While it’s a pleasant surprise to see a niche Japanese title getting a physical release (a first for the Project DIVA series in Europe), it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the basics of the main rhythm game haven’t greatly changed from the previous installments. Fundamentally, you’re pressing the correct face button, or flicking for star notes, in time to the music.
Notes with a tail involve you to holding a button down, and double notes (indicated with a W) require you to hit both the face and directional buttons together. At higher difficulties, particularly on Expert, you’ll have to alternate between using the face buttons and directional buttons (which can be used interchangeably with the face buttons), whereas on lower difficulties you can get by with predominantly only using the directional buttons when you need to press both. The controls are clearly explained in a tutorial alongside the customary Ievan Polkka, and there is also the addition of a terrifyingly complicated Expert tutorial (although this is unlocked as you progress to prevent scaring new players).
As in the PlayStation 3 version of the previous game, you can now hit star notes by using the analogue sticks in addition to the touch screen or rear touch pad (if you prefer). Personally, I found that it was easiest to use the rear touch pad myself, but it’s nice to have the option.
There are only a couple of minor changes to the formula from DIVA f; the addition of double star notes, which require two simultaneous finger flicks, and linked star notes, where a sequence of star notes moves along a set line rather than flying in as usual. These aren’t fantastic – the double star notes can prove a bit unwieldy and occasionally the speed between the linked stars can dramatically change unexpectedly – but the majority of the time they aren’t an issue, and you don’t encounter them very often on lower difficulty levels.
There are four difficulty settings available, so while Easy will keep you in your comfort zone with just circle and star notes, songs on Normal increase the complexity as well as adding either triangle or X to the mix. Hard is where the game gets into its stride by making use all four buttons, and Extreme is for people who have had a lot of practice.
Accuracy is judged on a 5 point scale – COOL/GOOD/SAFE/BAD/MISS – with the first two counting towards your rating and maintaining your combo. Passing a song requires on two aspects – keeping up an energy gauge (similar to Guitar Hero) by registering SAFE or higher, and hitting an overall accuracy rating of at least 80%.
Each song features two ‘Technical Zones’ (or one on Easy), typically with the first near the start and the final towards the end, each contributing 3% towards your accuracy rating – but only if you combo every single note. Each song also features a ‘Chance Time’, almost always approaching the end of the song, worth a massive 5%, which has a slightly lower accuracy threshold but only counts if you hit the big star note at the end. Success in Chance Time rewards you with an improved ending to the music video.
These two elements generally work well, and you can certainly feel the pressure start to build when you feel that you probably need to pass Chance Time to clear the song – but it can also be frustrating that just two ill-timed SAFE notes and one missed star can result in a total of 11% being wiped from the all-important accuracy total.
Completing songs rewards you with Diva Points, the in-game currency, which can be used to purchase an enormous selection of items, including modules (character costumes – each song has a recommended set), accessories, gifts and skins. If you owned DIVA f, you can also import a save file to obtain any costumes you previously purchased in-game.
The difficulty level has definitely been turned up from the previous game, and as a result you may notice an increased gap between Easy and Normal; however this has partly been offset by a revamped system of help items. By using some of your Diva Points and reducing your return by 20%, you can give yourself extra leeway, a song energy refill, remove the double targets or use L and R shoulder buttons to hit star targets – and up to three of these can be combined for a further reduced return. There is also a no-fail item, however this prevents you from clearing the song.
Conversely, there if you’re finding the going too easy for your liking, you make things more difficult by use of up to three challenge items, such as smaller or faster moving targets, for an additional return of 50% each – although this is a significantly reduced return from the up to 4x bonus rewards offered in the previous game.
The game really comes alive once you progress on to the higher difficulties, as this is where you’re required to respond to every note rather than skipping some to simplify the note pattern. If you’re anything like me, somewhere in here you’ll suddenly find yourself in the zone and see that hitting notes is as much down to instinct as the visual cues.
The game features 40 playable songs complete with unique music videos – an increase from 32 in the previous game – of which 20 songs were previously featured in Japan-only PSP releases. There are also an additional 7 songs you can view via an augmented reality performance.
One major new feature – which strangely isn’t enabled by default – is the opportunity to select English translated subtitles for the song lyrics (available for all but one of the songs). Obviously, you’re usually a bit too busy to read much of them during gameplay, but after completing a song you are able to watch the music video and find out the meaning, rather than rely on questionable YouTube fan-translations. A Japanese Romaji version is also available if you prefer.
Obviously, your enjoyment will largely depend upon how much you appreciate the songs and Vocaloid music in general, but unless you have a strong dislike, you’ll find a tremendous variety of genres and styles.
The game may be rated for ages 7 and up (ostensibly due to violence), but don’t take that to mean all the songs are family-friendly. While the majority of songs are nice and rather cheery, others include a song referencing drugging a girl and subsequently sleeping with her in the bushes (after they’ve mutually fallen in love), a song detailing various methods of murder if you don’t portray yourself as happy to a dystopian regime, and one in particular that I try not to think about – seemingly involving Japanese prostitutes having forced abortions and getting their revenge (although that is open to a bit of interpretation). I’m assuming PEGI didn’t locate the English subtitles option when they were rating it.
The short duration of each song really suits the pick up and play nature of the Vita, and if you’re a fan, there are plenty of reasons to keep playing even once you’ve mastered all four difficulties, with the challenge of improving upon your high scores, obtaining perfect ratings, and a stunning array of unlockables (the game now provides you with a convenient list of the unlock criteria). giving you justification to go back and complete songs multiple times.
Graphically, the game is a massive step-up from DIVA f (if I had to guess I’d say the difference is that F 2nd is running at native resolution) and switching between the two makes the first game seem blurry by comparison. Despite the upgrades to the presentation, the load times have also seen a significant reduction.
The DIVA rooms are back, should you wish to go and visit the personal rooms of any of the six Vocaloids. You can redecorate their rooms, buy gifts, and raise your friendship level by… rubbing their heads. It’s actually more innocent than it may sound, and there isn’t an opportunity for any inappropriate touching. This time you are provided with much more of an indication of what they want you to be doing rather than having to rely on guesswork, although overall the mode still doesn’t provide much more than a brief distraction from the main game.
Edit mode also returns as a free 747Mb download, where you are able to create your own custom videos and note charts, or download the creations of others (although, due to the obvious potential for legal issues, you’ll have to source the MP3 file yourself). I haven’t used edit mode myself as I’m severely lacking in both the requisite patience and ability, but based the content available, it appears to be fantastically capable if you’re willing to invest the time in to it.
DIVA F 2nd also supports the PlayStation TV, and includes a calibration tool to allow you to account for any audiovisual delay. The game provides cross-save functionality with the PS3 version, and if you couldn’t wait and imported the game from Japan, you can also carry over your save in the English version.
SEGA have promised to bring over all the Japanese DLC during the next six months, however this is at a premium price – the 10+ ‘Song Club’ pack is £20/€25/$30 (individual songs are £2/€2.50/$3) and the 45+ ‘Costume Club’ pack is an eye-watering £40/€50/$70 (or £1.19/€1.50/$2 individually). The songs currently available in Japan are a great selection of some of the most popular songs, but a purchase will be hard to justify unless you’re a huge Miku fan. The original game features over 30 songs (with the opportunity to transfer over purchased modules) for almost the same price as the song DLC alone, which is a much better value proposition if you skipped the first game.
Overall, aside from a few minor quibbles, Project DIVA F 2nd is a truly fantastic rhythm game, and is everything a good sequel should be – rather than provide essentially the same game with some new songs, there have been tweaks and improvements made across the board.