Title: The Idolm@ster 2
Developed By: Namco
Published By: Namco Bandai
Based on: The Idolm@ster originally released for Arcades and the XBox360
Console: Playstation 3 / XBox360 (However due to a region lock, only the new PS3 version is playable on non-Japanese consoles)
Release Date: October 2011
Region: This review was conducted on the Playstation 3 version of the title. As the Playstation 3 version is a port of the original XBox360 version, there have been some improvements made to the game – such as some DLC content being available on-disc and a few extra gameplay features.
Prior to this games release on the Playstation 3, this game did have a significant English fanbase despite the fact that most of those fans would have never had the chance to enjoy the game, perhaps basing their fandom on Youtube clips of the music videos or if they were lucky, through a rather watered down Playstation Portable version of the game. However, after countless requests by fans and no doubt potential profits, Namco Bandai have decided to release The Idolm@ster 2 for the PS3, allowing the gates to open for the international fans due to the Playstation 3 having no region restrictions present. The question that I ask however, and plan on answering during the course of this review is… does it live up to expectations or has the game been massively overhyped? Well, only one way to find out… keep on reading my review of The Idolm@ster 2!
As this is my first review of a solely Japanese game, I would like to set the record straight about how the “Story” criteria will go. As I do not believe my translational skills are great enough to accurately represent the storyline, I will comment on it – however will not be giving the game a grade – so if you want feedback about the storyline… read this.
Set about a year and a half after the original game, allowing the girls to age a little bit, this game takes place in a sort of parallel world where the you (The producer) only just joins 765 Pro to find the girls already accomplished idols however their popularity has greatly declined due to public preference in idol groups over solo idols. Therefore, it is your job to select a group of young aspiring idols and make them a group to be reckoned with. As well, due to this game being separate from the others, several of the previous groups and characters do not appear in this game such as 961 Project Fairy and 876 Idols. In replacement, there are two what you could consider antagonistic groups – the first being Ryuuguu Komachi consisting of prior 765 idols Azusa, Ami, Iori and Ritsuko (Althrough they become playable once certain criteria are met) and a male group known as Jupiter which you could consider the main antagonists, in lieu of Ryuuguu Komachi which only poses a minor threat.
To detail a bit of my playthrough, your group consists of three idols, a leader and two members – in my case I chose Yayoi Takatsuki as leader and Mami Futami and Yukiho Hagiwara as members. Your choice affects the storyline in small ways – such as certain characters will have small spinoff storylines which due to a slight language barrier I gave up trying to translate. For the most part, you are given free rein of what you do, with the game occasionally tugging you into a storyline performance or discussion. It is actually nice that the game gives you the freedom, as you are only given 55 weeks (Each session equals one week) and while I do like a heavy dose of storyline in my game, it didn’t distract me from the music element which seems to be the main draw of the title. It is a nice simple storyline with for those who want it, stable character development.
The second biggest draw to this game would be the design. All designs are cel-shaded and while there are a few issues with hair stylings and accessories, there is minimal to no issues arising from them. All the idols in the game, both male and female have a unique and distinct appearance which makes adding them to your team more than just who sounds well together, but also who looks good together. To give an example (This might just be me being picky), I chose my three idols because they all had relatively the same height, whereas having a taller character as a second member might make screenshots look awkward – but hey, mix and match who you want! But the characters are most certainly unique, suit their personalities and are simply well designed. The idols can be altered significantly through the addition of clothing and accessories which you can mix and match. Taking into account both in-game store items and DLC items, there are a nice selection of accessories and costume styles – however until you get enough money to buy a diverse range of EXTEND costumes or different colour sets, you may get tired of the same three costume sets (FLORAL, LUXURY and STARRY). As well, the initial accessories you have can sometimes be incomplete or don’t go with much – for example you are provided with a Black Cat tail and paws, but only rabbit ears. These are only minor issues however and as you progress through the game, you should enjoy the degree of freedom you have.
In terms of stage environments and dance animations, they are pretty solid. There is a lack of unique stages, which each of the six regions in Japan having only a small handful, however some are very memorable such as what I would call a “Winter Wonderland” stage. Dance animations are pre-determined, so you are not given any freedom in terms of that however what they do provide both goes along with the music well and actually looks like they spent some time doing them. This is especially impressive considering the number of character combinations and the fact you can have groups of one, two, three and five idols dancing at once. Overall, the design was impressive.
MUSIC! I have some good news and some slightly bad news about this game in relation to this category. To get the bad out of the way, there is not that great a number of songs included even with the PlayStation 3 version including some extra songs, with a total of 18. This may sound like a lot and considering they had to re-record the songs multiple times for the different voice actresses it is impressive – they placed categories on them (Dance, Vocal, Visual), meaning that depending on your play style and dedication for the best producer rank – you may end up with a very limited selection. But that is just me of course. To the good news about the songs, while they didn’t bring over all the good songs from The Idolm@ster, almost all the songs are brilliant J-POP tracks and should live up to your expectations. I haven’t had experience with different character combinations but the group I had harmonized their voices together well. What more can I say?
While the storyline, visual and music elements of the game were impressive, the gameplay failed to be anything more then average for me. While it is fun to manage an idol group, they could have diversified the gameplay a little bit more to make it less tedious. To have your idol producing better in performances, you are required to attend practice sessions for three different criteria: Vocal, Dance and Visuals. Ideally, although as impractical as I found it, you are suppose to maintain a balance between all three to have the “best chance” at winning the performance sessions. The game contains many different event types including auditions (To appear on national or regional television – so just increase your score), Live concerts (Requires you to raise crowd happiness) and festivals (My favourite as it pits you against another idol or idol group to win the love of the crowd). Despite the differences in success requirements, the gameplay is essentially the same by pressing the corresponding button for one of three circles (Representing a specific stat) as it hits the edge to increase your score, while building up for point boosts. The end product is rewarding but with the exception of Festivals there is no challenge to it. As well, the practice sessions for the stats are the same every time and consist of pressing buttons or matching coloured words – highly unoriginal.
Your main goal is to become the #1 idol, and to do that you need three things – 1. Fans, 2. Money and 3. Happy Idols. While your primary source of income and fans are through performances, you can also earn them by doing publicity stunts. These publicity stunts are like a punch in the stomach for those who are braindead when it comes to geography in general, as to successfully complete them – you need to answer a geography question (Hey it isn’t just this game… the geography boss in Little King’s Story was a real bitch to beat) that holds no relevance to the stunt, and talk with your selected idol for a while. Your overall goal is to get your idols performances onto the top of the charts, which require a mix of successful performances, fanbase and so forth. In your first run through the game, you will find yourself losing events and perhaps even putting your idols through the “Training Session of Hell” but the game is overall fairly forgiving, so if you don’t achieve a rank 20 or greater on the charts by Week 36, you will deviate to a slightly different plot where you can win your place in the idol contest and so forth.
To summarise, having a knowledge of the Japanese language is key to enjoying the storyline, as it remains a dialogue intensive game where a wrong decision can put your idol in a bad mood reducing their performance. However despite knowledge of the language, you have a great end-point of unlimited idol performances (As there is also a custom performance editor irrespective of where you are in the game) and rewarding customization features, but at the same time you are left with some gameplay elements that get tedious after a few plays – especially when you consider to get the Platinum Trophy for this game, you need to complete the game 9 times, each with a different leader. How much you enjoy this game is really up to you.
For the record, there are a few included bonuses in the Playstation 3 version of the game such as the first three DLC catalogues of the XBox360 version being included on-disc, although from what I can tell you only start the game with the songs, so as not to give you a swarm of imbalanced costumes and accessories for your idols (I haven’t actually seen or purchased any of these costumes or accessories myself as of yet). Also, upon completion of the game, you are able to unlock a bonus episode featuring the girls from Ryuuguu Komachi. Besides that, it seems to be, for the most part the same game.
Personally, if you enjoy the currently running anime series or have any inkling to purchase the game for whatever reason, then you will have a good chance of enjoying it. While I found the gameplay very tedious at points – doubled when I had to repeat half the game due to losing my saved data, it is a fun way to spend your time and the Stage For You custom performance creator could be the biggest time spender you have seen in a game for a while. But I applaud anyone who manages to get a Platinum Trophy in this game.