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Tearing Strips off Akiba's Trip

Misleading title, probably. I enjoyed the hell out of Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed. As easy as it would be to trash it I'm not particularly interested in doing so. It's a strange thing to pull apart though.

There's a weirdly self-conscious trend in games of using sexuality as a marketing strategy, but never being willing to openly explore or acknowledge that. Even some pornographic games shy away from turning anyone on; burying erotic content among distracting or time-consuming game conventions. It's not so difficult to understand how this happens, given how society can simultaneously encourage desire and shame us for it.

It's often easier to pretend something isn't sexual than to admit you find it attractive. Reading Playboy for the articles, and playing Dead or Alive for the fighting mechanics. Playboy does have decent articles, and for all I know the Dead or Alive games are excellent, but regardless that attitude is linked to this dishonest and self-loathing aspect of society I wish would calm the fuck down.

(Note: There's a wide gulf between criticising sexism in games and shaming sexual desire. If you don't understand the difference this post isn't for you.)

Akiba's Trip fits into this "sexy but not too sexy" category, and at the same time doesn't. The goal is to attack people and strip their clothes but it's played more for laughs than titillation. It practically screams "don't take this too seriously". Still, the premise is already shameless enough to be uncomfortable for many people, even before getting into any discussions about sexual violence.

Akiba's Trip Screenshot

There's a flimsy lore-based excuse for the whole thing. Your opponents are Synthisters – vaguely vampiric monsters who appear human but will burn if exposed to sunlight. Then again, stripping regular humans will happen too. The general aim feels more like it's to make people embarrassed enough to run away. Synthisters still shriek, and run away trying to cover themselves, just like humans. Boss-level characters return later without so much as a sunburn.

Stripping men and women is treated as equivalent but really it can't be. One is automatically more loaded than the other, and involves with more evocative undergarments. Boob physics have just slightly too much emphasis. Not an unrealistic amount of jiggle exactly, but it's a level of detail out of proportion with the cartoony graphics.

Akiba's Trip Screenshot

If you can get a good stripping chain going you can steal underwear too, with dazzling white light obscuring sensitive areas. I'm inclined to wonder why, if you're going to make a game about stripping, you wouldn't just go all out? But there are economic considerations based on ratings, I'm sure. It's funny where people draw the line.

At first combat feels like awkward fumbling. As the fight carries on it often ends up as a chaotic mob of combatants dressed half in their underwear, tearing at each other's clothes and fighting with whatever objects they had to hand. Maybe that's something vaguely logical like boxing gloves or a baseball bat, but often it's laptops, umbrellas or handbags.

As I developed more skill and unlocked flashier abilities the fights started to feel less comedic. Team attacks in particular become less of a fair fight and more like an assault, typically holding someone down so my partner can attack.

Akiba's Trip Screenshot

Team attack.

But just as a personal thing, the strip-combat premise doesn't faze me. As with most games, the things that concern me are more in the details.

There's a surprising amount of intelligence in the way Akiba's Trips is written. It contains far more insight and effort that might be expected from a game this trashy. But it's mired deep into the culture of anime and Japanese games. The parts of this culture that refuse to take a stance on anything, beyond pure celebration of fandom and materialism.

Gender and objectification are deep at the core of everything, but the tone is all over the place. One moment I might take on a mission to stop dudes from catcalling or taking upskirt photos. The next I might be sharing skirt removal tips with some guy I met at the station. Or attacking someone for daring to be a sexworker, a mother who wants to cosplay, or pop idols who aren't behaving the way their fans want.

Attacking the catcallers is the cross-dressing mission. They won't even talk to you otherwise. Afterwards passer-by's callouts of "Cha's so cool!" switched to "Nice ass" or "Wanna go out sometime?". For a moment I thought it was because I'd continued to wear women's shoes with my suit. Bright shiny red. But it was just a blip. Callouts are based on your current title, which by default is often based on the most recent mission completed. So just for that moment, regardless of what my character wore, he was a target to ogle and proposition. An interesting "reward" for discouraging harassment.

Akiba's Trip is so aggressively non-serious it resists analysis on these levels, but it's abundantly clear that refusing to have an opinion is really a way to support current power systems. Particularly capitalism. Everything's equal as long as the client's paying.

The dating sim portion of the game is slightly unusual in that personality doesn't come into it much. Most dialogue options don't influence the romance at all. If you want to act like a sleaze and get away with it, you can do that. If you want to try to be a hero that's fine too. If you want to go with the traditional otaku route and play the lovable slacker that's just as attractive. In another game these would restrict your potential partners, but not here. It all plays into the neutral values of this game and demonstrates the kind of power fantasy people can find in that.

From the edges it can be like stepping on poison barbs (I'm not going to talk about the transphobic "Pitter" chat logs). But when you're the centre of everything it's a rush. The young and beautiful crew hanging out in Akihabara and not wanting to think about tomorrow. There are definitely times when I get that.