Anime pop idol Hatsune Miku has transformed into a music pop star in her own right with help from her signature synthesized (Vocaloid) singing voice. The blue haired, twin ponytailed mascot of the nearly decade long running ‘Project Diva’ rhythm game series from Sega and Crypton Future Media, seems to have transcended her digital video game form and crossed over into the real world, appearing live on stage in concert events in Japan in holographic form. After watching a few ‘Miku’ live concert videos on YouTube, her fans seem to be as engaged and energized as any fan would be at any pop star concert. The West is more likely to have been exposed to ‘Miku’ as a news headline describing a strange cultural phenomenon rather than the actual video game series itself. The games are actually quite a niche genre in the States, as most rhythm games are.
I haven’t played any of the previous Project Diva entries, but I have played quite a few fantastic rhythm games in the past, so a return to a story driven approach to a rhythm game seemed all too nostalgic. Past generation rhythm games focused on protagonists and narratives with quirky visual styles and memorable music which varied in genres such as in games like PaRappa the Rapper, and Um Jammer Lammy. One is hip-hop/rap-infused and the other has more of a rock aesthetic. Sega Dreamcast also had Space Chanel 5, which featured platform shoes and high skirt wearing groovy character ‘Ooh La La’ that resembled Hatsune Miku in a way, except with pink hair, although it was more focused on dance music. There was a long period where Guitar Hero and Garage Band, along with their accompanying plastic peripherals took over the rhythm game genre and then it kind of died out again.
Most of the games I’ve mentioned, including Project Diva X, have gameplay focused around hitting controller buttons correlating to button prompts that fly across the screen, which are timed to the beats of the song. In the case of Project Diva X it’s: X, O, square, triangle, directional pad buttons and control sticks. Sometimes you have to hold down a button press for a melody or mash a button when singers hold long vocal notes. Accurately hitting your target marks will accumulate your total high score, and you typically need to reach a specific high score goal number to clear the stage in order to unlock higher difficulty settings for that stage. Easy difficulty challenges only require using maybe one or two controller button inputs. Fewer prompts appear on the screen and move at a slower speed throughout the entire song. However, higher difficulty challenges will require the use of more controller button inputs, combinations of direction pad buttons and face buttons, and prompts will also appear more frequently and move much faster across the screen, making it very difficult to achieve goal requirements without practice and multiple replays.
Project Diva X ramps up the difficulty very quickly. Even ‘Normal’ challenge mode can be quite hectic and be downright diabolical and feel impossible at times. This is made worse if you don’t care at all for the music, which is all Japanese vocals and varies in style from catchy electronic dance music with a bit of dubstep mixed in, and cool rock ballads–my favorites, to more slow paced love ballads and odd quirky music that is closer to jazz and forgettable generic anime music. Of the 30 plus songs, I really only enjoyed a little over half of the song list, which made clearing half of the game feel like more of a frustrating chore, especially on higher difficulty.
The lack of more appealing songs in the playlist is probably the most disappointing part of the game for me because Project Diva X adds so many features to try to make replays more fun and interesting. For starters, there is a ‘Quest Mode’ which features story progression system that includes visual novel segments after completing each stage. In ‘Quest Mode’ song lists are divided between 5 different worlds categorized by theme, Cute, Cool, Quirky, etc. that you must save with high energy performances and after completing 5 songs in each world, you unlock a final concert-like event– a medley, featuring separate vocal parts for backup singers, who are also your NPCs in the story. Specific to the ‘Quest Mode’ are unique, unlockable fashionable costumes called ‘Modules’, of which there are many to collect, as well as separate fashion accessories (hats, glasses, etc.) to equip that give you point and combo boosts which make harder challenges more forgiving, and also lets you look great while failing too! You can also win rewards in the form of gifts to give to NPCs to build stronger bonds.
A few more extra features include ‘Event Requests’ which require you to create concerts and perform 3 songs back-to-back. ‘Free Play’ mode lets you perform songs you’ve unlocked through Quest Mode, except with classic gameplay which just requires you to hit certain high score goals to clear the stage without help from boosts. A very robust ‘Concert Editor’ lets you become the director and customize many aspects of the performance including camera movements and lighting.
Project Diva X, treats Hatsune Miku like the pop idol that she is. Transforming into amazing garments mid-performance, every song treats the player to really wonderfully choreographed performances, with a variety of interesting set designs that fit the theme each song, making the player feel more like a fan and offering the closest experience to a live concert event or participant in a lavish music video without actually physically being there. I enjoyed over half of the music, of which there are 35+ songs, which was enough to create an enjoyable experience. I appreciate that risks were taken in exploring different music genres. There are also a couple of classic tunes available through DLC for super fans.
This review is based on a review copy of the PS4 version of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X by Sega and Crypton Future Media
- Extra Features
- 30+ songs