Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed was a game that I wasn’t expecting to stick with me when I played it on the PlayStation Vita in 2015. From its slapstick humor, unique and intuitive gameplay, and a world that so closely mirrored Akihabara, the level of immersion while staying true to its campy subsistence made for a great time. The series stumbled afterward, with the release of the mediocre RPG Akiba’s Beat in 2016, but when I heard the PlayStation Portable game that started it all was going to get an updated re-release I was optimistic that it would push the series in the right direction.
Unfortunately, I can’t say this happened. Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed is a product of its time for better and for worse, and Acquire’s efforts made towards refurbishing a game that just turned a decade old can only be described as lackluster. Instead of a solid remaster or remake that brings in old and new fans of the series while making necessary improvements, Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed plays more like an unstable port of a PSP game, which is so unfortunate as someone who really liked Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed. It’s so sad seeing this be the second time an Akiba’s Trip game has been mediocre because I believe in this series and its potential, but it seems like Marvelous and Acquire don’t.
The game starts in a dark alley somewhere in Akihabara, the tech capital of Japan. As you sit collapsed, you watch your best friend get the life seeped out of him by a Shadow Soul, a vampire-like creature that has been linked to a larger group of disappearances in the city. A mysterious girl named Rui saves you from the brink of death by mixing your blood with hers – making you one of them. You eventually get rescued by some agents from the National Intelligence and Research Organization (NIRO), only to find out there’s a larger conspiracy to take over the city. Cooperating with them, you assemble an eclectic squad called the Akiba Freedom Fighters to take down the Shadow Souls and save Akihabara.
Oh, and how do you take them out? By stripping their clothes in combat and exposing them to the light, of course! They’re kinda like vampires after all, which also means that you can’t lose your clothes or it’s game over.
Aside from the obvious, If this sounds like an aggressively mid-tier anime game then you would be correct, but the writing frequently ricocheted from average to borderline uncomfortable due to its age. While most of the dialogue was pretty bland (don’t use the English dub, trust me), some moments – such as an entire mission arc dedicated to why high school girls are the best to strip down – felt very… stuck in 2011, for lack of a better term.
Yes, this isn’t a game you play for the plot – and I’m a sucker for some silly fanservice just like everyone else – but even then Marvelous could’ve gone the extra mile by making the dialogue less reliant on tropes. The main narrative is already similar to Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed, as in both games you get saved last-minute by turning into a half-vampire-half-human-hybrid and form a NEET collective to take down similar enemies. Side missions also offered a fun way to feel the immersion of Akihabara and get rewards, but be prepared to put in work to get enough cash for new outfits and weapons.
So enough about all this, how does “stripping” work? The game plays like a traditional brawler, stringing together combos and beating up bad guys on the streets of Akihabara. As you continue to beat people up, their clothes will start to flash blue, indicating that you can tear them off by holding down the respective attack button. This causes their defenses to go down, and you’ll need to tear off nearly every piece of clothing to make a Shadow Soul evaporate into nothingness. You find Shadow Souls by utilizing your phone’s camera, and you’ll know it’s them because they won’t appear when a picture is taken.
It’s a system that’s humorous and rewarding, as you can wear any clothing you tear off other people. However, I’d be more enthusiastic about combat if it… actually worked better. Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed doesn’t control very well; moving around is stiff, the camera was hard to wrangle at times, and inputs at times were so clunky that I didn’t want to get into random battles unless they were story-related. Combos… worked, but even then it was a cycle of “input your combo, the enemy gets knocked over, wait until they get back up” and repeat until you could take off their clothes. This back-and-forth between lengthy smack-fests and getting attacked by a horde of enemies while you’re mashing every button to no avail became tiring, and it’s such a shame because Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed’s combat is what drew me into the game.
Something I’ll always give the Akiba’s Trip series credit for is its commitment to immersion, which never gets old. Walking around digital replications of the maid cafes and SEGA arcades never gets old, although the fidelity of this was a bit more realistic in later entries due to the use of actual licensed names and characters. The areas you get to roam in Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed are much smaller, probably due to this game not being as open-world, but the attention to detail never gets old.
Although, it’s hard to appreciate this attention to detail when the graphics aren’t great. I mentioned a little earlier in this review that the game seemed to be just the original with some added shaders, which can also be seen in some jagged level geometry, short draw distances, pop-in, and pixelated textures. What makes this worse is that the performance is far from pleasant, with constant frame drops in the overworld and the frame rate as a whole never going above 30 frames-per-second. One mission had me beating up a bunch of rowdy otaku outside of a store, and I had to restart it multiple times because the frame rate was so bad I couldn’t keep up with what was going on. It didn’t improve when I docked my Nintendo Switch either, and it’s disappointing when considering that the game seems to run fine on every other platform – again, this is a near-port of a game that was released ten years ago. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be running smoothly.
I could go on, but Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed was another disappointing entry in a series that hasn’t been on a straight path since 2014, following the critically panned ARPG Akiba’s Beat. I was intrigued by the idea of bringing back an overlooked entry in the PSP’s library to modern systems and a new fanbase, but I’d go as far as to say that you’re better off just playing the original or Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed. Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed might be worth sticking through for the experience of feeling like you’re wandering through Akihabara, but the clunky combat, thin plot, and poor performance make this a stripped-down experience. I really hope one day we can get a brand new Akiba’s Trip game that hits all the marks, but at this point, I’m wondering if the developers even want to.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by XSEED Games