The Akiba’s Trip franchise is one that has sat in my periphery for quite a while. I’ve taken notice of the fact that it has a pretty loving fanbase and it’s hard to not notice its very slapstick core of combat and gameplay. Games like Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed are a love letter to Japan’s Akihabara District with pretty cornball JRPG stories and mechanics built on top of them, so those who know Undead & Undressed is actually a sequel might be very interested to see the original game (or rather, Akiba’s Trip Plus - an expanded version) has been HD remastered for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC in the form of Akiba's Trip: Hellbound & Debriefed. There might be something here for fans of the franchise, but there’s so much archaic design and frustration holding Hellbound and Undressed back that I found it hard to find redeeming qualities for anyone else that might be checking this out.
The worst friend a fellow could have
Here’s the premise that kicks Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Undressed narrative: Akihabara in Japan is a happening place to be, the otaku capital of the country. So happening, in fact, that it attracts not only loads of young people, but vampiric creatures called Shadow Souls who blend in and feed on them in secret, leaving them listless, sick shut-ins after the attacks. It just so happens that you, the protagonist, have a friend that is attacked by a Shadow Soul. You go to help him in a dark alley and it goes predictably wrong as the smarmy Shadow Soul who attacked your friend also attacks you and leaves you for dead. That is, until another sympathetic Shadow Soul steps in and gives you their blood, turning you into one of them.
From here, you are recovered by an organization named NIRO that operates in secret to try to dig up and defeat the Shadow Soul threat in Akihabara. As a new Shadow Soul with a sense of self, they want your help and strength to fight back. Despite the fact that the whole powderkeg of this story is that you were concerned for your attacked friend, you can also make pretty off-color and perverted choices for which NIRO will kill you for being a total jerk. Then, you get to start the intro over from the beginning and make a choice not to be dumb to continue the game. Two things are of note here. One, there’s a fast-forward dialogue button which is a lifesaver for dumb deaths like that, and two, your friend doesn’t ever become anymore important to the narrative. Despite being told you can visit them and see what Shadow Soul attack does for a person, you don’t. They don’t even really have a name throughout the game.
And that’s kind of an issue with a lot of Hellbound and Debriefed. Strap yourself in for a story that occasionally tries to pull you in only to do one or several either narratively or mechanically shallow things that almost feel like they’re there to punish you for daring to get invested. Don’t get me wrong, you get involved with NIRO and your local band of friends to discover the truth of the Shadow Souls, but the story is dragged down a lot by annoying elements.
One of my near breaking points was a part in which you get an actually interesting plot twist regarding the Shadow Souls, only to be immediately yanked away from that thread to go do chores for a comically over-the-top martial arts instructor that sends you on an obnoxious fetch quest for several very particular items with no hints as to where you might find them - just your own stubborn scouring of shops and attention to detail to guide you. There’s a story here that some folks will find interesting. It’s just dreadfully buried under a lot of things that test one’s patience to keep up with it.
No brain, only strip
Let’s get down to the gameplay. Hellbound & Debriefed follows other Akiba’s Trip game styles in which you can collect a wide array of items to use as weapons, from wooden swords, to sturdy keyboards, to anime girl body pillows. As you and your opponents are essentially vampires, the way to defeat them is to damage their clothes and then engage in a grapple to rip them off to expose the Shadow Souls to direct sunlight, which will fry them. They can do the same to you with that exact effect too, so it’s a battle to keep your clothes on while essentially knocking theirs off, with attacks dedicated to high (hats and headgear), mid (shirts, jackets, etc.), and low (pants, skirts, etc) focus.
Let’s put aside sleazy perceptions of this for a sec. I actually think it’s a funny way to kill a vampire, and beating them up with comic book store props falls right in line with that. You even get a way to detect Shadow Souls among regular people where if you take a picture, Shadow Souls won't appear in the photo. That's cool, too. What I don’t like is how boring and/or frustrating Hellbound & Debriefed’s combat is when these concepts actually come into play. For most of the game, in one-on-one fights, you can just mash the bejeezus out of heavy and light attacks until their clothes flash red, strip them, and be done with it. Occasionally, they will dodge your attacks, so you just change your timing slightly. Rinse and repeat.
Then, occasionally, the age of the game will just outright confound things. When you get in a fight with like… three attackers or more, they will just gather up on you and you have to run around a lot before picking when to poke or you’ll basically get swarmed in a never-ending repetition of knockdown attacks until your clothes are dust. A fight can end in a few seconds if you catch the group in some sweeping attacks. Same thing if they knock you down and then just ratpack you. It doesn’t help that after years leading up to this HD remaster, they didn’t add a lock-on/target button. They also didn’t add an auto save, so saving frequently is crucial if you don’t want to lose precious progress and do a bunch of things over because of a stupid death. Seriously, you can die from mini-games like strip rock-paper-scissors in this and it's an actual game over.
Speaking of aged things, the HD remaster didn’t do much for the looks or sounds of this game. I’d say the best thing going for it is the voice acting and redone portraits, which put it more in line with Dead & Undressed’s quality. However, the entire world still looks drab and dated, even for as lively a place as Akihabara. The characters have the same stoic faces no matter what, with flappy lip effects when they talk. Moreover, the grunts for women or men in combat all sound pretty much the same, even between the protagonist and similarly sexed opponents. Meanwhile, grainy real-life stock images of shops, generic NPCs, and the same oddly placed hip-hop song inhabit every single store in the game. I understand there’s a lot of polish involved in making a 2013 game look good again. I’m also saying that polish feels barely applied to a lot of aspects here.
Akiba’s Trip down a flight of stairs into an almost cool pose
I won’t deny I’m a little salty in my critique of Hellbound & Undressed, but it’s mostly because I fought to enjoy this game and it fought me back most of the way. Where it was almost intriguing, it shoved me into inane chores with obscure clues to complete them. Where it was almost exciting, it tripped me up with boring repetition. Where voice acting and well-crafted portraits do their best to emote for the characters, they are overlayed on a 2013 PSP that still looks like 2013 PSP game (and not in a good way). Hellbound & Undressed has elements fans will enjoy, and if you dig, you can find quirky and interesting things here, but if it catches you having too much fun, be prepared to have that stripped from you like a finely quaffed set of Shadow Soul clothes. This game is a constant chore to enjoy and should be reserved for the folks that really want to see where the series began.
This review is based upon a PlayStation 4 digital copy supplied by the publisher. Akiba’s Trip: Hellbound & Undressed comes out on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC via Steam on July 20, 2021.
Akiba's Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed
- Occasional glimpses of an interesting story
- Core concept of combat is zany and original
- Fan props and clothes as weapons and armor are still neat
- Actual combat is boring at best and frustrating at worst
- Main story catalyst matters little past the start
- Interesting narrative twists are marred by poor pacing
- A slightly smoother 2013 PSP game in looks and sound
- No target lock-on in combat
- No auto save means being diligent with your saving
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Akiba's Trip: Hellbound and Debriefed review - A sunburnt flashback