It’s important not to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes looks aren’t exactly deceiving. Sometimes you can look at a game and more or less determine whether it’s something that you’d be into right at that moment. While in general it’s best to reserve judgment, sometimes the formality isn’t necessary and you can tell up front if you’d like a game or if you’d rather spend time playing something else. What you see in Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd is definitely what you get.
Project Diva F 2nd is the latest title in the relatively long-running Japanese Hatsune Miku rhythm series, so the game-play will be familiar to anyone who has played the other titles. Fans will take control of virtual pop star Hatsune Miku or a member of her colorful entourage and perform numerous Vocaloid songs by hitting various buttons in time with the onscreen cues. This happens in a pretty standard fashion, with you at times needing hold or flick certain buttons not unlike in a Guitar Hero title.
The game starts you off with a quick tutorial and then presents you with a couple of tracks, tracks which you’ll need to clear before new tracks are available. From the outset you can choose between various difficulty settings, but during my time with the game, none of them ever seemed sufficiently easy. The cues rolled across the screen simply too quickly at times and even on the easiest difficulty there are segments of different songs that I have no hope of clearing.
One of the things that made the game challenging for me was actually finding the button cues while playing. During a song in this game, there is a bright, quickly flashing and vivid animation taking place behind the button cues. Couple this with visual flourishes of the button cues themselves and other navigational elements and I found it pretty hard to actually see, focus on and play the game.
While you might expect an option to assuage this issue, maybe by killing the background video or at least muting the button effects, there’s no way to scale back the visuals. As soon as you get distracted and notice a dance move or a pyrotechnic happening in the background, you’ve missed notes and your score stops growing. This is important, because you have to reach a certain score while playing the song in order to “clear” it and unlock a new song.
Some of the songs can be fairly lengthy, which seems like it should give you ample opportunity to rack that score up, but the score builds in such a perpetual way that hitting a string of notes correctly just doesn’t seem to do much after you’ve missed some. Adding to the difficulty (and frustration) here is that the score requirements on some of the songs seem a tad too high or strict. Several times I came that close to clearing a stage and missed by the slimmest margin, meaning I had to retry.
Even on easy mode, it didn’t seem reasonable to me that I wasn’t doing well enough to pass. Sure I’d miss some here and there, but I also felt like I was hitting enough notes right to have gotten through. It felt like there was no “close enough” and that making any progress took a near to perfect play through, which is plain off-putting if you’re new to this or just trying to enjoy casually.
The long, challenging songs and high score requirements meant that I was replaying songs several, several times before unlocking anything and every time I saw the failure screen I could feel attrition. Not fun, but attrition.
As you play you unlock funds that you can spend outside of the rhythm game to buy costumes for the characters, furniture for their rooms and the like. Unfortunately most of the good stuff is rather expensive, demanding hours of play before you’ve grinded up enough to buy them.
I imagine that this could help add longevity to the title since there is quite a bit to purchase, but the price of some of the items just makes it seem like a daunting chore rather than a challenge I’d want to tackle.
You can also “spend time” with the vocaloid performers, give them gifts and build relationships with them in a kind of side game. This system is as Japanese as it sounds and those interested can partake in the pleasure of getting much more familiar with the electronic diva herself or the other performers.
I must mention that the game features lovely artwork. The loading screen pictures are really nice and the game definitely has an anime flair going for it. The videos that take place in background are also pretty cool looking, although if you’re watching them then you’re probably losing.
The game in general maintains a bright and exciting look, which helps ward off the repetition. In addition to the visuals, I would also commend the overall amount of content in the game. There are dozens of songs, numerous difficulty settings, lots of ways to customize different things like the skins and costumes, and more unlockables than you can shake a stick at. Suffice it to say that if this is your kind of game then you’re in luck because there is certainly a considerable amount of game here.
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd is what it looks like. It’s an unashamedly Japanese rhythm game chock full of synthetic vocals, flashy stages, dance routines and challenge. You’ll work hard to keep up with the lights and sounds while on stage and relax with relationship simulation and dress up while off the stage. Even though I’m always happy to see a Japanese title aimed at a tiny niche make it out of Japan, I simply did not have much fun with this game.
Somewhere out there there’s a Japanophile who’s crazy about vocaloid music and rhythm games. If that’s you then don’t miss this title — otherwise you might want to change the station.