What better way to celebrate the news that Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f (PDf) is finally coming to the West next year than an import review to see what all the fuss is about?
It’s well known in the gaming community that Western gamers sometimes miss out on fantastic games, often due to their respective developers in the East unwilling or unable to find publishers due to their often niche market appeal. One such series you may or may not have heard of is Sega’s Project DIVA series (presumably the caps are due to the series being MASSIVE in Japan?). It began life as a PSP rhythm game, and finally, finally, due to enough fans requesting it from Sega, PDf will be releasing on our Western shores next year.
PDf is a game of two halves; the main bulk of the content you will find here is standard music/rhythm game, but the pull of the series (in Japan at least) is the aesthetically pleasing Divas you find in the game. I will touch on the “Diva Room” aspect of the title later on in my review, but I’m going to make an assumption and say if you’re reading this you’re interested in the music and gameplay involved. Apart from DJMAX Technika TUNE there really has been precious little else for Vita owners to scratch that rhythm bug, but being a long time fanboy of the music game genre I’m hoping the post-Activision-decimation of music games is ending.
From the opening video to whichever song you initially pick, you’re left with that unmistakable feeling that PDf isn’t ashamed to be bright, bold and quite a bit camp. The feeling of the generally upbeat J-pop soundtrack is echoed by a vibrant colour palette of blindingly bright scenes. The backing to each song in PDf tells a story, and it’s up to the player to pick the Diva they wish to play out the action. As you can see from the various grabs I took (apologies for the lack of on screen icons – music games are notoriously tricky to capture), PDf has a distinctive anime style to it that looks gorgeous in motion.
Because the Project DIVA series is exclusive to the Playstation brand (Arcade unit aside) gameplay is a perfect fit. In simple terms as the music plays a series of onscreen icons representing the Vita’s four face buttons fly in from all angles, and it’s your job to time the presses with the music to allow the Vocaloid Divas to sing the song; think Guitar Hero with synthesised vocals. The d-pad doubles up as the face buttons, so rapid taps can be alternated for example between the X button and down when things get snappy. There are also directional arrows on screen which require pressing the corresponding face button and direction at the same time, along with longer notes where the face button needs to be held down. New to the series in PDf is star notes, which are activated by swiping the touch screen. It works perfectly, being extremely responsive and making you feel rather cool.
As you perform well throughout each song you slowly fill a progress bar at the bottom of the screen, and how full it is at the end of the song decides whether you pass or fail. There are also two or three sections of each song where your score can be boosted. The first, and new to the series in PDf are “Technical Zones”. These are sections of the song where you must hit every note with either “cool” or “fine”, completing the section without dropping your combo in order to get a massive score boost at the end.
The other special section in each song is called “Chance Time”. These sections again involve being as accurate as possible, though this time missing the odd note doesn’t hurt you too much. In Chance Time the points you get are massively boosted and each note fills up a star at the bottom of the screen. At the end of Chance Time there is always a star note; hit it and you receive a huge bonus and an alternate ending to the song (usually fireworks or special effects), miss it and you basically ruin your chances of a decent score.
Each song in PDf (of which there are 33 in the main play mode) has four different difficulties available. Easy mode is great for beginners, and despite being a music game veteran I found it was best to start here as it helps you get used to the game mechanics. Normal mode bumps up the difficulty somewhat, but Hard and Extreme are where things get mental. Those looking for an extreme challenge of dexterity need look no more; PDf’s Extreme songs will keep even the best of rhythm gamers busy for quite some time. There’s also an Edit mode to create note charts and an AR mode – but this is where my criticism comes in for importers.
Unlike Technika TUNE which had the handy option of changing the language to English, PDf is an absolute monstrosity to navigate if you can’t read Japanese. Aside from the odd word (usually song titles) you basically have to go into PDf blind if you’re importing. There are a few icons which common sense will allow you to understand, but the Diva Room section of the game is incredibly confusing if you’re English. I’ve had to rely on this wiki most of the time, and while I wouldn’t usually rely on trophy guides, with PDf it’s been necessity. Now, I’m not going to let lack of translations hurt the score here, but buyer beware – I had no idea such a huge chunk of the game is based on Diva Rooms.
The Diva Rooms allow you to (in a slightly creepy way) gain friendship with the five different Vocaloids in the game. As you play PDf you gain Diva Points, which are used to purchase new modules and gifts to give to the Vocaloids. You can also stroke their hair or faces (seriously?) to gain friendship and if you stroke them a lot (calm down!) you can play rock, paper, scissors to raise the friendship further. Be careful though; if you rub them too hard they don’t like it (steady now!). Although I found this largely unnecessary and quite boring, it is a requirement for many of the trophies in PDf. Think of it as the next generation of Tamagotchi perhaps?
PDf does a lot of things right, from the fairly robust song list (those who don’t like J-pop need not apply, but trust me, the songs are catchy as hell), to the modifiers you can use to boost your score via challenge items, or the range of difficulties suitable for all, but I found the way of unlocking songs a little it behind the times. Playing one song to unlock the next has been used for so long now. Whereas Technika TUNE had an XP system and leveling up to unlock content, all PDf does is give you new gifts and items in the store as you complete songs, so you can shower Miku or the other Vocaloids in presents (yes, you buy their love).
Still, the bottom line is if you’ve played Technika TUNE to death this is a great game and serves as a worthy alternative. If you were to choose between the two then PDf comes off a bit flat, but if you’re more interested in J-pop than a variety of genres you can’t go wrong here. If you’re thinking of importing, with PDf coming to the West next year I’d strongly advise you wait due to the number of menus and the difficulty of navigating them, however If you’re desperate then PDf is a game worthy of the import price, and with Project DIVA f 2nd already due to hit Japan next year I’m pleased to say that the series is going from strength to strength; I’ll just never understand those Diva Rooms!