Akiba's Trip is a silly game and if you don't know what 'otaku' is it's likely not for you. That's because this game is equal parts parody of and love letter to otaku (see: hardcore fan of anime, manga, and the trappings that go with it) culture. I read a number of reviews to prepare for my own and it became quickly apparent which reviews were written by people who understood that, and which weren't.
You are Nanashi, an otaku obsessed with rare figurines. You accept a job that promises to pay in rare figurines but during the interview process you're turned into a Synthister, a type of psychic vampire. You see, Synthisters feed off the emotions of humans and Akihabara, the anime and gaming mecca district of Japan, is overflowing with excitable otaku ripe for feeding.
But before things get really bad you're saved by Shizuku Tokikaze, a mysterious young girl with strange power, and returned to your friends at MOGRA, a gaming bar in Akiba. Together you all work together to save the inhabitants of Akihabara from the threat posed by Synthisters and unravel the mystery of their interest in the district.
The charm of Akiba's Trip is how it both revels in and pokes fun at okatu culture. Anime, pop idols, games: it's all here for the referencing and the jokes. Even the title is a pun. Admittedly the humor, and even the story itself, is unsophisticated but that's really the point. It's not trying to transcend the subjects it's parodying to make a greater observation.
PTo me this was the best part of the game. There's a strong otaku streak in my DNA and since I'll likely never get to visit Akihabara I thought this was a good place to sample what I could. And I was right. Over 130 stores that actually exist in Akiba are recreated for you to purchase wares from, advertisements for real businesses are displayed during loading screens, incidental background dialog is in Japanese, and store facades haven't been translated, existing how you'd see them walking the street today. A lot of care went into recreating the real world location for your virtual enjoyment.
This isn't to say there aren't some problems, because there are and they'll likely keep me from playing the game's "New Game +" mode.
First, load screens are everywhere. You'll see lot of those advertisements for real businesses in Akiba because you're going to see a lot of load screens. Akihabara has been sliced up into bite-sized chunks that require a load screen to navigate between. Eventually I simply got tired of them and fast traveled to each location via the in-game map instead. To make matters worse, upon your arrival to a new zone the space is liken to a ghost town. It takes time for the area to populate, with people popping in over time. The thing is, this game shouldn't be pressing the Vita's capabilities. The visuals are nice, but nothing that should trouble the hardware. I understand the PS3 has the same exact problems.
So, when you're trying to initiate a side-mission, or turn one in, a lot of the time you simply have to wait in a zone until the NPC you need to talk to pops in. And to make matters worse you must visually locate them. The in-game map gives you a rough idea of where your objective is, but you only get waypoints for main quest missions. Side quests are further complicated by how the time you're allotted to complete each one doesn't take into account unskippable dialog scenes.
For example I took up a side-quest for my little sister, Nana. She lives in a back room at the gaming bar MOGRA. Upon my return to MOGRA I hit an unskippable dialog sequence because I also had a main story mission to return there as well. Upon exiting it I was informed I failed the side-mission because I didn't return to Nana in time. She was literally in the next room!
I also failed a side-mission because I initiated an unbreakable series of main story missions unawares after accepting it.
Not to say the side-missions are particularly good. They're really not. Most are go-fetch quests.
On the gameplay front Akiba's Trip is a fairly standard brawler. You execute high, medium, and low attacks to damage your opponent's garments enough to tear them off. There's a reason for this! Most of your enemies are Synthisters, like yourself, and immolate when exposed to the sun. When you strip them down to their undergarments they go poof. So do you if they can manage to do the same.
I know this is probably the most controversial element of the game but I assure you there's nothing sexual or titillating about it. Neither is it exploitative as you're going to disrobe as many men as you will women. The camera doesn't lavishly ogle anyone's form, and bodies are about as enticing as a department store mannequin. The game only approaches blatant sexualization after the defeat of a boss, when you're given a detailed picture of them scantily clad among the tattered ruins of their garments.
The three NPC bosses I faced were men, and one girl from my MOGRA friends (it was a misunderstanding I got sucked into). You can fight some of the other MOGRA girls and obtain pictures of them as well, but it will take multiple playthroughs for a single snapshot. If you want cheap anime titillation there's more efficient ways to spend your time.
The game uses a soft lock on system to keep you on a single target. I often found myself wanting to switch targets and it was a chore to get the game to do so. Most of the time I had to walk in a quick circle to attack someone directly behind me. Once you get used to this it's not so bad, but there's no reason it couldn't be fixed. Blocking is accomplished by holding down the right shoulder button and will usually block anything but strong attacks. Depressing the left shoulder button will completely heal you, but it will also leave you open to attack. Overall I found the combat pretty easy, but also frustrating because of the hordes of enemies thrown at you later in the game. I've read that the combat becomes more tactical at higher difficulties so that's something to consider. Although you can only unlock the highest difficulty after one complete playthrough.
Dealing with the hordes becomes a little easier when you trigger combo attacks with your partner, and when you chain disrobing attacks across multiple enemies. In fact I'd say the game wants you to deal with most battles this way and that's why it throws so much at you so often.
As I mentioned earlier over 130 stores from Akihabara are recreated for you to purchase various goods from. You can purchase potions but I never had need to use one. Clothing, accessories, and weapons are the main reason you'll be visiting them. Each item affects your base attributes but I found that you may be sacrificing combat effectiveness for fashion. One of the selling points of the game is how many clothing options there are but I ignored most of them because they were typically detrimental to my combat stats. As you become familiar with your friends at MOGRA you'l be able to change up their outfits too but, for the same reasons I didn't change mine, I usually left them in their default gear.
Besides, they're grown-up. They know how to dress themselves.
I found the sound design pleasant and the English dubbing excellent. Particular accolades goes to the voice actress for Nana. Her deadpan delivery was great. Never had I imagined "bro" could be worked into so many puns. I understand you can switch to the original Japanese voice acting on the PS3 version if that's your preference, but I've never understood Western anime fans' distaste for their native language.
Despite the game's shortcomings (did I mention that the in-game menu is your smartphone but you can't use the Vita's touchscreen to navigate it?) I enjoyed my time in virtual Akiba. If asked I'd recommend it to anyone who might consider themselves an otaku and are looking for a light romp through an imperfect brawler with charming characters and a dose of irreverence for the people most likely to purchase it.