Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA f – review

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‘Vocaloids’ sounds a little like the name for an AI super race that plans to take over the world, and perhaps it is; it describes virtual singers descended from software first developed by Yamaha. Digital pop stars have resulted from this technology, meeting with great success (particularly in Japan). The best example is probably the eponymous Hatsune Miku, who has only very recently made an appearance in the West via videogames. Last year’s PS3 rhythm action game is now joined by the Vita version, where Miku is again joined by five of her virtual pals – all six of them bearing a slightly sinister tattoo on one arm, denoting their identifying Vocaloid number.

The core rhythm action part of the package is not sinister. It is so far away from sinister, in fact, that it goes all the way around the world from sinister until it ends up just three steps behind it, oblivious thanks to a thick curtain of bright colours and (mostly) relentlessly cheerful J-pop. We all know the drill by now – press the right buttons, or combination of buttons, at the right time (with touchscreen ‘scratching’ thrown in for good measure). The better your timing the more points you score. There’s a hundred games that work like that, but Project Diva f somehow catches you in the gaze of its gigantic eyes and makes you forget.

The music. Oh, goodness, the music. Miku & co have spawned games (of course), CDs, merchandise, and even perform in real-life concerts by being projected onto a stage. Here you get over thirty J-pop songs, most of which are more bubbly than a champagne bottle full of Aeros. If you don’t like this sort of music, then this is absolutely not going to change your mind. If you do, then you’re pretty much going to be in heaven here – while some songs are obviously better than others (our favourite easily being Secret Police), we’d say there’s not a bad one in the bunch. You get the lyrics via subtitles, but don’t expect to be singing along in a hurry unless your Japanese is good. Localisation has, sadly, not extended to including any songs sung in English.

“Have YOU been injured at work within the last three years?”

We do at least get song titles in English, with some inevitably bizarre inclusions such as ‘Hm? Ah, Yes’, ‘World’s End Umbrella’, and ‘Sadistic Music Factory’ (there’s also one called ‘Ashes to Ashes’ but no, not that one). Music and lyrics are provided by a variety of artists – Jesus even contributes (yes, maybe that one, who knows?). There’s a decent variety of music despite the majority being irrepressibly upbeat, and each song has its own music video featuring the virtual idols. Some are very good, and a few – intentionally or otherwise – are at times very distracting while you’re trying to concentrate on the on-screen symbols.

The presentation of the symbols themselves deserves special mention. Rather than plodding along the screen in a straight line, they’ll appear in various different places on screen in different formations and at a varying tempo. In addition to this, the symbols that then zoom in that need to be matched could be flying in from any angle, and will sometimes be devilishly designed to mismatch the sequence or speed their receptacles appeared in. We may have made it sound horribly complicated but you’ll be in the swing of things before the first song is even halfway done (especially if you take the tutorial), and it means that when you earn a decent score you’ve earned it – and you know you have.

There are four difficulties to try, and we’d advise you to skip Easy. Spend a few hours tackling Normal (reasonable) before moving on to Hard (very challenging) and, if you’re brimming with confidence, Extreme (flippin’ impossible). To mix things up a little you can change the Vocaloid/s performing should you so wish, and you can purchase one-off modifiers with the Diva Points that you earn. These can make the song easier (but will usually limit the grade you can earn) or harder (with greater rewards). And yes, you can simply sit back and watch any unlocked music videos.

Go Go Power Ra- no, wait.

There’s a surprising amount to do outside of the rhythm game, and this is what will demand the majority of your aforementioned Diva Points. To be more specific, the Diva Rooms will demand you spend DP for room themes, items, clothes, accessories, and more. This mode in effect gives you one Diva at a time as a sort of Moshi Monster, as you customise their living space and give them gifts to increase affinity. You can also slowly increase affinity by – ahem – touching them. Quote: “Touch the character juuust right, and they might invite you to play a game”. This mode is very slightly less creepy than it could have been given that two of the Divas are male and no, it’s not that sort of game.

There’s an admirably in-depth Edit mode where you can make your own music videos, and even set them to your own MP3s. You can upload and download user content (though not with copyright-tastic user MP3s of course) to see and show how impressive/embarrassing you are compared to others. The package is topped off with a few AR (remember that?) features allowing you to, say, have a Hatsune Miku concert on the kitchen table, or pose one of her friends on top of the dog and take a photo.

Project Diva f is one of the best rhythm action games on the market. It’s easy to see why Sega were reluctant to take a gamble on a Western release, but it’s also easy to see why Miku and friends have enjoyed such success elsewhere. If the only thing you’re worried about is the language barrier then take it from us that, so far as enjoying the game is concerned, it’s no barrier at all.  

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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