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Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F Review: It’s Her Time To Shine
Crypton Future Media’s Character Vocal Series line of Vocaloid voice synthesizers has a dedicated and rabid following around the world, but despite that the products are still relatively niche outside of Japan. As such Sega has taken a risk by releasing Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F, a rhythm game based around songs created by the Vocaloid fanbase, outside of Japan. I, for one, am glad that they did take such a risk, though, because this is a game that is an experience unlike most of the fellow members of its genre.
The bulk of the gameplay in Project Diva F involves the Rhythm Game mode where you can play through the included playable songs. In the Rhythm Game mode various notes will move across the screen. These notes take the form and colors of the PS3’s face buttons and come in two flavors; a single quick tap and a prolonged press. In addition there are combo notes that come in the shape of arrows that require you to press the same colored face button and the corresponding direction on the d-pad.
For instance, a green arrow that is pointing up will require you to simultaneously press the triangle button and up on the d-pad. Finally there is one other type of note, and that is star notes, which you hit by flicking either of the analog sticks in any direction. However I must profess that I find the star notes to be the odd ones out, as the nature of their control input makes it extremely difficult for them to be combined with the other notes. This results in the star notes being reserved for specific sections of each song.
Depending on how accurately you time your input each note can have one of five ratings; Cool, Fine, Safe, Bad, and Awful. Cool being the best rating and Awful meaning you completely missed the note. Earning Cool and Fine ratings add to a grade points bar at the bottom of the screen and to your energy meter, as well as increase your score. Earning Safe ratings does nothing beyond breaking your note streak. Earning Bad ratings takes away from your energy, and earning Awful ratings takes away energy and the vocals of the song are muted briefly if you choose to let that happen.
Interestingly, Project Diva F has it to where you can finish a song but still not pass it. You must pass a certain point on the grade points bar to pass a song, upon which you will then be given one of four grades for clearing the song; Standard, Great, Excellent, or Perfect. The only way to flat out fail a song is if you get enough Bad and Awful ratings to deplete your health meter. There are four difficulty settings to play the game on; Easy, Normal, Hard, and Extreme. Each setting adds more notes onto the screen and speeds up the time you have to hit them.
During each song there are two special groups of notes, the Technical Zone and the Chance Time. In the Technical Zone, a number of notes will be posted in the corner of the screen and hitting all the notes successfully will earn you a massive boost in grade points. In Chance Time an unspecified number of notes will appear, all having a rainbow streak behind them. Hitting these notes builds up a star meter that will also give you a massive boost in grade points and score if you successfully hit the resulting star note.
Playing songs, whether you successfully clear them or not, rewards you with Diva Points. The amount given, however, does depend on if you clear a song and on the song’s difficulty setting. You can also make songs easier or more difficult by spending Diva Points on Help Items that can help you out by doing things like converting Safe and Bad ratings into Good ratings or Challenge Items that harm you by doing things like giving you a set amount of energy that must last you the entire song in exchange for earning extra Diva Points if you pass the song.
In addition to playing songs, there is an Edit Mode, a Studio Mode, and the Diva Room. The Edit Mode is where you can put together your own note layouts to both the songs in the game and any songs stored on the system. You can also edit the videos that accompany these songs. The Studio Mode allows you to view Miku perform some songs on a virtual stage in front of a giant glow stick waving crowd and allows you to take pictures with Miku where you can pick her pose, expression, and even the background.
The Diva Room is a side function that lets you interact with the different Vocaloids in their own personal rooms. You can give the Vocaloids gifts in the form of food and physical items, as well as change the look of their rooms. By far the oddest thing about the Diva Room, however, is a mini game where you must poke, prod, and even pet the Vocaloids to find the area they like being touched. Touch them in the specific way they like enough times and they will ask you to play games like rock, paper, and scissors.
Visually, the game looks stunning. The game’s music videos are gorgeously animated and detailed, which is even more obvious when you watch the songs in their video mode, where they aren’t cluttered by the onscreen notes from the gameplay mode. The animation is top notch with characters dancing all over the screen with fluid motions. Perhaps the most interesting thing I can say about Project Diva F’s videos is how it seems they were deliberately designed to make the game more difficult.
Several of the videos feature a lot of colors that match the notes, which can end up masking the notes until the very last moment. Other videos throw so much animation on screen that it can easily mess with you keeping track of notes. But what has to be the most devious method some of the videos use in an attempt to distract you is the use of the feminine charms of the female Vocaloids by having them dance suggestively, or occasionally zoom in on their chests, hips, or lips.
The Vocaloids themselves also look really impressive in their default clothing, but they look even better in Project Diva F’s menagerie of modules, which are different costumes for the characters to wear that you can purchase with Diva Points. And while you can use any of the characters in any of their modules in all of the songs, there is a certain charm to seeing the Vocaloid wear the corresponding modules to each song. The problem is each module costs a lot of Diva Points to purchase, so you will reach a point where you are grinding through the songs over and over again to be able to purchase all of them.
In regards to the music, befitting of a rhythm game, it is overall pretty great. There are 38 playable songs on the game, with another song restricted to the game’s tutorial and Edit Mode and 4 more songs that are reserved for the Studio Mode. The songs themselves range from techno pop songs to rock songs to slow ballads. There is even a gospel song, oddly enough.
Also, just like how the videos can affect the gameplay, the music also has a hand in shaping your experience with each song. You see, the notes in each song aren’t set to either just the vocals or just the music like in many other music games. In some songs the notes react to the rhythm of the vocals, and in others it is the instrumentals that control the notes.
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F is not a flawless game, with the awkwardness of the star notes being the big stand out issue. In addition to that there are constant loading screens every time you move through menus, the Vocaloid petting game is pretty weird, and there is a bit of an element of grinding to the game to unlock everything. Luckily these flaws are in the grand scheme of things not deal breakers and are not even as bad as I may make them sound. At the end of the day, Project Diva F features a varied and great sounding track list that is fun to play over and over again, and that is what ultimately matters when it comes to rhythm games.