It’s been a weird month of genre experimentation for me — only last week I jumped into Deus Ex: Mankind Divided without any previous knowledge of the series, and this week I’m tackling a fairly niche J-Pop Vocaloid game, having never listened to Japanese music in the past (outside the occasional anime intro). And, coming from the place of an outsider, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is not only a great game, but a pretty amazing way to broaden your cultural horizons. In short, I couldn’t recommend this game enough to any PlayStation 4 or PlayStation Vita owners with a penchant for rhythm games.
For a bit of background, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is a rhythm game, focusing exclusively on the music from titular Vocaloid, Hatsune Miku. For those super out of the loop, Vocaloids are more-or-less a Japanese technology cultural sensation which allows artists to create songs using a packed-in-box voice. Hatsune Miku, arguably the most popular of the Vocaloid crowd, has a cult of personality, with her influence in games reaching out from her own game series to Just Dance to Persona 4: Dancing All Night.
Project DIVA X, the seventh game in the Project DIVA series, keeps the series fresh by taking on new songs and features. Notably, Free Play mode has taken a backseat to a more formal campaign option titled “Live Quest.” Introduced to Miku and her Vocaloid pals, you are tasked to unlock all of the hidden songs and features by completing each and every track– a total of 30 (including medleys that will merge four or five separate songs).
While the format of the story mode itself helped establish Miku’s personality and assisted to build a bond with the characters, each song starts locked at the easy and normal settings. While it makes getting through all the songs a breeze, fans of rhythm games shouldn’t expect to feel anything remotely challenging until three or four hours in when the more difficult modes become available.
However, all the songs were intriguing enough that I hardly minded the initially bland difficulty settings. As I mentioned previously, I’m not a J-Pop fan and had never heard a Hatsune Miku song before this game. While not ever song is a winner, I’ve had new songs stuck in my head day after day after day (much to the discontent of my significant other and coworkers). Seriously, my YouTube suggestions may officially be messed up for life and I may or may not have blasted a song or two on car rides to work.
What I’m trying to get at is players will likely be surprised at how attached they will get to a decent amount of songs — regardless of their current knowledge of Miku’s work. I would urge those sitting on the fence to explore a few of her songs before picking it up, but you will undoubtedly find something that sticks in your head.
Although a rhythm game requires tantalizing music to keep the player-base entertained, a proper music game will feature tight controls with interesting mechanics. Thankfully, Project DIVA X brings that in spades. While many other rhythm games focus on gimmicks such as guitars or mats, Project DIVA X relies solely on the controller’s face buttons to remarkable success. Once getting past the embarrassingly simple modes, players should expect to be challenged in a way that requires quick reflexes, familiarity with how to keep a beat and the song itself.
Even though unlocking songs is the main objective of the first few hours of Project DIVA X, the game largely centers around the collection of outfits (“modules”) and accessories that will bring various modifiers to your performance. Modules are earned in-level by hitting a string of rainbow notes successfully, trigger and almost “Sailor Moon” costume change mid-act. While the actual function of these modules seemed arbitrary at-best, the outfit collection and customization did add a fun layer and extra difficulty to the title that was appreciated.
The story is just as cheesy and bland as you would imagine a Japanese rhythm game’s story would be. Tasked with unlocking crystals through the power of song, the plot is for the most-part a thinly-veiled reason to make players want to try all the various songs. The dialogue in between various songs falls flat, and paints Miku and her friends as one-note characters with little more beyond their voices and looks. It would have been a far more rewarding experience to perhaps follow Miku through her rise to greatness — but that’s neither here nor there.
Along with the sub-par story mode, players can participate in Events — mini-concerts which puts players in more challenging situations — and a gift-giving mode that seems to add nothing to the title. I appreciate the diversity to the gameplay options, and the hopes from developer SEGA that the variety of modes would add to the experience. However, I can honestly say that I would rather prefer an additional five songs in lieu of inconsequential, lackluster modes.
Despite the lackluster modes, a slow start to seasoned fans, and one-dimensional story, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is likely the best rhythm game you can find on current generation consoles thanks to the great music and tight control scheme. Whether you are a longtime fan, or someone thinking about broadening their horizons,Project DIVA X should be on your shortlist of games out this Fall.