Vocaloid line of Software, Hatsune Miku line of games.
While Japanese video game fans internationally have been waiting for a release of Yakuza 5 for the last year or so, publisher Sega have made a considerable gesture to international gamers. Hinting that they haven’t forgotten the less mainstream market of games, the company recently localized and released Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F on the Playstation 3 in both North America and PAL regions. This was the first installment in the Hatsune Miku line of video games to be published internationally and was in my opinion a no-brainier given the growing worldwide popularity of the Vocaloid software and its beloved characters.
Never heard of Vocaloid? Vocaloid is a singing voice synthesizer, where essentially through the input of text and a bit of musical creativity users can create very ingenious tracks from any genre of music. The voices are sourced from a number of acclaimed voice actors/actresses including Saki Fujita as Hatsune Miku and Asami Shimoda as both Kagamine Rin and Kagamine Len among many others. It is clear to see from a simple Youtube or Google search how this series has boomed. These voices have been supported by representing particular named (Rather than “Girl 1″ or “Boy #2″) and designed characters.
But with the Hatsune Miku rhythm game series receiving its first release internationally…. how does it fare?
Featuring bright and vibrant visuals, well animated character animations and a considerable degree of customization there is much to both love and become frustrated with in Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F. The game comes with around 38 tracks in total to play through (Plus a few extra used in different contexts), and each comes with individual music videos relating to the song and fit very well. A couple of these music videos also pay reference to other titles Phantasy Star Online 2 (Which feels more like a taunt given Sega’s international silence on the game). While each song is only formally performed by one character, you can also switch in any character of your preference once they have been unlocked.
The problem with these music videos are because they are so enticing to the eye, it is easy to become distracted and lose track of the corresponding buttons you have to press. It felt at times that the designers of these scenes played the role as the antagonist of this game. Fortunately after making your way through the song once you can watch the video anytime you want by itself.
The game features a total of six Vocaloid characters who each have at least a small set of songs – Hatsune Miku, Kagamine Rin, Kagamine Len, Megurine Luka, Meiko and Kaito. Each of these six characters can be customized before each song through a number of modules (clothes) and customization (accessory) items unlocked and subsequently purchased in the game. The variety on offer is considerable and while it takes some time to purchase all the goodies there are a lot of character combinations to be made.
If this title serves as your introduction to Vocaloid introduced songs then it may take some getting used to, however a few songs in and you should really find yourself getting into the rhythm of the tunes. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F is a rhythm game, and it is expected for any title in the genre to offer at the very least a solid variety of suitable songs for a player to work their way through. While I wouldn’t have said no to a few more songs on the tracklist (To be fair, that list could extend indefinitely), each of the songs were well picked for the game, offered a variety of tempos / genres and made good use of all the characters. It is clear they didn’t just throw in any track without considering its adaptability into the rhythm genre.
It must be noted however that there is a strong character imbalance for songs, with Hatsune Miku receiving the most, followed by the Kagamine twins, Megurine Luka and then finally Meiko and Kaito receiving only a couple of songs apiece. As mentioned above you can switch any character in to perform however this only has a visual impact with the vocals not changing to suit the character.
Granted that if you are playing the game on any difficulty you will most probably be focusing on other matters, there is one thing that I think is lacking with the music. In the localization process Sega translated the Japanese lyrics shown at the bottom of the screen into romaji. This is appropriate, however they failed to go the extra step and provide a proper English translation of the songs either below the often one line text or as an extra option. It is a shame as I would have liked to not have to pull up my laptop to read the lyrics while listening to the music.
Depending on your experience with rhythm games in the past, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F will either come in as being familiar or not-so-familiar territory. If you were playing a DanceDanceRevolution or Stepmania game, generally you would expect to see directional buttons moving in a linear motion across the screen. In Project Diva F your actions comprise of a mix of the four face buttons on the DUALSHOCK controller corresponding to the correctly shaped note in addition to the occasional use of face+directional buttons for arrow notes and analog sticks for star notes. The button presses are timed as the note passes over a silhouette corresponding to the particular note, and rather than being linear the direction of these notes can fly in from pretty much anywhere on the screen. There are a couple of variations to this but shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise while playing.
Similar to almost every other rhythm game, you are ranked on each button press depending on how in time with the rhythm you were, ranging from Cool and Good grades which increase your combo tally to anything else which either break the combo or begin to deplete your Song Energy Gauge. If this gauge drops below to nothing the game ends prematurely. Even if you do complete the song, you are also destined to a “Lousy” grade unless you fill the Grade Gauge at the bottom of the screen by getting your button presses and timing right. You would need a score of around 80% to get a standard pass grade so it adds an extra degree of challenge to reach the higher grade tiers. A number of Technical Zone combo opportunities arise each stage to help fill the gauge up quicker as well as a “Chance Time” mode where filling up and hitting a rainbow star note will net you a significant amount on your gauge.
The game offers four difficulty settings ranging from Easy to Extreme. Especially if it is your first time hearing the songs they can be quite challenging even on the lower settings, therefore the game provides a number of help and challenge items to aid and later challenge players. The help items range from “Training Wheels” which replace Bad/Awful beats as Safe but in turn gives you a Lousy grade at the end to a Combo Safeguard which replaces 30 Safe/Bad beats with Good and no penalty. In turn you can earn additional Diva Points by putting restrictions on your play from having targets appear later than normal to having anything but “Cool” dropping your song energy gauge.
Diva Points are the games reward system, which you can use to buy the characters new modules / accessories (They aren’t free or cheap – at least at the beginning), items for their rooms or buy items to gain their affection. These are unlocked through completing stages with prices ranging from 2,500 for an accessory up to 30,000+ for a module. Aside from the character customization options you will be given access to each characters “Diva Room” where you can watch them carry out everyday activities, watch them interact with goodies you provide and pat them on the head (Although it does look like you are patting their face at times). There are quite a few trophies on offer in this mode, but otherwise its value will be up to the individual.
Also included in the game is an Edit Mode, where using your own MP3’s or the songs built in game you can produce your own dance routine and share it with your friends. It was a good idea for a mode and I think it would be used well in some cases…. but there is just one issue…. the Network Mode. The game allows you to share your edit data with others online, however upon my check online there were mostly tracks with little movement or “deleted” notes when you search through the public lists. Given the allure of a trophy or two for using the edit mode, it has resulted in the basic download system being almost worthless internationally. However there are some great examples available online for what is possible and it might be worthwhile searching a few usernames or tracks to find the potentially many gems around. If you have a great example that is worth checking out, share it in the comments box below.
Final Words on Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F
It honestly surprises me that Sega didn’t realize that Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F was a title that many international fans would have wanted internationally sooner, something that seems to have been made much clearer during their Facebook “like” campaign. The game itself was overall enjoyable, offering a difficulty setting for almost every player from beginner to expert and backed up the rhythm-style gameplay with a strong track-list of music from a variety of producers and some strong visuals to boot.
Each song features a distinct music video.
A strong tracklist.
Visuals can be distracting.
If you go into the online modes without knowledge of what you are after, you may leave disappointed.