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How I'd Fix the Combat in Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed

If anyone out there was thinking, “Gee, the combat in Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed sure was mediocre. I wish I knew in long-winded detail how docprof from Pixel Poppers would try to improve it,” then wow is today your lucky day.

And if you weren’t thinking that… well, here are some silly videos I made in that game.

Now, on to the armchair game design!

Difficulty

First, a quick word on difficulty. A lot of my thoughts below may sound like I’m trying to make combat easier. In fact, I am specifically looking to reduce uninteresting difficulty - things that are hard for stupid reasons. This actually allows for increasing difficulty in more interesting ways.

The current enemy AI is pretty dumb - if it were smarter and the player had to deal with bad controls and mechanical issues, the player would frequently lose due to things that weren’t really their fault. If we fixed up the controls and mechanics, we could ramp up enemy intelligence and actually test the player’s skill rather than their patience. Players would spend their energy fighting the enemy rather than the game, with combat outcome being determined almost entirely by things that are within the player’s control.

So - frustrating random difficulty bad, engaging skill-based difficulty good.

Playtesting

Another quick word. While I’m fairly confident these ideas would improve the game, I can’t feasibly try them out. I could be wrong about all of this and in real life I’d absolutely update my suggestions based on playtest outcomes.

Okay. Let’s get into it.

Controls

Before we even touch the mechanics, I think we can get a lot of improvement just by modifying the controls. No adding or changing abilities yet - just reworking how the player signals to the game what they want to do.

I should note at this point that I’m talking only about default controls. Controls should still be remappable for accessibility reasons.

Anyway, here are the default PlayStation combat controls:

Left Analog Stick (normally): Move Player Character
Left Analog Stick (away from current target while attacking): Unblockable attack

Right Analog Stick: Move Camera

Triangle: Attack (High)
Circle: Attack (Mid)
X: Attack (Low)
Square: Jump

D-Pad Left: Set Partner AI to Active (if partner present)
D-Pad Right: Set Partner AI to Passive (if partner present)
D-Pad Up: Unison Strip (if partner present)
D-Pad Down: Items Menu

L1 (press): Toggle combat stance on/off
L1 (hold): Self-heal

R1 (press): Center camera
R1 (hold): Block attacks
R1 (hold) (while attacking/stripping with correct timing after blocking an attack): Counter attack/strip

As is normal for a 3D action game, left stick is move and right stick is camera. That’s as it should be and we won’t touch that. (We’ll come back to that weird unblockable attack thing on the left stick.)

Let’s look at the face buttons. Square is jump. There is never any reason to jump in this game - in fact, it’s a bad idea as it opens you to being juggled. In playing to platinum trophy completion on both Vita and PS4, not once did I jump on purpose in combat. We can safely remove the jump command, freeing up the square button for something else which we’ll come back to soon.

Triangle, circle, and X are attacks. Each one attacks a different area - triangle aims high (to attack hats), circle aims for torso height (shirts) and X aims low (pants). There are a few kinds of attacks that are activated various ways, always using the button corresponding to the area you want to attack. Let’s list the attack types and their current controls, and then I’ll get into the changes I’d make.

Quick attacks damage clothing and possibly interrupt/stagger the enemy, but can be blocked. They are executed by tapping the corresponding button. That’s pretty standard and it works fine.

Unblockable attacks are slow, deal heavy damage, and cannot be blocked but can be interrupted. They are executed by tapping the corresponding button while holding the left stick away from the target. This is really bad and needs to be changed. In a chaotic fight with enemies attacking from all directions it’s much easier to do this by accident than on purpose, and even in one-on-one battles I had trouble triggering this when I wanted to.

Strip attempts remove enemy clothing and steal it for the player, defeating the enemy if they are fully stripped. Strip attempts can’t be blocked, but only succeed if the targeted clothing is sufficiently damaged. These are executed by holding the corresponding button. While not as bad as the unblockable attacks, I’d change this too. The required hold duration is pretty short, presumably because strip attempts are something you often need to do quickly. As a result, I frequently triggered strip attempts unintentionally, which either worsened my tactical position or screwed up a large chain strip I had been setting up. (More on those later.)

Finally, there are counter attacks. For a short window after blocking an attack, triggering a quick attack or a strip attempt will instead trigger a counter attack or a counter strip. These are performed directly out of the block state while the enemy is still recovering from their blocked attack, so they incur no risk and won’t be blocked or dodged. These work fine, and aside from learning the timing I never had trouble triggering counters when I wanted to or not triggering them when I didn’t want to.

So - counters are reliable while unblockable attacks and strip attempts aren’t. This is because blocking is done by holding a modifier button: R1 changes the meaning of the attack buttons. It’s always clear whether you are or are not holding R1, so it’s always clear whether you will trigger a counter. Other attack modifiers aren’t tied to buttons, but to subtle distinctions in timing or positioning - holding the attack button slightly longer than usual for strip attempts, or hitting the attack button while the left stick happens to be pointed away from the current target for unblockable attacks. These are things you are likely to do by accident while trying to do something else, unlike the easy but deliberate action of holding R1. Thus it’s not always clear whether you are about to trigger an unblockable attack or strip attempt, which reduces player control in a frustrating way.

The easiest way to fix unblockable attacks and strip attempts would thus be to tie them to modifier buttons as well. L1 is currently spoken for with the combat toggle and self-heal - but these never belonged on a shoulder button to begin with. Shoulder buttons are for actions you might need to do while using the face buttons, and you’d never toggle out of combat or do a self-heal while attacking. We freed up the square button earlier by dropping the jump command, so now we can move the combat toggle and self-heal to that face button. This frees up L1 to be the modifier button for strip attempts - holding L1 and pressing the appropriate attack button will trigger a strip attempt. This also still allows for counter strips, since you can easily hold both L1 and R1 at the same time while pressing an attack button.

It’s worth noting at this point that the controls make no use of L2 or R2. I assume this is because the game was also on Vita and they wanted to avoid using the rear touch panel. If we drop that constraint and allow use of L2 and R2, then we can use one as the modifier button for unblockable attacks (trigger an unblockable attack by holding the button and pressing the appropriate attack button). My instinct would be to put it on R2, since unblockable attacks are something you’d never do when blocking - moving your finger from R1 to R2 goes well with moving from a defensive to an offensive stance.

Now we have three modifier buttons, however, so we should take a moment to discuss their interactions. What happens if the player holds multiple shoulder buttons and hits an attack button? I’d have R1 take precedence - if R1 is held down, the player is blocking. Holding L1 and R1 still blocks and just sets the player up for a counter strip. Holding R1 and R2 is equivalent to just holding R1 (and so holding all three is equivalent to holding L1 and R1 and still just sets up for a counter strip). If the player holds both L1 and R2 but not R1, I’d similarly give precedence to R2 - you could in theory go either way, but unblockable attacks are slower and more deliberate than strip attempts.

Alternatively, if we do keep the don’t-use-L2-or-R2 constraint, then we’re out of modifier buttons and don’t have one to use for unblockable attacks. We could instead have them triggered by holding the attack button, the way strip attempts are currently triggered. To reduce ambiguity, we’d require that neither L1 or R1 be held down - you can’t do unblockable attacks while blocking or while attempting a strip (which is already true in the current control scheme). We could additionally increase the duration the button needs to be held down to trigger an unblockable attack so that it’s harder to do accidentally - after all, unblockable attacks are already slow and something you only do when you can leave yourself open for a moment. Also, pressing a button briefly for a quick attack and pressing it longer for a slow one makes intuitive sense. It would go well with the square button’s similar dual functionality.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at the D-pad. Partner commands are situational, so having them accessible but out of the way on the D-pad makes sense (I’ll discuss them further in the section on partners). And as for items - I never once used items in combat in all of my playthroughs, so I suspect we could free up the D-pad down button as well. There’s nothing I urgently want to move to that spot, but it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s an option. (You guessed it - we’ll come back to it later.)

Okay. On to mechanical changes.

Lock-On

The single biggest mechanical problem with the combat is the lack of a true lock-on system. The game does have a soft lock - the closest enemy gets a visible indicator (a white ring around their torso) so you know they’ll be the target of your attacks. But this can switch without warning to a different enemy at the worst moments, especially in large group battles. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gotten an enemy’s clothes damaged enough to be strippable, suddenly lost my soft lock on them because another enemy stepped forward, and then been unable to target the first enemy because they stay in the middle of the group.

To make a true lock-on work, we need to adjust the controls and add a hard lock toggle button. The behavior could start the way it is now, with a soft lock moving automatically. Hitting the toggle button when there’s no active soft lock does nothing, but hitting it when there is turns the soft lock into a hard lock, indicated visually by a change in the white ring (it could get tighter and become bright red, for example). While the hard lock is active, the camera keeps the target front and center - the right stick doesn’t move the camera but instead moves the hard lock between available targets. The hard lock is dropped when the player hits the toggle button again or defeats the target.

Exactly which button gets to be the lock-on toggle depends on whether we’ve opened up the L2/R2 buttons as discussed in the Controls section. If we did, then we still have a shoulder button available (L2) and can use that, with the corresponding Vita control being a tap on the front screen. (It’s not as ideal as a shoulder button, but you’re probably not going to need to toggle lock-on while moving around and attacking, so it should be okay for the player to move a thumb briefly to do it.) If we didn’t open up the L2/R2 buttons, then I think this is important enough to replace the Items menu on D-pad down. (Told you we’d come back to it!)

Indicating Damaged Clothing

When an article of clothing takes enough damage to be strippable, there’s a sound and a burst of color corresponding to the clothing’s location (green for headgear, purple for tops, and red for bottoms). The clothing also periodically pulses with that color from then on.

But this is more ambiguous than it needs to be. Strong attacks can cause that same burst of color. The pulse is infrequent and hard to read, and especially with the similar purple and red colors in adjacent locations it’s not always easy to tell which article of clothing is damaged. So the player still has to keep mental track of which clothing on which enemies has been damaged if they are setting up a chain strip (we’ll get to those soon) or trying to avoid destroying clothing (that too), which can be quite difficult in battles with a large number of enemies.

The easiest fix here would probably be to make the pulses more frequent and higher contrast. Different textures for damaged and undamaged clothing would help too, but be more expensive. Regardless, it should be obvious at a glance what clothing is damaged and what clothing is not.

Chain Strips

If you successfully strip an article of clothing and there are more ready to be stripped, you trigger a chain strip, moving to another strippable item on the same enemy if there are any and then to a strippable item on another random enemy if there are any of those, repeating until there are no more strippable items on any enemies (or the player fails a strip prompt). Each item after the first is stripped via a QTE-like prompt to hit the corresponding attack button (triangle for headgear, circle for tops, X for bottoms) within a time limit without pressing an incorrect button first. Succeeding at the QTE prompt causes that item to be stripped and the chain to proceed to the next item if any are left; failing ends the chain strip.

When the chain strip ends after six or fewer items, combat continues as normal. But if seven or more items have been stripped, the player gets an opportunity to execute a chain strip finisher - one final attack button prompt (apparently chosen at random between the three buttons) will appear with a very large time window. Passing this prompt will cause all enemies who were fully stripped during the chain strip to also lose their underwear, which can then be claimed by the player. This is the only way to get underwear from enemies. The player also gets an XP bonus that scales with the number of items chain stripped, and then if there are are any remaining enemies combat resumes as normal.

That sounds a bit complicated written out like that, but in practice it’s fairly intuitive. Mechanically, it’s mostly fine but I have two problems with it. The first is that while it makes sense to censor the underwear-removing finisher, this is done too aggressively and for too long, to the point where it actually messes with combat. There’s a bright cloud of white light covering the entire combat area which persists for a few seconds after the finisher ends and combat resumes - meaning there’s a moment where the remaining enemies are acting freely but the player can’t see what’s happening, putting them at a severe disadvantage. The light then shrinks to just cover the fully-naked enemies’ underwear zones, but it should do so instantly when the finisher is done. Failing to do so punishes the player for successfully executing a difficult and otherwise-rewarding combat strategy.

The other problem is that during the chain strip, the time windows for each subsequent QTE prompt get shorter and shorter as the number of stripped items goes up, becoming extremely difficult for most people around ten items. (The finisher, as noted above, gets a prompt with a very generous window regardless of how long the chain was.) This makes sense if you think of the chain strip as the challenge, with the finisher as the victory lap and the XP bonus and underwear as the reward. But this feels misguided to me. The QTE button prompts of the chain strip are not an interesting challenge - nor are they where the challenge begins. In order to execute a large chain strip, the player must damage all the clothing on several enemies without actually stripping and defeating them. That means the enemies don’t get removed from combat until the chain strip happens - until then, they are a constant threat the player must manage. That’s a much more interesting challenge and balance of risk versus reward - do you strip this enemy now and remove them from combat to make the battle easier, or do you leave them while you attack the next target to increase the rewards of a chain strip later? Setting up a large chain strip is an interesting challenge because it means deliberately fighting more enemies for longer, not because it means more QTE prompts to pass.

It’s even harder due to interactions with the other concerns raised in this post. The controls make it easy to accidentally strip an article of clothing early, preventing it from counting toward the total of the chain strip. Destructible clothing (we’ll get to that in a moment) means that leaving enemies with damaged clothing in combat runs the risk of their clothing being destroyed before you’re ready to trigger the chain strip which removes it from the total and means you don’t get a piece of clothing you otherwise would have. And that risk is much higher because there is no lock-on - it’s hard to make sure you’re attacking the right enemy to damage the next piece of clothing when you aren’t removing any of the enemies from combat. And that’s when you can even tell clearly enough which clothing is damaged and which isn’t.

Managing to set up a large chain strip is the accomplishment. Doing the chain strip should be the victory lap. The player shouldn’t have the rewards of overcoming the interesting challenge ripped away because they failed a stupid QTE. It’s even worse that the speed ramp-up means that failure tends to come so late in the combo - the player is likely to remove most of the strippable clothing before failing, so it may not be possible to get a chain strip finisher on the remaining enemies and a chance to get unique underwear can be missed completely.

The attack button prompts in a chain strip should all have wide time windows.

Destructible Clothing

Clothing that has been damaged enough to be strippable can only take a limited number of hits before it’s fully destroyed. The number of hits varies with the game difficulty, with higher difficulties allowing fewer hits. Destroying enemy clothing removes it like stripping does, so it can result in enemies being defeated, but it also means the player doesn’t get to steal that clothing item and it can’t be part of a chain strip. If the player character’s clothing is destroyed, it doesn’t come back after combat (like stripped clothing does) and must instead be repurchased for 5000 yen (a non-trivial amount, especially in the early game) at a specific shop.

This doesn’t feel right to me. The consequence of a player’s error should be proportional to the scale of the error. In these cases, errors in combat that do not cause combat loss have consequences beyond the scope of that combat. Accidentally destroying enemy clothing means the player can’t collect it, and this can even happen with unique clothing. Getting your own clothing destroyed - which can happen even to skilled players in difficult battles, as opportunities to self-heal can be rare and it’s easy to get juggled - means that even when the player wins the battle they still have to stop what they were doing to go to a particular store and spend money. And if they were in the middle of a chain of story battles, they are not even allowed to go buy their clothing back and have to proceed into the next battle at a severe disadvantage.

As before, it’s a worse problem due to interactions with the other concerns raised in this post. It’s not fully the player’s error if an article of clothing is accidentally attacked and destroyed because of a suddenly-moved soft lock-on or because it wasn’t clear the clothing was damaged which makes it all the more frustrating when it happens.

Attacking damaged clothing is already a wasted attack and thus bad tactics that are punished within the battle. Failing to self-heal or avoid attacks and getting your own clothing stripped already leaves you more vulnerable to defeat. Destroying either the enemy’s clothing or the player character’s creates frustration that extends beyond the scope and mechanics of the battle, even when the player recovers from the mistake and wins the battle.

Clothing should never be destroyed from attacks.

Partners and Unison Strip

There are several partner characters who can follow you around and join you in combat, though only one can be with you at a time. Some parts of the story force one on you; others allow you to pick one or travel alone. Most partners can be set to active or passive, though a couple that are mandatory during certain story events and otherwise unavailable can’t be set to passive and instead are permanently active. (These partners also lack the unison strip ability discussed below). While passive, partners stay nearby but do nothing. While active, they will aid you in fights via quick attacks, unblockable attacks, and stripping. They can’t trigger chain strips and I honestly haven’t watched them closely enough to see whether they block and counter. If their clothes get stripped, they retreat from combat and return fully dressed when the fight is over.

While you have a partner, you also have access to the unison strip ability (unless it’s one of the couple who lack it as mentioned above). The unison strip meter fills during combat, and when it’s full you can spend it to perform a special team-up attack on the current enemy target. This displays an animation that’s several seconds long and unique to the specific partner, during which you and your partner deal a lot of damage to the enemy’s clothes and then strip all their sufficiently-damaged clothes. And for a few seconds after the animation, all remaining enemies are stunned, which allows you to strip even undamaged clothes.

The game seems to want you to fight with a partner and rewards you for doing so. But a partner also comes with significant downsides that don’t feel intentional. Specifically, they can both strip and destroy clothing - this can make combat easier by removing enemies, but it also messes up any chain strips you’re preparing and prevents you from obtaining clothing items. That outweighed the upsides for me, so I never took a partner when I had the choice and when I had to take one I left them passive when possible. This is less fun and I don’t think it’s what the designers wanted, but the trade-off just wasn’t worth it. The issue could be resolved by not allowing partners to strip or destroy clothing - this would make them purely positive to have around softening up enemies, taking hits for you, and making it harder for groups to surround you.

Also, despite its name the unison strip isn’t a guaranteed strip of even a single enemy. It usually is one in the early game or on low difficulties, but it’s not a sure thing - you deal a certain numerical amount of damage, and only if that amount is enough to fully damage the enemy’s clothes do you get to strip them off. The game makes a big deal out of the unison strip with a long flashy animation and it feels very anticlimactic when it ends and you don’t actually strip anyone of anything. My sense is that when used on non-boss enemies, the unison strip should instead just be a guaranteed full-strip, so that you can use it as a panic button to remove a single enemy from combat. I don’t feel like that would be too powerful from a balance perspective, but if so the meter could just fill more slowly so that it can’t be performed as often.

Unison strip could also be made more climactic without actually making it a more powerful attack. An enemy who becomes fully stripped during a unison strip could lose their underwear just like one who becomes fully stripped during a successfully-finished chain strip. This would also make partners useful even if you aren’t having any trouble in combat, since they’d provide a second way to get underwear that works even if there aren’t enough enemies around for a large chain strip.

Finally, I don’t like that some partners can’t be set active or passive. It seems like an unnecessary limitation. It becomes less of a problem if partners can’t strip or destroy clothing, but I still see no reason the player shouldn’t always have this ability.

Reinforcements

In non-story combat, passers-by have a chance of joining in the fight on the enemy’s side. (Story combat has no passers-by.) This is interesting, as it makes the world feel more dynamic and alive and adds some variation and unpredictability to the fights. I don’t even think it’s a problem that strangers never join in on your side - you are, after all, a member of a small group of good guys fighting against a large group of bad guys. And if you do find one of your allies wandering around and fight near them, they do join you.

There are a few issues, though. First, it’s not a manageable risk - fighting in a crowded area should increase the odds of enemy reinforcements, but in practice there aren’t any areas you can fight in that aren’t crowded. You can’t cautiously lure enemies into low-traffic areas - you’re just always at risk for reinforcements based on the randomly-generated crowds.

Worse, reinforcements make combat less balanced. The longer a fight goes on, the more likely it is that someone passing by will join in. So if you’re strong enough to quickly defeat your target, you likely won’t have to deal with any reinforcements. But if you’re not yet that strong and it takes a while to subdue an enemy, it’s more likely that additional enemies will pile on. This makes the battle take longer, and not just linearly - the more enemies you face simultaneously, the more careful you have to be, which means fighting more slowly. And that makes more reinforcements likely. So battles that are already lengthy slogs become lengthier and sloggier, and once you overtake the leveling curve the mechanic all but goes away. Fights are pushed toward extremes of length - either over in a few seconds or lasting several minutes or more. I’ve started fights by attacking a single enemy and then spent fifteen minutes fighting four at a time no matter how many I defeated.

I’d rather the player have more control on the size of the enemy group they take on. Maybe they want quick fights to get specific pieces of clothing, or maybe they want to tackle a large mob to set up a chain strip. Reinforcements reduce this control, so I’d like to put some limits on the mechanic. My idea is to put a cap on the number of enemies that can join a fight, equal (or at least proportional) to the number of enemies the player directly antagonizes.

Say there’s a “hostility counter” that’s normally at zero. Every time the player antagonizes an NPC into combat (whether it’s by shoving them, calling out Synthisters, or outright attacking them) the counter goes up by one. (Maybe two or three on higher difficulties.) When the counter’s higher than zero, a passer-by can join the fight as an enemy reinforcement, which reduces the counter by one. And when combat ends, the counter resets to zero.

If the player attacks a single target, only a single reinforcement can join in. If they stir up a mob by attacking six enemies, then six reinforcements can join in. This means the player who wants large brawls still gets them, while the player who doesn’t mostly avoids them. Never will the player have to fight a long, tedious battle against a huge number of enemies when they only attacked one or two themselves - which happened to me a lot and was always annoying.

As an additional tweak, antagonizing an NPC who is the target of a mission should not add to the counter. It’s already the case that story missions can’t have reinforcements, as there are no passers-by. But side missions often have reinforcements join in whether or not this makes narrative sense, which can make the mission harder or impossible to complete and is totally out of the player’s control. If the player does attack non-mission enemies, then the counter goes up and reinforcements are fair game; but if they stick to the mission targets I don’t see why they shouldn’t have the same freedom-from-reinforcements they get in story missions.

One last issue here - when the player character comes under attack, they automatically toggle into combat mode and draw their weapon. This makes sense at the start of a fight, but it also triggers when a reinforcement joins the battle. And reinforcements can join combat just from seeing the player character while enemies are active, even if they are nowhere near each other and no fighting is occurring. And successfully fleeing from combat requires you exit the zone while toggled out of combat mode. What this all adds up to is that if you decide to run from a battle (which is all but required by some side missions) you can distance yourself from the enemies, lower your weapon, and approach the zone exit - only for a random townsperson to suddenly decide to attack you, which causes you to draw your weapon, which prevents your exit, and now you’re in a dead end with an active enemy. You can try lowering your weapon again, but you’re likely to take a hit during the animation and can easily be juggled long enough for the other enemies to show up.

This is dumb, has caused me to fail missions that require not getting hit, and sometimes turns an escape into a full-on combat loss. It’d be nice if reinforcements only occurred near actual fighting, but the more important (and easier) fix here is to simply cause reinforcements not to automatically toggle you back into combat. If you’ve left combat it’s for a reason and it’s easy to toggle back in if you want it. The game should leave it under your control.

Police

Police are a special type of NPC. Outside of story missions, most areas have exactly one cop patrolling them at all times. If the cop sees you fighting, they always join in the fight, though they follow special rules that make them different from normal reinforcements.

The police preferentially target you, but will target others if they get hit by them. Once they manage to strip one piece of clothing from their target, they “arrest” that target which removes both the cop and the target from combat but keeps them standing in place. Attacking either of them at this point causes the cop to re-enter combat targeting you while the arrested enemy runs off. This can be problematic - if the cop arrests an enemy that you need to defeat in order to finish a side mission, it doesn’t count as defeating them and there’s no way to bring them back into combat. Your only option is to leave and come back to reset the mission.

Police shouldn’t be able to arrest mission targets. An alternative would be for such an arrest to count as defeating the enemy for purposes of the mission - I like this a lot, as it feels like a logical and emergent interaction of the game’s mechanics. It would make the world feel more alive and reward the clever player. But some side missions have interactions between the player and the defeated enemy after combat, so those would need to be adjusted for this solution to work.

A worse problem is that the cop doesn’t need to strip the player character. Cops can just decide to arrest them apparently out of nowhere and there’s nothing the player can do about it. (There may be rules governing when this can happen, but I’ve never figured them out.) As with losing a fight, any mission that was underway must be restarted and there’s no chance to collect item drops, but it’s actually worse than normal combat loss. The player is also forced to sit through a scene of being chewed out by the police, fined a substantial amount, and then teleported to a specific area instead of the map screen. So fighting cops is always highly risky, but not in an interesting or manageable way. Most non-story battles just have a constant chance of being joined by an enemy who has a particularly obnoxious Win button that you just have to hope they don’t use. And of course, this is made worse by interaction with the concern raised about normal reinforcements, because the longer a fight goes on the greater the chances that a cop’s patrol will take them near enough to see and join the fray.

Given how consistently the game pushes the idea that stripping means defeat everywhere else - even including the cops when they’re targeting someone other than the player - that’s how it should work here too. The cop should have to strip the player of an article of clothing in order to arrest them.

Item Drops

Defeated enemies always drop their weapons. They sometimes drop their shoes, an accessory, a consumable item, or cash. If defeated by a chain strip with a successful finisher, they also drop their underwear. Dropped items remain on the ground where the enemy was defeated and they can be picked up by standing near them and hitting the X button.

This mostly works. Once you finish the enemies, you can run around collecting what they dropped without combat distracting you from seeing what you’ve grabbed. However, it’s not always easy to find everything. If you’ve been in a long fight, the items can be quite spread out - especially if enemies were defeated via chain strip which teleports the player character to each enemy in turn and leaves the drops where each enemy was standing. Small weapons, money, and underwear (especially women’s underwear) can be difficult to see, especially as the crowds resume walking through the area shortly after the fight ends. Since underwear only drops from a chain strip finisher, it’s almost always difficult to find and collect.

Some story battles have the additional problem of taking place in areas you can’t normally access and whisking the player away afterward. Anything you don’t pick up before being removed from the area is lost forever, including any unique items. Presumably for this reason, story battles are always followed by a several seconds of free movement - it’s long enough to be weird, but not necessarily long enough to find and collect all the dropped items.

Because of all of this, I developed a consistent habit of collecting dropped items during battle. This can be pretty awkward - the “hot spot” you have to be in to pick up an item is small and sometimes oddly placed, especially for the larger weapons. Because the pick up button is also the low attack button and you’re still in combat and so trying to do the pick up quickly, this often backfires - you don’t have time to carefully put yourself in the right place, but if you press the X button in the wrong place you’ll stop running and do an attack on nobody, leaving yourself open.

In general, I don’t think it’s a good idea to force the player to hunt down and collect dropped items - it brings the interesting action to a halt and replaces it with tedious action. I’d be inclined to have all items instantly collected by the player rather than dropped. But at the very least, underwear should be instantly collected. Underwear is the special reward for long chain strips and can’t be gotten from enemies any other way. All the other clothing involved in a chain strip is collected instantly. It’s anticlimactic to follow up a successfully set-up and finished chain strip by having the player go hunting for the dropped underwear. It’s downright obnoxious to rob the player of the underwear they’ve earned if they don’t find it (especially if it’s the end of a story battle and their time for finding it is very limited).

Underwear should be instantly collected rather than dropped. I’d argue that applies to all items, but if that’s for some reason not feasible then dropped items should be made more visible (perhaps with a periodic flash or glow), have enlarged pickup hot spots, and should be collected just by walking over them with no button press necessary.

Telegraphs and Rock-Paper-Scissors

The combat system’s core is the common rock-paper-scissors of quick attack, block, unblockable attack. It’s important to read your opponent and gain the advantage - block their quick attacks, dodge or interrupt their unblockable attacks, break their guard with your unblockable attacks, and finally go in for the strip. The problem is that combat isn’t really set up to support this approach.

First off, enemy telegraphs can be hard to read. It’s pretty obvious when someone’s doing quick attacks, but the diverse and often implausible attack sets can mean it’s not at all obvious what’s going on when an enemy ramps up an unblockable attack, and blocking doesn’t always look that different from just standing around. A real fix here would probably require redoing a lot of animations, but a cheap solution would be to just add clear visible cues (specific icons or glows) when an enemy is readying an unblockable attack or blocking.

Second, telegraphs for unblockable attacks often don’t give you enough time to get out of range of the attack. You can’t cancel out of your own attack animations to run, so if the enemy starts an attack at a bad time it’s just not possible to avoid taking the hit. Enemies have a sidestep ability to quickly dodge your attacks and so don’t really have this problem. The player has no such ability (this is not what the jump command does) and it would probably go a long way to add one. It could be triggered by quickly tilting the left stick in a direction while holding R1 (the block button).

Third, the rock-paper-scissors behavior is inconsistent for the enemy. If you get hit by a quick attack while setting up an unblockable attack, you’ll get interrupted and your attack won’t happen. If you hit the enemy with a quick attack while they are setting up an unblockable attack, they might get interrupted or they might keep going and smack you down. This destroys the rock-paper-scissors strategy and means that even a skilled player can’t really deal with crowds, since unblockable attacks could come at any moment from any direction and you can’t rely on avoiding or interrupting them.

The combined result of the above is that there’s really only one strategy when you’re dealing with more than a couple of enemies - hit and run. Kite the enemies around until one is far enough from the group that you can swoop in and deal some damage before the others can flank you, then run away and do it again. This makes combat reactive, slow, and tedious.

I’m not saying the game needs to be Arkham Asylum, but it’d go a long way toward enabling more play styles if a skilled player could react to telegraphs and consistently shut down enemy strategies. Combat - especially against large groups - would be more engaging and satisfying with a higher skill ceiling, and the player might actually feel like the superhuman their character is supposed to be.