Review: Akiba's Trip - Hellbound & Debriefed
By: Fernando Da Costa
Publisher: XSeed Games
Available On: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch Lite
WELCOME TO AKIHABARA! - Introduction
In 2013, North America was introduced to a strange little title - a game centred around the premise of stripping. Unbeknownst to me, it was actually the sequel to a Japan-exclusive game. Well, it’s the 10th Anniversary this year, and that unobtainable entry is no longer such, finally coming stateside with all its lunacy intact. We’re back at it again, battling creatures known as Shadow Souls, though they’re clearly vampires. Not only does the sun lead to their spontaneous combustion, but they’re also fans of nibbling on the neck - quite the romantics. The world is no longer enthralled with Twilight or True Blood, so bloodsuckers aren’t in as much as they once were. One might wonder how this PlayStation Portable port will fare in this day and age. Yup, a port, quite a scary thought for most, but we’ve seen those fears can be unwarranted. After 20+ hours of stripping and playing dress-up with my character, I have a few thoughts. So grab a cold one or make a hot beverage because, honestly, there’s a lot to say.
HELLO, FAN SERVICE! - Writing
So, there’s no sugar-coating how perverse the dialogue gets. It routinely ventures into taboo topics and does so rather nonchalantly. To its credit, though, Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed tries to be progressive with implied LGBTQ+ romance. While that’s very much appreciated, it’s, bluntly put, presented like a teenager’s wet dream of a lesbian relationship. The execution leaves a lot to be desired, and that, sadly, persists. It’s important to note that no theme is off-limits. For instance, there’s an incest scenario that‘s, thankfully, inconsequential to the main narrative. It also doesn’t involve sexual activity of any kind. For anyone curious, the section in question tasks the protagonist with dressing his younger little sister in outfits - short skirts, sexy shirts, and so on. Many folks may find this creepy and, by proxy, be deterred, so please, be wary. Otherwise, sexual innuendo is scattered throughout, with one mission even hinting at masturbation. Up to this point, I’ve discussed how depraved the content gets. That said, none of it is ever detailed in a grotesque manner. This isn’t hardcore porn masquerading as a video game. Sure, the way subjects are handled will show their age, but it never delved into offensive territory.
The story, in general, is full of comedic elements, so, naturally, insanity will follow. Despite likely laughs, however, this serves as a detriment to Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed. First impressions are crucial as they can convince a person to stay or go. Needless to say, the first few hours here are juvenile and will probably bore most. It’s a shame, too since, if you do truck on, some genuine substance does slowly manifest. Even with its stereotypical cast, I still managed to grow attached to the core bunch of characters - The Freedom Fighters. They had a strange charm to them - maybe because it’s a group of misfits. It definitely gave them an air of reliability, and hell, I chuckled at a handful of interactions, especially with Nobu. He’s, by far, my favourite and is utterly infatuated with two-dimensional women. One particular relationship that’s especially wholesome is between the protagonist and Rui. The sincerity in their conversations felt real. She had such an innocence to her personality. There’s no denying the plot is generic, but the added spice of love stories and a few entertaining exchanges was welcomed.
HIT HIM WITH A BAT! - Gameplay
One word I liberally use in my review lexicon is potential. There're many titles that, while not fantastic, could be with a few tweaks. Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed sits firmly in that category - this game needs work.
My first major gripe is those clunky controls. The buttons aren’t as responsive as they should be, and the joysticks, at times, felt like they had a mind of their own. Before I get into it, I need to get into the nitty-gritty of combat. You see, it utilizes the standard three-button combination that most brawlers follow. As I pummeled my enemies into the ground, their clothing would flash red as a prompt appeared. As I’m sure you’ve surmised, this is to indicate that stripping is a go. Now, for, I assume, convenience, that same prompt is the exact button used when attacking. For instance, X is upper, Y is mid, and A is lower. Thanks to this, mistaken outputs happen far more than they should. A simple tap gets misinterpreted as being held down, thus resulting in going into the stripping animation, even if I meant to punch a face. It only lasts a second, but the thing is, because it happens frequently, it adds up. To pile on insult to injury, I died once or twice due to being vulnerable to assault. Sure, it was never enough to make me rage quit, but I’d be damned if it wasn’t frustrating.
ROLEPLAYING A BRAWLER! - Gameplay
For those unfamiliar with this franchise, it combines Brawler and RPG. Of course, with such a genre split, one would expect grinding and rightfully so. The good news is the Protagonist has a paltry two stats - attack and defence. The optimal way to bolster these isn’t by levelling but, instead, by retrieving your opponent's clothing. You see, everyone wears apparel that can be snatched and, in turn, worn yourself. These come in three different forms: headgear, a top, and a bottom. On a related note, I just want to point out that every piece is visually represented on the character model - a nice detail.
Now, you won’t be stealing shirts off the back of your enemies from the get-go. It’s only through playing that the capability to do so is unlocked. As you play, unique books will pop up in the shops of Akihabara. Purchasing these is the ticket to obtaining new clothing. Keep in mind that those books only affect certain fashions that directly correlate with their content. For example, if it focuses on police uniforms, then it allows that very thing to be grabbed in an unscathed state, but nothing else. So while there’s still a degree of level grinding, the real meat and potatoes lies within the hunt for apparel.
At its core, Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed could be classed a collect-a-thon for the more than 300+ articles of clothing. That sounds like a stellar idea on paper, but in practice, it demands patience. To get everything, it requires multiple play-throughs. The previously touched on stilted movement and clunky controls, however, doesn’t incentivise doing so. In fact, I’m not fussed about jumping back into New Game+, and that’s a damn shame. To complement the play-throughs, there are several endings waiting to be uncovered. I’d, typically, be all for discovering them but that uninspired gameplay is my main deterrent. It legitimately boggles my mind that this 10th-anniversary release is so lacklustre. There’s minimal care or refinements made to bring this into the modern era. The reports claim that a brand new game engine was built for this, yet it still resembles a decade-old game. I applaud the English dub because it’s well done. That doesn’t negate the fact that more resources should’ve been allocated to polishing Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed and bringing it into the new decade.
AVOID THE SUNLIGHT! - Accessibility
One thing I won’t ever take for granted is the ability to remap buttons. Due to my extensive nerve damage to the right side of my body, my reflexes are abysmal - being in my thirties likely doesn’t help. Additionally, my brain doesn’t always communicate well with my fingers. These two factors are troublesome, specifically for pressing the shoulder buttons - more so R1. It’s especially problematic because that very button is used to dodge, meaning it’s frequently called on. The awkwardness of tapping R1, let alone doing so consistently, feels like an unnatural movement. In cases like this, I tend to favour both triggers because of my hand positioning. Both pointer fingers hover directly over each, thus making continuously tapping feel more natural in comparison. That’s why it’s very unfortunate that Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed doesn’t offer the option to alter the control scheme.
It’s well documented I love pixel art, and part of that is because I struggle with depth perception. The atrocious camera in this game doesn’t help that. Thanks to it, it was difficult to discern my exact position in regard to my enemies. The way I normally fix this is a lock-on system, but, unsurprisingly, there is none. As a result, there were various occasions of me aimlessly flailing around to no effect. What further added to my growing frustration was not being able to adjust my trajectory mid-combo. If I wasn’t aligned from the start, I had to allow the sequence to play out before I could correct my positioning. As my character cycled through, though, I was vulnerable. This is not only archaic but also stilted the combat itself. Sure, I could just shift the camera to mitigate my perception of the action, but that’s a bad idea as it contributes to slow-downs.
TAKE IT OFF! - Performance
From a technical standpoint, Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed is, without a doubt, certifiably terrible. Not only does it suffer from stutters, but also lock-ups, the aforementioned slow down, and worst of all crashes.
The stutters and slow-down usually occur simultaneously. It‘s especially noticeable in large groups of enemies. The console had difficulty displaying all the clothing being ripped off. This issue is exacerbated further by those atrocious camera angles. It had a horrible habit of bouncing around and occasionally being obstructed. This, in conjunction with zipping around to try and adjust it, caused frame drops. Thankfully, this is easily circumvented by steering clear of enclosed spaces. Although, the stutters will continue no matter what. There are a few sections of town that by simply entering can cause these hiccups too. Okay, the game was never unplayable, but that doesn’t hide how unacceptable this is.
While the lock-ups are also egregiously annoying, they, at least, seem concentrated. I suffered most in a specific area - the rooftop. While I don’t know what triggers it, I have a guess. As you make headway through the journey, more and more Shadow Souls confront you. This can devolve into an endless funnel of battles in smaller areas. After defeating each one in sight, the protagonist holsters their weapon. Enemies, however, keep on coming, meaning it’s possible to enter a constant cycle of perpetual sheathing and unsheathing. That’s when it usually happens, and, thankfully, it sometimes can solve itself. That, however, requires either the opposing NPC to hit you or Lady Luck to smile. Neither option is great because the AI is horrible and it actually sorting itself occurs randomly. Note that I suffered this elsewhere but never to the same frequency as I did on the Rooftop.
ANIME IS COOL! - Sound Design
I’m impressed by the voice acting. It won’t compete with bigger titles, mind you, but that’s irrelevant - it doesn’t have to. The delivery was much better than I expected, proving that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It gave life to an otherwise bland script and injected the cast with charisma. It’s because of this that Nobu resonated with me so much. I understood his awkwardness because of his cadence and mannerisms. The passion he exhibited for his anime hobby was more than evident. It was impossible not to be amused by his ramblings, even though it incited a headshake. They were, however, accompanied by a smile, so there’s that. As for the emotive performances - the majority were average, but I must acknowledge the tiny glimmers of authenticity. As you’ve assuredly, noticed, I single out the Freedom Fighters as exceptionally done in the writing section, and this is why. The voice acting gave them so much life.
AND THE STRIPPED VERDICT IS…
Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed wants to tap into nostalgia. As a result, however, they sacrificed updating the graphical fidelity and leaving in clunky gameplay. With word that this engine was built specifically for this re-release, I expected more, perhaps foolishly. It’s a real shame because the sequel on PlayStation 4 is tons of fun. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as the voice acting is a real treat - far better than I anticipated. There are a few genuine moments mixed in with all the perversion of the story. Nobu is, no question, the best character - I chuckled because of him. Every Freedom Fighter has this odd charm, and some other characters, like Suzu, are friggin adorable. Speaking of hers, as well as the others, all have beautifully drawn portraits. I now leave you with this: I’ve always believed a bad story can be ignored if gameplay is great. This game, sadly, is an example of the complete opposite and showcases how, unfortunately, it doesn’t have legs to stand on with a serviceable story but bad gameplay.
Wait for a sale on Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed. While its genre is a recipe for dumb fun, the game fails to nail it. Maybe check out reviews on the PlayStation 4 version. For the Switch, I give it a 5.
Thank you to XSeed, who provided a code for the purposes of this review