Hatsune Miku: Project Diva ƒ
How does one accurately describe Hatsune Miku: Project Diva ƒ to a series newcomer? Well, on a basic level, it’s a rhythm game, not altogether dissimilar from the likes of DJ Max Fever or Parappa the Rapper. That is, nearly the entirety of the gameplay experience consists of pressing buttons, as guided by on-screen prompts, to music. That’s an academic, if not sterile, description of the game, but how does one convey the core value or soul of the Project Diva f experience? Well, imagine a sixteen-year-old J-pop starlet, swathed with the glittery, neon spectacle of nighttime Shibuya, performing for the high tech, anime-devoted crowds of Akihabara. The result is a condensed, energetic mix of otaku culture, J-pop glamour and addictive beats, all coalesced into one of the most polished and fun rhythm games in recent memory.
But who is Hatsune Miku? Clearly she’s a force to be reckoned with, both in Japan and abroad, with throngs of supporters showing up to “live” concerts and other events. To put it simply, she is a fabricated, J-idol characterization of a singing voice synthesizer program – or vocaloid. Miku’s voice was provided by Saki Fujita, a voice actress, but it’s up to users of the vocaloid software to create lyrics and model Saki’s pitch and tone into suitable songs. The same applies to others in Miku’s crew – Rin, Len, Luka, Kaito and Meiko – each vocaloid’s voice was provided by a different voice actor/actress (with the exception of Rin and Len, which were done by the same person).
“…a condensed, energetic mix of otaku culture, J-pop glamour and addictive beats…”This leads to one of Project Diva ƒ’s greatest positives, the fact that the entire game is one big celebration of, for and by the vocaloid community. All of the songs in the game were created by the various users of the vocaloid software (not by Sega, the game’s developer), many of which first gained prominence on NicoNico Douga – Japan’s answer to YouTube. This means that the style and variation in music included is as diverse as the users who created them, a wonderful thing for those who are looking for a rhythm game with a fresh, fun track list. This community aspect also bleeds into other portions of the game, such as the copious amount of user-created artwork provided as unlockables and displayed as loading screens.
The gameplay itself is polished, responsive and as easy or challenging as you want it to be. Lower difficulties give you some breathing room and teach the basics, while more advanced settings funnel a continuous stream of rapidfire inputs across the screen, meaning even a split-second wavering of one’s focus can destroy any chance to complete the song. As with many other rhythm games, you have a certain baseline score required to keep going; make too many mistakes it’s game over. Make a few mistakes here and there and you might push through to the end of the song, but not get that ‘Great’ or ‘Excellent’ ranking you were looking for. Of course, the ultimate goal is getting the elusive ‘Perfect’ rank for all songs on all difficulties, but good luck getting that done on some of the high tempo songs on ‘Extreme.’
“…the entire game is one big celebration of, for and by the vocaloid community.”Visually, Project Diva ƒ is a huge step up from the PSP entries in the series. Colors pop on the Vita’s sharp display and the framerate remains smooth, regardless of the frantic action taking place on- screen. Artistically and stylistically, the game also impresses, with Miku’s energetic personality and infectious dance moves conveyed perfectly by her fluid animation, detailed character model and varied expressions. Occasionally, the background elements can obscure or detract from the on-screen prompts, but this is only an issue on rare occasions during the harder difficulty levels, and even then, it can be overcome by staying focused (as hard as that may be with an army of Chibi-Mikus, cat leonardo DiCaprio or any of the other crazy hijinks being displayed at any given time).
As expected, the meat of the experience is found in the ‘Rhythm Game’ mode, but there are a few other options for those looking to mix things up. First, there’s an ‘Edit’ mode, which allows users to create their own music videos, which can then be shared online with others. The editing options found within are fairly robust, but it can take quite some time to put something worthwhile together, and that’s time that could be spent trying to beat your old scores in the main game mode. Additionally, there’s the “Diva Room,’ which allows you to interact with Miku and other vocaloids, though this interaction boils down to using the touchscreen to rub the characters’ heads to increase their happiness, buying/giving gifts, decorating rooms and playing janken (rock-scissors-paper). Some entertainment can be had here, if only from watching charming scenes of the vocaloids hanging out with each other (playing music, drawing portraits, etc), but there’s not much value beyond that, besides chasing trophies associated with this mode. Finally, you can use the Vita’s rear camera and AR cards to make it look like Miku is having a concert on your kitchen counter, coffee table, dog’s head or wherever, which is great for taking funny screenshots, if nothing else.
All in all, Project Diva ƒ is a peppy combination of mainstream J-pop, user-generated vocaloid content and otaku culture, lovingly infused into a polished rhythm game package. If you are a Hatsune Miku fan… well, you already bought this game. If you’re a fan of rhythm games in general, this is one of the best around and very much worth recommending. Even those who haven’t listened to a J-pop song in their lives would do well to give Project Diva ƒ a shot, as Miku’s infectiously upbeat attitude and buoyant dance moves have a way of turning even the most cynical into a diehard fan. If this happens with you, don’t be ashamed to shake your groove thing next to that life-sized AR Miku. Heck, let your friend grab a screenshot and post it on Twitter – nobody will judge. Well, many might, but I certainly won’t.