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Hatsune Miku Project Diva, developed by Sega and Crypton Future
Media, is a series of rhythm based music games. There have been several
main titles released for the PSP, and some spin-off titles for the PS3, Nintendo
3DS, and iOS Devices. The 8th game in the series now makes it's debut on the
Playstation Vita as Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f. Does this game go beyond the
legacy of its predecessors, or does it play it safe and provide only a new coat
of polish? Let’s break it down.
At its core, the Project Diva series is attuned more
towards games like Dance Dance Revolution than something like Elite Beat Agents. There is no
plot or setting, but rather a list of songs to play through one by one. Project
Diva f is no different in this regard. Despite the great opening sequence
featuring the cast interacting with each other and creating music, this game
continues the staple tradition of playing though various music videos with no
connecting story. There are 32 main tracks featuring 6 different vocaloids, though most tend to focus on Miku as the star singer.
The capabilities of the Playstation Vita does this game a
great service. Previous entries in the series on the PSP and other platforms
contained 3D models and environments for the music videos, but they lacked a
certain smoothness and shine. In fact, Sega had to release multiple PS3 add-ons
in order to provide the HD polish that many fans just couldn’t get on the PSP.
The Playstation Vita renders beautiful, crisp models, and
although it isn’t quite PS3 quality, it’s a significant jump from the previous
entries in the series. Loading screens continue to provide fantastic 2-D art
ranging from high detail, emotion-filled paintings to simple, comedic cartoons.
The music videos all contain near PS3 quality environment
models though don’t expect any realistic, HD textures. The lighting certainly
got a nice boost as different colored lights will reflect off of objects and
singers in a more natural fashion. The vocaloids are rendered in a sort of 3D
anime style. Their body construct is reminiscent of games like Tales of Graces f, where hair is rendered in chunks rather than small strands, and their skin is
often rounded with a solid color rather than detailed muscles wrapped in
textures. The various costumes also feature either solid colors or a simple, yet
elegant texture overlay.
Sound is the most crucial part of the Project Diva series.
The various songs have made the series quite popular in Japan,
but its appeal westward may be limited. That said the music covers a wide range
of genres. There’s plenty of J-Pop music to be found, but there’s also rock, a
bit of opera-esque, and even a song that remind me of the Beach
Boys. Every one of them is sung by either a single or a group of vocaloids,
most notably, Hatsune Miku herself.
For those who’ve been wondering exactly what a vocaloid is,
it’s a synthesized voice that was created from a multitude of actual human voice
samples. While the technology behind it is rather impressive, it also means
that almost every song has an auto-tune pitch to it. The degree to which it
is noticeable really depends on the song. While it’s hardly noticeable in some
songs, the heavy use in other songs may be a bit grating. It takes time getting used to it, which may end up turning off first time players, especially if they’re picky
about their music.
Looking past that, however, you’ll find a sizable playlist
with some really great melodies. I found myself humming to a few of the catchy
songs like Rin & Ren’s “Remote Control”. Some of the more endearing ones like Kaito’s “Ashes to Ashes” or Luka’s “Dye” sent chills up my
spine. There are also a few duds such as Miku’s “Nyan Nyan” song. Essentially it's the Nyan Cat song played repeatedly at different tempos, and whose
only lyrics are “nyan nyan nyan”. Yeah, it was awful, and a sadly disappointing
excuse for a song. In the end though, it really just comes down to the player’s
taste, and if you’re a big fan of Japanese style music, this is certainly not
one to miss.
The bulk of the player’s time will likely be spent in the Rhythm
Game. Here, a player will select one of the songs on the list, and is tasked to
press a series of buttons in a timely manner while the song and music video
play in the background. Similar to Guitar Hero, one of the shape buttons will
fly across the screen passing over a black symbol of the same shape. If it’s
timed well, you’ll get either a Fine or Cool, which adds to your combo and
builds your Diva meter increasing the multiplier. Incorrect or missed timings will result in a Sad or Worst, reducing your meter and resetting your
combo. If the meter empties, then the game is over. While the concept is easy, the
execution can be tricky. Some songs wildly vary the tempo, throwing off your timing.
Other times, colors from the music video will blend with the symbols, making them much
harder to see. For some people, the ‘special’ camera angles and character movements
can be a distraction in their own right as well.
Making it through the entire song though, isn’t enough. Performances
are ranked into the Miss x Take (fail), Cheap, Standard, Great, Excellent, and
Perfect rankings. If the player can’t manage enough points to fill the bottom gauge
beyond the first threshold into the Standard rank, then it is considered
incomplete. Players can ease the requirements by buying upgrades with DP, which
can soften the penalty or provide help to push players past the Standard threshold.
However, the DP required can only be obtained upon finishing a previous song, and the
amount earned varies with the rank and difficulty. By completing a song, players will also unlock the
same song at a higher difficulty, and possibly add a new song to the list.
To help earn some of the required song points, Project Diva f added
two new features to the series, known as the Star note and the Technical Zone. The Star
note is a new rhythm key where you swipe your finger (or thumb) across the
Vita’s touch screen instead of pressing a button at particular time. The
Technical Zone is a series of notes in the song where the player can earn bonus
credit if every note in the Zone is completed with a Fine or Cool. Anything
other note score will immediately end the Technical Zone and forgo the bonus
While I admire the change this brings to the series, I also found it to
be the most frustrating part of the game. The Vita’s touch screen, like most
cell phones, only registers your swipe about 80% of the time, and this percentage
diminishes fast when there are more fingerprints on your screen. While I can
live with a lost combo here and there, some of the Tech Zones utilize the Star note, and missing out on those bonus points because the Vita failed to register
your swipe is annoying. It occasionally brought me to a fever pitch on the
harder difficulties too, since perfect Tech Zones are often required in order
to meet the Standard rank.
The Star note also makes its appearance during the Chance
Time Events. During this segment of the song, the tempo will slightly pick up,
and the series of notes become a tad more tricky and difficult. Successfully hitting
these notes not only builds your combo, but will fill up a special Star Gauge as well.
The final note to every Chance Time Event is a Star note. If the Star Gauge is
full, the Star key will be colored, and a successful hit will trigger an event
during the song such as fireworks, explosions, or even an alternate movie
ending. It’s pretty cool, but at the same time requires the spotty Star note control. If missing out on Tech Zone points wasn’t enough, missing these
cool scenes because of the touch screen would come close to sending me over the edge
on more than one occasion.
Project Diva f is packed full of things to do. Besides
playing the rhythm game, players have the option of watching the music videos
on the Personal Viewer. I found this to be nice, since I’ve often wanted to see
what was going on during the song, but was too engrossed in hitting the notes perfectly to
fully enjoy the video. The DP collected from completed songs can
be also be spent at the shop for various things. The most notable items are the different costumes that can be used in place of the default set. While
it may seem frivolous, each costume is actually tailored to a specific song. Although
any costume can be used for any song, certain sets create a much better viewing
experience for the music video. Face, head, and other miscellaneous accessories can
be attached to the vocaloids too, though they don’t tend to fit as well as
the preset costumes. The last things that can be bought from the shop are
various items for the Diva Room.
The Diva Room is a place where the player can interact with
their unlocked vocaloids in their room. The camera view is rather limited since
it is set to follow your vocaloid with little movement outside the range. Items
like books or jukeboxes can be placed in preset places to have your character interact
with them. They’ll dance, read, or even take a nap. You can dress them up and
give presents, but the real ‘action’ comes from Vita’s touch screen. By tapping
your vocaloid, you’ll move into a close-up where you can essentially pet them
on the head. Doing it for a certain amount of time builds their happiness, and
when it reaches a particular threshold, you’ll be asked to play a Jan-ken-pon
(Japanese rock-paper-scissors) mini game. You don’t get anything for winning,
and losing has even earned me more happiness points on occasion (go figure).
The final feature is the Augmented Reality. The game comes
with a sizeable sheet that can be placed in your room. Once the sheet is read,
the player can select one of four songs to have Miku hold a private AR concert
in your room. The Miku model can be scaled between 1/16, 1/8, 1/2, and full
scale heights. Overall, it’s kind of neat to see her dancing around on my floor,
though the experience isn’t very immersive as the hi-res model is overlaid on a
cheap 1-3 Megapixel display. Like most AR games, the lighting of your room does
not affect the model, nor do room objects affect the motion. Players can also
use it this mode to take various pictures of the performance and save them in
an album. There’s also a variant to this mode that contains various Miku still poses, so
your friends can take pictures with Miku as well.
The replay value of Project Diva f is a rather tough call since
it is mostly dependent on how much of a completionist the player is. A one-time
run through all the songs on normal difficulty took only about 2 hours, but I
often found myself going back to certain songs to get a higher score, earn more
points for costumes, and even played the higher difficulties to challenge
myself. Beyond the new support for Trophies though, there isn’t much else to
entice the player to keep playing. Beating songs at a higher difficulty will
unlock more content in the shop, but none of it adds to the game-play layer. All
in all, I’d say it’s about moderate-high on average.
Overall, Project Diva f is a great addition to the Hatsune
Miku series. While the song list only contains music by 6 vocaloids, others are
set to make their appearance as DLC sometime in the future. Whether the songs
will be classics or brand-new also remains to be seen. The game controls fairly well most of the time, though the touch screen can often be annoying. The songs
are fantastically catchy for the most part, and there are plenty of items to
unlock with your collected points as well. I’ve overheard a few complaints
about too many loading screens, but loading times are fairly quick, and unless
you’re swapping modes every 10 seconds, it isn’t a problem. In the end, if you’re a
fan of rhythm games, or Vocaloids in general, this game isn’t one to pass up on.
Final Score: 8/10