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Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f 2nd (Sony PlayStation 3)

Review by Matt S.

The first Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f kickstarted a new obsession for me. I loved the game so much that I bought a load of Miku CDs and goods on my recent trip to Japan. I've even gone and purchased the Miku software, and if I ever find the time I'm going to create some music of my own.

So the sequel to that first game was always going to be one of my most anticipated games of this Christmas period. It hasn't failed me in the slightest.

The core gameplay hasn't changed much from the previous game, and that's a good thing because it didn't need to change. As with most rhythm games, in Project Diva f 2nd you'll be tapping a variety of buttons and flicking the thumb sticks in time with the music to rack up points. Mistime the button presses and you'll get a "miss" or "poor" result, and the secret to big scores is to string together a huge number of perfectly timed button presses in a row. There are hundreds of button presses involved in some tracks, which should give you an idea of the kind of sheer concentration that you'll need to score the ever-elusive "perfect" track.



In addition to being challenging simply because of the speed in which you'll need to tap along with the buttons on some tracks, Project Diva likes to distract you. In the background Miku and her friends perform music video clip-style performances. These can be incredibly distracting, with a huge amount of energy, colour, and movement going on to draw your focus away from the timing. They're also distracting simply because they're amazing productions (and I'll get to that in the moment). Rather than being a criticism, however, I'd argue it's a good thing, as it really forces your focus and heightens what is already an incredible challenge. As with the last Project Diva, the 'easy' difficulty is straightforward enough, but both 'normal' and 'hard' will challenge anyone, and just getting through a music track on 'extreme' is a genuine achievement to be proud of. Rhythm games don't get more hardcore than this one.

The actual design of each level is of expert quality, with the flow of icons that represent the timing of the button presses perfectly reflecting the background music track to the point where it's almost like you're playing an instrument as part of the performance yourself. From the spacing, to the speed in which they move, these icons become hypnotic and dazzling, and as simple as the gameplay is, there isn't a music game out there that is designed as well as this one.

So Project Diva F 2nd plays just as well as its predecessor, but to a rhythm game it's the music that creates either a resounding success or dismal failure. With around 40 songs, Project Diva f 2nd manages to offer a track list that is even superior to the previous game. The breadth of music themes that it covers is what makes it so impressive, from the soulful A Thousand Year Solo through to the cabaret-style Miracle Painting, pop rock World Is Mine and what could only be termed 'Miku music' in This Is The Happiness And Peace Of Mind Committee. Everyone is going to have their own favourites, of course, but there's enough variety that everyone will be bopping their heads to something. Some of the lesser-known vocaloids, like KAITO and Meiko, get a better showing in this game than the previous one, which in turn means an even greater variety in the music.



The characters themselves have such personality that really helps to build out the music experience. In fact, much of the game's reward structure is build around an assumption that you'll enjoy the characters as much as you enjoy the music and rhythm gameplay. Playing earns points, which can be spent on additional costumes that characters can wear in the video clips (and it's possible to simply watch the videos rather than play the game to actually enjoy these dressup bonuses). Points can also be spent of buying furniture and things to dress up each vocaloid's bedrooms in a separate gameplay mode which plays like a simple little dating sim (give them gifts, build a relationship with them, enjoy additional little cut scenes).

There's also a photo mode that allows you to pose your favourite characters and taking photos. These extra gameplay modes are a lot of fan service, in other words, but one thing that amused me most about them was how committed the game was at keeping everything family-friendly. Though you can move the camera around at will in the photo mode, any attempt to do something perverse as position the camera low to look up a skirt will result in the character being silhouetted out and a big warning to pop up on the screen and warn players that to get their minds out of the gutter. The video clips themselves, too, are also carefully choreographed to preserve as much modesty as possible.

This amuses me so much because some of the costumes are just plain suggestive. Miku's costumes alone range from her default very mini skirt, to school uniforms, cabaret leotards and what I assume is a wedding dress that has lost its bottom half (I rather like that one). It gives the game an odd tone in that, ironically by drawing attention to sexualisation by trying to some instances, exaggerates the impact of every other instance of it. The game would have been seen as completely innocent without that censorship, but now people are going to look for examples of sexualisation when judging the game.



All of that nonsense aside, there's a lot of personality to these characters that mimics real life pop idols. As I've explained in the past, what I love about vocaloids is that they give aspiring (and, increasingly, established) music artists access to a legitimate superstar (that has opened Lady Gaga concerts, performed to sell-out crowds in Japan and even appeared on Letterman) in order to create their own musical vision. Crypton's brilliant management of the character has created a set of characters that almost anyone can enjoy (and this might explain why SEGA has opted for some censorship, to preserve the integrity of the character), and it means that Miku performs across more genres of music than any other artist.

For these reasons, the developers were wise to turn Project Diva f 2nd is a celebration of the culture that has emerged around the character. Loading screens are filled with both fan drawn and official art work, and the music obviously comes from those artists that found inspiration in using Miku. The game's tutorial music track, Ievan Polkka, is a nice touch too, since it was Miku's take on leekspin that essentially propelled Miku into superstardom. There's even "live" concerts that can be unlocked by playing. These are different tracks to what's in the main game, and the only "play" you'll have here is to change the camera angle around, but that's actually what Miku fans want to see.

Finally, the game has a comprehensive editor mode, allowing you to design entire levels, either using the in-game music, or importing your own mp3s. You'll get to place down all of the icons, and choreograph Miku and friends in the background as they dance along. It's actually quite an in-depth editor mode, and so it's possible to make some really impressive little video clips for your own music. Guess what I'll be doing once I've finally completed a Miku track?



I quite genuinely have nothing else to say about Project Diva f 2nd. It's the sequel that does everything just as well as the original, but adds loads to it. And, with the music selection being even better and more varied than in the previous game, this really is the perfect music game. A little strange for the ears of some people, perhaps, but strange in the best possible sense of the word.

And hey, one of the music tracks is I'll Miku Miku You. Any time you like, Hatsune. Any time.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld


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Review: Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f 2nd (Sony PlayStation 3)
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