Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X Review
Rhythm games have always been in my blood. I was raised on DDR, cut my teeth with Guitar Hero, and helped the Elite Beat Agents save the day on multiple occasions. I'm also a fan of Japanese culture, having marathoned my fair share of anime and even purchased a few albums of J-Pop music that I couldn't tell you what the lyrics were about without a proper translation, but still rocked out with the beat. I'm definitely open to unique video games, and anything in the Hatsune Miku series definitely will scratch that kind of itch. From my limited understanding, Miku started as a virtual representation of a vocal program crafted for musicians that has since spawned an entire franchise, wherein virtual idols, or "vocaloids," sing songs, often written by fans, with fan made music videos spawning from them as well. Concerts have been held around the world, and she has toured America and even been on the David Letterman show. Her musical domination continues in this line of Sega developed games, and Project DIVA X is now releasing on the PS4 system.
Miku and her fellow vocaloids live in a world that is expanded by music. Within each virtual sphere is a set of songs that must be completed before another genre can be opened. By completing certain sections flawlessly you can earn special items, be they costume changes, simple accessories, or gifts you can give each of the six vocaloids to strengthen your friendship bond with them, which will in turn make them perform better within the songs themselves. As a whole, this meta-game gets a little busy, as matching outfits and accessories with particular songs to increase your potential for voltage (the game's scoring system; you must have enough to clear a song) gets more daunting as the game progresses and more options are unlocked. If you enjoy the dress up, it will give you plenty of chances to do so, finding the perfect combination to wow the crowd, or just take a few pictures for the gallery.
The meat of the game is in the songs, of course. Within each song, timed icons representing specific button presses are on the screen, and their matching symbol floats across to meet up with it. Hit the timing right, and the voltage goes up. Hit it wrong, and the vocals kick out. Instead of being straight across the top a la DDR, the icons are dynamically placed, with the floating symbols flying in from all sides. It makes the levels seem rather chaotic, but when you get the groove down they are full of energy and fun. Behind the gameplay, Miku and her fellow vocaloids sing and dance on varying stages, from backyards to concert venues. At times they were fun, but at times they detracted from the gameplay, such as when the camera zooms over a concert hall full of waggling glow sticks as your icons spin through the bottom of the screen. It went past "challenging" straight to "grrrr..."
There are, of course, varying difficulties to the songs, but I was a bit frustrated by the jump from Easy to Normal. Easy has 99% of the notes on the same circle button, with just enough variants to frustrate you as you get in the groove only to fail the changed note. Normal adds a second or third button as well as the cross-controller double tap, where you hit up+triangle, right+circle, and the like. The combinations ramp up as well as the directional changes of the buttons flying across the screen. While the difference between the two levels is jarring, nailing the notes makes you feel like a master, and Sega did an exceptional job of making the flow work. A bystander may be confused as to all the chaos on the screen, but while focusing on the motion of the icons, you easily follow where they are headed. I've gone up to Hard and very nearly cleared it, so I see it coming with practice, much like ramping up on Dance Dance Revolution back in my rhythm prime.
Music is definitely something that joins the world together. Regardless of the language being sung, one can get into the beat. By and large, Miku's songs have wonderful tempos and fun sounds, though Joe American may have to get used to some of the slightly off-beat notes that are inherent in this type of music. I really don't want to sound ethnocentric here, because I seriously love the Japanese culture, but I feel I could get more enjoyment out of it if there were a few familiar songs in there. My absolute favorite rhythm game I've ever played is Nintendo's Elite Beat Agents, because they took a quality gameplay model and skinned it over some of my favorite songs from growing up. Even if I didn't recognize it, the lyrics in my own language allowed me to better prepare mentally for upcoming beat patterns. I'm sure as I play the game I'd further memorize songs and it would be the same, but the tunes, while catchy and fun, don't make me want to revisit a level like Jumpin' Jack Flash did for EBA. True fans of Miku's work are bound to have every song memorized and be right up there enjoying it, but as a first-time Vocaloid fan, it feels like it takes some getting used to.
After the first section of songs (or "cloud requests" as the game calls them), the other five characters are unlocked. I was excited for this, as I was getting a vibe of "making your own voice" and "activation" from the game, but to me, it appears everyone dances and sings just like Miku, despite having unique voices in the menu settings. It's neat to have the option, especially as you unlock all the different outfits for each character and learn what kind of presents they all like. It would have been neat to see the other vocaloids have unique voices to change the pace of the song, but if they are any different, it's not by a noticeable margin. I do like how each cloud has a different genre, and after you unlock one you have a choice of which to unlock next, rather than being forced to a set pattern. After unlocking three of the clouds, the game really opens up, allowing you to craft your own concerts and medlies. After unlocking all the clouds, the game adds extra challenges to keep your attention and add extra replay value.
True Hatsune Miku fans will fawn over Project DIVA X, as the game has plenty of her signature songs and humor. Rhythm game fans will enjoy the challenge as well. It may be hard to convert anyone else, as the chaotic action screen and Japanese language and beats make it hard for someone with traditional pop music tastes to follow along. Miku makes me pine for a new Elite Beat Agents, but I can say my time with her has been worthwhile. There are a ton of unlocks to plow through, rewarding you as you continue on in the plot to expand the Vocaloid's home world and bring music to everyone. As Hatsune Miku has grown in popularity in Japan, America, and around the world, who knows what the future may hold for this virtual idol. But it is easy to say that the rhythm music game genre is a welcome one for her talents.
Special thanks to the developers for providing a copy (and plenty of DLC!) for review.
Final Review Score: 4/5