There's a weird new trend going through the games industry at the moment - a trend for sequels that aren't sequels. First there was Prey, a shooter sequel that bore no resemblance at all to its 2006 namesake (and which didn't live up to its forebear for that same reason) - and now we have Akiba's Beat, a game that, up until the moment we started playing, we were convinced would be a sequel to 2014's vampire stripping action game, Akiba's Trip. And it's easy enough to see why - with the same developer, the same location, a similar art style, and a very similar name, by rights this should be a sequel that provides plenty of vampire stripping fun. Only, it's not. And it's no worse for it.
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Instead, Akiba's Beat is perhaps what's best described as a Persona-lite - a Japanese role playing game that tells the story of a group of teens, brought together through extenuating circumstances, as they take on a mysterious force that's affecting life in the famous Akihabara district of Tokyo. With the nerd capital of Japan not being quite as affluent as it once was, the plot essentially revolves around a group of people known as "delusers" - some often innocent folk who are simply so fixated on the past, and so hooked on the glory days of the Akihabara of old, they're actually causing the town to change based their inner desires - and making dungeons known as Delusionscapes appear in the process. But the Delusionscapes have actually had a much bigger effect on Akihabara than simply causing a few doors and obsession-related paraphernalia to appear - they've actually ended up causing time to repeat itself.
Thrust into this mess is a young chap named Asahi, a proud "NEET" (or someone who's Not in Employment, Education or Training), who was living the life of riley in the otaku paradise until the Delusionscapes started popping up. One day, after ending up running late to meet his friend yet again, he finds himself stuck in a world of endlessly repeating Sundays - and for the first time in his life, he'll actually have to put some effort in if he wants to figure out what's going on. Along the way, he'll meet up with the sassy Saki and her flying fat pink Pikachu-like companion Pinkun; idol sensation Mippity Mop, and the slightly emo Yamato Hongo, amongst others, as they team up to try find the delusers, clear the Delusionscapes, and break the dark forces' stranglehold on both the Akihabara they once knew, and the delusers themselves.
What follows is actually a really interesting, twisting plot, that you'll want to keep playing through to the very end. While it may not be quite up there with the Persona or Danganronpa games, the actual story here, which is relayed through visual novel style cutscenes, has enough intrigue (and questions!) here to keep you coming back. As it turns out, even spotting the deluser who could be causing the Delusionscapes to appear may be harder than you might think. With everyone else stuck in a time loop, you'd think it would be easy enough - all you've got to do is find the person whose routine changes from day to day - but as the deluser changing their routine would also change the routine of the people they once met, it all becomes a lot more complex than you might expect.
While the dungeons may provide most of the traditional gameplay here, they're also, sadly, one of the more disappointing parts of the game. Surreal, dream-like environments, each totally themed around the secret desires of the character that's created them, each dungeon is overflowing with enemies - it's just the battles aren't anywhere near as good as they should be.
Unlike Persona (much to our disappointment), Akiba's Beat has a real time, button mashing battle system - only, in a similar manner to Ni No Kuni, there's a few arbitrary limits imposed here to stop you going overboard with your mashing of buttons. Although the game doesn't deem it necessary to tell you about it, you actually have a move gauge at the bottom of the screen, and everything you do, from basic attacks, to special skills, and even dodging will slowly drain it. Once you've done more than the four or so moves the game initially allows, you'll have to wait a few seconds for it to replenish, leading to much confusion when you first start playing the game, as you sit mashing the buttons wondering why your character's suddenly stopped attacking. In later fights, this can sometimes cause bigger problems, as it becomes more and more important to dodge the big, heavy damage dealing moves - and if you count your moves wrong, or end up pressing the buttons once or twice more than you intended, you might find yourself being unable to dodge when you need to.
Beyond the basic attacks, you also have access to a number of special skills, which you can perform by pressing X, and pushing different directions on either the left or right analogue stick. A little bit of an unusual control scheme, in that you'll also need to use the left stick to move around, perhaps the biggest issue here is again the game's counters. Using skills will drain your Skills Points, which makes perfect sense - but beyond the bar on the screen slowly depleting, there's no audible warning when you actually run out of points. With so much to keep track of in battles as it is, it can be hard to constantly keep one eye on your skills meter as well - and if you end up using one skill too many, you'll simply be left sitting there, mashing the button, wondering why nothing's happening - at least until you get used to things.
Another issue we had, at least initially, was that our teammates kept running out of SP. While you can regain SP by attacking normally, our friends were seemingly way too skill spam happy, and kept running themselves totally dry. Luckily, you do have a few options for adjusting your team's "strategies" - you can tell them to not go down below a certain percentage of skill points; set whether you want them to go after the nearest, strongest or weakest enemies (or the same enemy as you); and can decide whether you'd rather they attack with mostly skills, only skills, mostly heal, only heal, guard a lot, or decide for themselves - but until you've managed to get the balance just right, you'll still find them either running out of available SP when they need it the most, or simply not bothering healing you when your health gets really low.
Still, despite the fact they would have been better if they were either properly real time, or properly turn based, the battles in Akiba's Beat are functional enough - and if nothing else, they open the door to plenty of satisfying levelling up.
Outside of the battles, while there's not quite as much to do as there is in some role playing games, Akiba's Beat still provides plenty of distractions. There are occasional sub quests to take on, which offer you some insight into character back stories; a range of collectable cards you can buy; and, of course, a semi-realistically modelled Akihabara to explore, back alleys and all. We say semi-realistic, as while a lot of the buildings exist in real life, and are in the right places in game, the developers don't have the licenses to use all the right names - so the UDX building becomes UBX in game, Radio Kaiken becomes Radiola Kaikan, and JR, or Japan Rail, has turned into UR. Still, it's cool to take in the sights and sounds, even if you can't go in most of the shops.
But really, it's the story that keeps Akiba's Beat going, and the voice acting that carries it through. While many Japanese games, and particularly role playing games can sometimes be a bit hit and miss, there's not a single duff line in Akiba's Beat, with every single sentence delivered with pitch perfect emotion, heart, and sometimes even snark. With a great story, an equally catchy soundtrack, some impressive voice acting, a reasonable battle system and a vaguely authentic recreation of Akihabara to explore, Akiba's Beat is a game you'll keep coming back to until you've seen it through to its conclusion. One of the better role playing games on the PS4, if you've finished Persona 5, and are looking to take on a similar tale, this is well worth a look.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4