Usually seen as just a series of pairing button pushes with visual cues, rhythm games are nothing if not simple. Sure, the genre has stretched itself in many unique ways – incorporating things such as placement and physical dance into the mix – but when you get right down to it you’ll find that these kind of games all share one very important aspect at their core: Timing. Easy to comprehend, hard to master; it’s the winning combination of game design and it’s ever present in this genre (unless developers REALLY screw it up). Understanding rhythm games is as effortless as it gets. There’s a rhythm. Keep up with it. Hit the buttons when the screen tells you to and then practice until you’re actually halfway decent. It’s nice when games are straightforward, but that alone obviously isn’t enough to make it fun. No, the real enjoyment in rhythm games needs to come from all the bells and whistles that adorn it. Luckily, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X seems to have a lot of them.
Yes, a myriad of stages and idol modules yet to be unlocked and enjoyed are what await you when first jumping into this delightful rhythm title – as well as a mixed bag of Vocaloid songs, clothing accessories, and interior décor. While stages and tracks are earned quite methodically as you progress through the Cloud Prisms (I’ll explain those later), customization items are obtained indiscriminately in the random drops during and after each performance. Idol modules, which are just different costumes/looks for your chosen performer, can be collected within the one “Chance Time” that every song contains. Just fill up the meter by hitting notes during these moments and you’re sure to receive a sweet, transformative surprise. Unless of course you receive yet another module that you already have, because it’s randomized.
After the song is over you’ll have to check if you reached the required amount of “Voltage” (points) to successfully clear the stage. If you cleared the stage, you get to keep whatever idol module you might’ve earned during the song, as well as some random loot. First there’s gifts, which are random items that you can give to the idol of your choosing and in return they’ll either give you love and appreciation or a shrug and disappointment, depending on the type of gift you give them. They’re quite vain though, and it seems they’ll like anything with their own name on it. Miku dolls, Rin T-shirts, MEIKO banners, it’s all good for boosting your bond with these beloved idols and maxing out your friendship status. Money might not be able to buy happiness, but Luka merchandise apparently can.
Aside from gifts, you can receive accessories after completing songs. Each individual accessory holds an attribute that corresponds with one of the game’s five Cloud Prisms. Cloud Prisms are the music categories and essential “worlds” of the main “campaign”. They represent different styles of performance: Quirky, Elegant, Cool, Cute, and Classic. Matching accessory styles to their respective Cloud Prisms will earn some extra points, but from the beginning this will certainly be at the cost of looking your absolute best. You see, the game is filled with these random kooky props and occasional normal clothing accessories, and sometimes mixing and matching them will earn you an extra boost in Voltage percentage. The thing is, most of the time to get the maximum advantage you possibly can, you’ll have to settle for something like the only “Cool-type” accessory you have in a slot – which might be a hands-free harmonica or a gas mask. Just be warned, as making your idols is not going to make sense for a while, and your performances are going to suffer unintended comical consequences.
There are plenty of other modes and features to try out, like Portrait Mode and good old fashioned Free Play. While the first mode I mentioned is pretty gimmicky (Augmented Reality photography with the Vita’s poor excuse for a camera), Free Play is actually kind of neat as it allows you to play and customize your concerts. Choosing your idol, stage, song, modifier, difficulty, backup vocals, and transformation are all on the table as you build a concert to play or watch. This mode also tracks high scores. Unfortunately, you can only play songs you’ve unlocked through the main game, and performing in Free Play doesn’t earn you any points or items that you would typically receive in Cloud Requests.
For a quick note on the difficulty, the game accommodates a range of skill levels. It features an Easy, Normal, Hard, and Extreme mode – plus optional modifiers to make things even more of a challenge. What’s really interesting is how the game ups the difficulty with each set by not just settling for the simple solution of increasing the speed and amount of notes, but also adding in misleading icon paths and tricky overlay notes to throw players off. The flashy concert is sometimes already enough to distract, and so having the added layer of a track that’s trying to fool you feels frustrating…and yet amusing at the same time. Even at its most strenuous, the game does a great job of alleviating the stress with its encouraging song and dance routines. The shows are so bright and pleasant that it’s hard to stay down for too long.
All in all, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is an overwhelmingly cheerful experience and an outstanding rhythm game with plenty of content to satisfy fans and newcomers alike (so long as you’re not too averse to Vocaloid music). Whether you’re hunting for modules and accessories, trying to maximize your friendships with the idols, or just aiming to surpass your last high score, there’s a plethora of reasons to keep playing and replaying. The wealth of customization aids the repetition well, offering variety in challenges and scenery when things are just about to feel stale. This game packs quite a punch, and the fun should last quite a while considering its deluge of entertaining options, unlockables, and singing synthesizer goodness.