There are some things in this world that we’re not supposed to understand – why earphone wires magically create knots when you’re not looking, the plot of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and why this title exists.
Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed, or perhaps more accurately ‘Akiba Strip’, is a re-master of the 2011 PSP release, Akiba’s Trip, and is exactly what it sounds like – an anime strip game – existing as one big in-joke for those ‘not just your average bear’ anime fans.
There is a plot – believe it or not – which sets you and your freedom fighting team against vampire-like creatures. To eradicate this threat, you must kill them in broad daylight by stripping them of their clothes and letting the sun do the rest.
Before we transition to the ‘what’ and the ‘oh god why’, let’s address the appeal of this title’s more innocent features – its map and visuals. Akihabara – the Otaku holy ground – is represented well with the main streets explorable and the remastered visuals and 60fps giving the general aesthetic a nice warm hue to bumble about in. Like a mini segmented open-world, you are able to access each area as you wish via menu screen, and can complete side missions, play mini-games or just randomly attack pedestrians. NPCs such a police officer, a charity worker, tourists and office workers fill the map and interact with each other bringing a realistic-ish tone to the accurate map.
A setting in which to enjoy a story is far from a reason to run to the stores and scream for the brown paper bag that should accompany this though. Unable to escape the lake of perversion it’s been cast in, the redeeming features are soon absorbed into a monster that I, personally, couldn’t wait to be rid of.
I also should add that I’m not particularly averse to games that go against the norm, I gave Date a Live: Rio Reincarnation – an anime dating simulator – 10/10, as an example, and have visited Akihabara many a time for anime and video game memorabilia – just not for things as extreme as this.
Comparing it to an existing title you’d probably say that it’s like a poor man’s Persona mixed with GTA NPC mechanics due to its location, anime visuals and ability to attack anyone walking on the map. Even the battle system, which contains plenty of normal attacks seems reasonable enough, but its purpose is more than a little bit suspect.
Turning part-vampire after being bitten by a fanged beast, you – like in every vampire drama ever made – decide that your attacker is now a potential love interest all the while a shadowy organization forcibly enlists you to their cause to unclothe the undead. All above board up to this point, I’m sure you’ll agree, and to play devil’s advocate, it should also be noted that with violence – context is everything. A fight with intentions to tell a story, regardless of how violent, is easy to get behind, but facilitating the senseless and random attacks on unsuspecting and defenseless characters is quite the opposite and is something I’ve never understood the appeal of, despite being a huge fan of city-based open-world games.
This brings us to the elephant in the room and the gameplay mechanic the entire game is built around – stripping young girls (enemies or NPCs) of their clothes completely against their will. As if that’s not bad enough, the worst part is actually the way it’s portrayed as there isn’t a single acknowledgment of how obscene these actions or predicaments are, instead it’s embraced like a badge of honor and played straight, like its barely hidden hentai references and explanations for manly uses of used anime girl figurines – it’s as normal as asking about the weather.
The lengths the game takes to try to convince you that there is context for this behavior is impressive, but needless to say, it’s painfully obvious that this game was made with this mechanic in mind and everything else is secondary. Missions mostly involve the putting on and taking off of clothing – the former in the form of disguises/cosplaying and the latter in the form of indecent assault amidst the rise of the geeky vampires.
The strange thing is, if the declothing mechanic/random violence against women and perverted conversation were to be removed, due to its absurdity, this could have actually been an amusing anime game. Memorizing the backstory of a fictitious anime, and cosplaying to get into a top-secret meeting with vampires, there is potential for 4th wall-breaking humor and blatant self-deprecating laughs, but instead, you get to do things like flirt with your sister.
I’ll admit that there are games and an age rating for everyone. You know what you’re in for with an ‘M for Mature’, but this title has seemingly done everything it can to make it seem acceptable and ‘cool’. Even one of the worst offenders of gratuitous violence in GTA pales in comparison here. To GTA‘s credit, it used a fake city and made its most enjoyable weapons ones that most of the world’s population couldn’t acquire, but most importantly of all, it’s clear as day that the main characters are awful human beings, which most would find hard to relate to and consider emulating. Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed, on the other hand, bases itself in a real place, encourages behavior that anyone can copy and makes seemingly sane characters – who you can customize to look like yourself – carry out the actions, making the proposition of copying said actions seem far from strange.
Fans will likely be too giddy that this ‘niche of the niche’ title has made it to the west at all (it was previously a Japan-exclusive release), but the remaster does little to improve the poor loading times and outdated elements. Every element has been bettered and surpassed elsewhere. Akiba’s Beat, the most recent game in the Akiba series, expands the Akihabara map and adds many more shops, if you’re looking for Tokyo-based action then Persona 5 Strikers or Neo – The World Ends With You has it beat, and finally if you are looking for a genuine Tokyo atmosphere then the Yakuza series is your best bet. Unless you’ve been looking for this specific stripping mechanic, there’s very little of value here.
Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed is the embodiment of fan service, trying to combine as many extreme and deviant otaku culture elements in one ‘cute and cuddly’ anime wrapper. With any potential drowned out by the noise of the shockingly appalling gameplay mechanic and the atmosphere it produces, this – in addition to the objectively aged elements – make it impossible to recommend. Because despite how much we wouldn’t like to admit it, the games we play reflect ourselves in some way and admitting that this is part of your gaming collection could be rather damning.