost altogether. During your time with Beat you’ll either be sitting through reams of text or fighting, with very little to mix things up in between. This gameplay loop would be fine if Akiba’s Beat was a little more streamlined or instantly gratifying, but the devs haven’t quite got the balance right and oftentimes its dungeon crawls are a slog.
I don’t think it would have saved Beat, but it’s unfortunate it’s been released after the Western launch of Yakuza 0. That game truly captured Tokyo – albeit an 1980s version of it – in an incredibly accomplished way. Akiba’s Beat … doesn’t. Despite cribbing from stylistic visual shortcuts that worked in something like Tokyo Mirage Sessions, such as the colourful silhouettes that populate the street, Akiba feels flat and lifeless here because of it. It doesn’t help that Akiba’s Beat seems like a step down from the visuals seen in its predeccesor – a very strange phenomenon indeed. When I visited for the umpteenth time last year Akihabara still evoked a sense of wonder and joy in me, but none of that translates to Beat’s dull rendition of one of the world’s most exciting places.
The blandness of the visuals is also present in the audio side of things. The english dub – mixed with an awkward script – makes for uneasy listening. Thankfully Akiba’s Beat lets you choose the Japanese dub, so you can turn that on and pretend everything’s okay! (but it isn’t).
“Akiba’s Beat” often feels like a Frankenstein’s Monster of JRPG mechanics taken from wildly popular series and stapled together. If you’d told me that a game set in the gaming mecha of Akiba had elements from Persona 5, Tales of and Tokyo Mirage Sessions I’d be sure it would be a winner, but Akiba’s Beat takes those inspirations and waters them down until the end result is a bland affair. There were stretches where I genuinely enjoyed Akiba’s Beat, but it doesn’t do enough to warrant the commitment needed to see things through – especially when there are so many other games vying for your money and, more importantly, time.