8 / 10 Banzai!s
Welcome to the world of Miku Hatsune, or “Hatsune Miku” in Japanese, as surnames come before given names. She is the virtual-idol created by Crypton Future Media as a mascot for the Vocaloid 2 speech synthesis engine, and has taken Japan by storm. After appearing as figures, on trading cards and pencil cases, and even in “live” concerts, it’s only natural she should have her own game. With sales of the Playstation Vita not quite at par with Sony’s wishes, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F was the game which they hoped – like Monster Hunter for their PSP – would be the title to boost Vita sales.
So, what is it?
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F is a rhythm game created by Sega, bearing some similarity to the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games in the West, or Beat Mania and Taiko No Tatsujin in Japan. Each song has its own CG video in which Miku or one of her friends dance and sing away, while triangles, squares and other shapes fly across the screen towards their mark. Hit the appropriate button as the shape hits the mark, and it counts as a beat. A blue arrow pointing downward means hitting down on the D-pad while pressing X. A star means swiping your finger across the screen. Each beat counts as a rap on a tambourine, and similar to other musical rhythm games, failing a beat means messing up Miku’s song – as well as your score.
In terms of difficulty, the game is basically on par with Rock Band. Easy and Normal modes are a good way to get used to the game, but once you reach Hard, shapes come flying at you with no mercy.
In addition to the core game, Miku Hatsune also has her own apartment – along with her vocaloid friends: Luka, Rin, Len, Kaito, and Meiko. Earn points in the game, and use them to buy furniture and nice things for their rooms. Interactively, you can pat the characters on the head which warms their hearts, and maybe challenge you to a game of jan-ken-pon, the Japanese version of rock-paper-scissors.
And just for an added bonus, place an AR card on your coffee table and watch Miku Hatsune sing and dance. Or, put the card on the floor and stand back, while she blows-up to life size and performs in your living room.
What I Liked:
It’s clear that a lot of effort when into this game, particularly for a portable console which has seen some pretty low sales. Given Miku Hatsune’s growing popularity, and the fact that Project Diva F was only available on the Playstation Vita during its launch (it was released for the Playstation 3 six months later), this game had high hopes to become the portable system’s flagship – at least here in Japan – and the evidence is in the presentation of the game itself.
There are a total of 33 songs to play through. This may seem small compared to the sixty-something on the Rock Band games, but each song has its own unique video rather than just watching the players on stage rotating through a series of actions with their instruments. Regardless if you’re a fan of vocaloid J-pop music or not, the videos themselves are creative and well done, and shine on the Vita’s HD screen. Occasionally, I found myself getting distracted while playing because my eyes kept wanting to watch the music video. But don’t worry, there’s a mode which allows you to view each video in its entirety without having to play the rhythm game.
The beats themselves match well with the music, and I personally found it easier to “listen” for the timing rather than watching the shapes reach their mark. The game itself can get quite challenging, but there’s a tutorial in the beginning to teach you the ropes, and the easier modes allow you to get use to the game before embarking on Hard or Extreme.
Just like other music games, you can spend your points on dressing up the characters in new costumes. And Sega has taken this a step further by fancying up each performer’s room, allowing it to become more interactive whenever you pay Miku Hatsune a visit, such as installing a jukebox or game machine.
And I gotta say, the AR function is pretty cool. The songs Miku sings in your livingroom aren’t just regurgitated from the videos, but are additional ones which brings the total songs in the game up to 44, along with unique dances and poses. There’s no gameplay or interaction with the AR, but the intention, I think, was just to add another bonus to the game. AR is still a new feature to gaming, and while I may sound like an old man fascinated with new technology, I get a kick out of seeing a CG Miku Hatsune singing in front of my sofa.
What I Didn’t Like:
I don’t have a lot to say in this area, since I gave the game 8 out of 10 Banzai!s. The only thing that might have been nice is to see a bit more interaction with the characters in their apartment. The rock-paper-scissors game was a nice touch, but it gets old quick. Also the camera doesn’t work “freely” here, like it did in Reality Fighters or even Uncharted: Golden Abyss, where you could move the Vita around and get a 360 degrees view of everything, feeling as though the Vita’s screen is a window into another world around you. Instead, you can only adjust the camera under restrictions by using the analog sticks. Since the Vita is capable of using motions for the camera control, I don’t know why Sega retreated back to the “old fashioned” analog sticks, or why they decided to limit the area of the camera’s view.
Obviously Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F is not a game for everyone. For one, you’d have to be a fan of music rhythm games. Also, having an appreciation for vocaloid J-pop music may be a bit of a requirement, as well as a fan of the Miku Hatsune universe in general.
But the game is what it is. And for what it is, I awarded it an 8 our of 10. It’s not the best game in the world, but it’s certainly the most entertaining title I’ve played thus far on the Playstation Vita. Despite a high level of sales for Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F in Japan, Sega spent a good year contemplating whether or not to export the game to North America or Europe – which they finally did. But then, Sega was always overly cautious when it came to selling any of their titles oversees which they feel are “too absorbed with Japanese culture” (When Ryu Ga Gotoku 3 was released overseas as Yakuza 3, Sega went so far as replacing the green tea with cola).
Will Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F be the next Monster Hunter for the Playstation Vita? Perhaps not, but it was certainly a good try.