E3 2016: Akiba’s Beat Brings the Noise

Being a fan of Acquire’s fantastic and unique beat ’em up, Akiba’s Trip, there were some high expectations when approaching the XSEED booth for some hands on time with the spiritual successor, Akiba’s Beat. Brightly colored and lovingly detailed environments, representative of the famed Tokyo district, combined with satisfying combat were all that I was wanting. This is in there, but there is so much more to it.

As game designer Kohta Takano began taking me through a basic overview of what the game had to offer, I was impressed. The previous game was no slouch in the visual department, with its use of anime style and photos to make up the environment. As he meandered the streets and alleys, it became clear that so much more work was done to create a colorful and vibrant place to explore. All of the art and assets have been redone, creating a new environment to play in and spelunk. Even so, many elements familiar to veterans of Trip show up. So much so, that there are even some subtle continuations. For example, as he was exploring the city streets, Kohta stopped in front of one of the buildings. “In Akiba’s Trip, that was under construction. Now it is finished.” Even though I have spent oodles of time giving synthesters lethal sunburns, I never would have picked up on that. It goes to follow that all sorts of other little details will be found when Beat releases.

Akibas Beat 3

This is certainly a departure from the previous game in more ways than one. The synthesters are right out. However, there seems to be an issue with “delusions” swamping the town, creating hazardous environments, and slowly changing the city for residents with the ability to discern what is happening. Fortunately, a group of friends team up to resolve the madness and put the district back in order.

This is now done via dungeon exploration. Players will create a party of four out of the seven available characters and delve the depths. For the demo shown, the team was tasked with resolving a dungeon created by the employees of a maid cafe. They didn’t do it on purpose; their business was flagging due to the reduced popularity of the niche. The ladies were wishing hard for customers, manifesting delusion, and a dungeon formed. This was indicated from the outside by a stylized music visualizer-like overlay that seemed to dance back and forth across the building.

Akibas Beat 2

Exploring the dungeon works similarly to many JRPGs, with a maze like structure, and enemy encounters that can be triggered by attacking or being attacked. Once contact is made, the player is transferred to a smaller combat arena, where the heroes and the enemies duke it out in real time.

The combat here is rather unique, in that this is a 3D field with enemies on all sides, but the default for the player interaction is 2D. This means that the player controlled hero will automatically target an enemy, and can move straight towards them or back away, while every one else dukes it out on the field. This seems odd, but it makes it so that the player can execute stylish combos and projectile attacks with a singular focus. Should the player decide, they can hold the left bumper to initiate full movement across the battle, changing targets or teaming up with another party member. On paper, this system seems overly contrived. When playing, it works. Part of the reason is that each party member will typically be concentrating on their own foe. Should the player decide to switch over, there’s no danger of taking a cheap hit, despite the fast and frenetic pace of combat.

Another part of the reason for this decision is that there are various special attacks mapped to the right stick. Using the normal and skill attack buttons, mixing in a couple of specials by flicking the stick, and continuing on with the combo feels great. The only hope is that they have as good of a tutorial as they did for Trip. Due to the language barrier between myself and the developer, it took a while for me to come to grips with what I was supposed to be doing. Once I got it, I loved it. (For the record, a PR person had to remind me that my appointment was ending. I lost track of time. Fortunately, she was kind enough to not physically assault me.)

Akibas Beat 1

The “Beat” part comes from the Imagine Gauge. As the hero lands attacks and combos, the gauge fills. It can be triggered at anytime for a brief period of more damage. Waiting until the meter is full will unleash an enhanced form of the higher damage mode. When this happens, one of several character dependent songs will play. As it plays, the amount of additional damage will fluctuate. The chorus is when the damage is the highest. So, it’s best to save the resource dependent attacks for then, while still basking in the ass kicking that is being handed out in spades.

With everything I saw, I have high hopes for the spiritual successor to Trip. This new title feels like something special, a second love letter to one of the most prominent Japanese culture centers known across the world. Considering that the first one works better than any tourist board for encouraging a visit to the real thing, I can’t wait to feel the Beat.