While it's impossible to look at Akane and not see the influences of some more obvious cultural touchstones – the body-augmentation of Ghost in the Shell; the motorbike-riding rebellion of Akira; the run-down futures of Blade Runner and 2000AD – when you start slashing your katana and unloading bullet death from your pistol, you soon realise this pixel art indie is more Kill Bill than anything else.
That's because Akane is not some sprawling RPG or open-ended Metroidvania adventure; it's a Tarantino-esque tale of survival, with a heroine who seems to be drawing her wardrobe between Major, the Bride and Leeloo from The Fifth Element. A seemingly endless war fought within the confines of a single, neon-drenched arena. Every swing of your blade and every bullet from your gun is a one-hit kill, but that also means it only takes one hit to take you down as well. Death is only ever a heartbeat away – for you and your foes.
And enemies just keep coming. With a top-down perspective, your square-shaped arena has doors on all sides and your foes never stop pouring into the vicinity, like a burly brawl of ultraviolence. Rather than letting its mechanics descend into the territory of a twin-stick shooter, Akane instead opts for something a little more refined. There's a small stamina bar beneath the titular heroine, and while it never really gets in the way of your offence, it does stop you from spamming the strike button.
When it comes to ranged attacks, you're also forced to employ them with restrictions. You can only fire your weapon when standing still, and you can't shoot and slash at the same time. Stopping to unleash a couple of salvos in the middle of a crowd is not advisable, but if you break free from the pack, your gun of choice can help thin the herd or skim some of HP off a tank or a boss. You can't reload your gun manually either – instead, you'll need to successfully slay enemies with your blade to refill your bullets. These ideas all tap back into Akane's central ethos: you are at a disadvantage. Deal with it, and win anyway.
Slaying enemies become a rhythm of sorts as you adapt to the speed and behaviours of certain types. The challenge comes in finding how to adapt that dance of death when new opponents enter the fray. Your normal Yakuza will simply rush you and attempt to slash you to ribbons, while sharpshooters will stand still and zero in on your position with a well-timed shot. Tanks require more than one hit to kill, requiring you to time your strikes perfectly. The Cyber Ninja, for instance, is as fast as you are and deadlier still, while the boss himself gets stronger and more difficult to defeat each time you take him down.
Bosses spawn after defeating 100 enemies, and while that will take you a while to achieve to begin with – especially as you learn to predict the movement of certain enemies, such as the small pause a Yakuza takes before slashing their sword, or the the time it takes for sharpshooters to aim, shoot and reload – that gauntlet of fallen foes provides the trial by fire needed to take on a big bad that requires far more than one hit to defeat. There's some pleasing variety to them as well, just to help add spice to what can occasionally become a very challenging yet ultimately repetitive experience.
Those aforementioned challenges aren't there to boost your score, but instead facilitate a means to unlock new gear and weapons for use in battle. One might ask you to kill three tanks in one run (a considerable task, even for more experienced players) or something as simple yet devilishly precise as killing 30 enemies with 100 percent katana accuracy. You'll only be able to customise your loadout with new gear, guns and blades once you've died, but it's an investment that can often give you the slightest of edges during your next run. You can even unleash a number of special attacks, such as a flurry of strikes across multiple enemies – ideal for clearing out an oncoming horde of blade-wielding goons.
While it might not share the intricate levels and levelling up mechanics of Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition, Akane balances out its lack of topographical variety with a simple yet challenging set of rolling objectives and an increasingly tough variety of enemies to slay. Death is constant in those first few hours, but persevere and you'll discover a hack 'n' slash survival game that rewards precision, position and quick-thinking. With a brilliant chiptune/synth soundtrack and an art style that wears its influences front and centre, Akane has plenty of charms for those willing to learn to wield its blades – even if it does become slightly samey over time.