Digital Voice of a Generation
I’ve mentioned Vocaloid a few times in a couple of past articles. The synthetic singers that are massively popular in Japan and starting to creep their way to the West. One of them, named Hatsune Miku, is leading the charge, having both opened for Lady Gaga concerts and performed on David Letterman in the past year.
While it has taken off wildly in Japan, Vocaloid is not a Japan-only software. Created by Yamaha, well-known already as musical instrument producers, Vocaloids have been created in a number of languages. The first Vocaloids, actually, were English ones. The original focus on English software was such that the interface for the original Japanese releases wasn’t even localized; users of the Japanese Vocaloids had to use an English interface.
However, the software wasn’t exactly popular on its first release. It was more of an intriguing experiment that might interest electronic musicians, not so much something the general public would go for. This all changed (in Japan at least) when the company Crypton Future Media created their own Vocaloid releases. There was one major thing they did differently, which really pushed the software to a success: creating a character for the voice and heavily marketing the character.
Their initial characters, Meiko and Kaito, began to bring more attention to the software. The introduction of their third character brought about the popularity explosion.
That character? Hatsune Miku, of course.
Creating an identity for the digital singer brought much more attention to Vocaloid. More people became interested in using the software, and the amount of created music exploded. Many artists started their careers as Vocaloid artists, and some still use the software exclusively. A number of well-known Japanese singers started their careers by covering Vocaloid songs.
Miku, and the rest of Crypton’s Vocaloid stable, remain the most popular characters with the public and, as mentioned earlier, are the ones leading the charge back West, where the software was originally introduced.
The newest game featuring Crypton’s crew, Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX, is due for release in North America on September 8th, 2015. Created by Sega and Crypton Future Media, the game will be released on the 3DS.
Tap Your Heart Out
As in our past Miku game reviews, Mirai has no story, so we will skip that section.
Mirai is, of course, a rhythm game. You select a track, and then tap along to the song by following commands on screen. In this game, the commands are all set up on a line that is constantly moving toward your target. A straight line would be too simple, of course, so the shape of the line is constantly shifting and floating around the screen, sometimes drawing pictures pertaining to the song as well. All the while, a music video for each track plays in the background with all kinds of crazy antics happening.
The commands are all based on the 3DS face buttons, with D-Pad buttons thrown in on higher difficulties. Unlike in the Diva releases, D-Pad commands are treated as separate notes rather than tied to face button commands. This adds some complexity, as there are points where different patterns will be played simultaneously on the face buttons and D-Pad. If you’re coming to this from Diva, it can be quite a shift. Also available is a touch-based control scheme, where you tap colored pads on the touch screen along with the song. Compared to the traditional controls, this mode is relatively uninteresting.
The game’s setlist contains about forty songs. In a twist, however, a number of the tracks allow you to select a different Vocaloid to use as the voice on the track. This ability, by my experience, appears to be unlocked by purchasing (in game) a compatible song’s related costume for the character whose voice you want to use. In a somewhat related downside, two separate tracks (Cendrillon and Adolescence) actually appear to be the same song sung by different characters. By same, I mean right down to the note charts, which appear to be reversed versions of each other. The only difference I could notice were lyrics.
Speaking of lyrics, the on-screen words take a step back from the series’ previous English release, Diva F 2nd. In that game, all but one song had the option to have English lyrics on screen, so that non-Japanese speaking players could understand what was being sung. Mirai however, returns to just using romaji (Japanese words written in the Latin alphabet). While not an aspect of the game that’s typically focused on during play, it’s a disappointing step back, especially considering some of the tracks in Mirai were also featured in Diva F 2nd.
Another step back to some players is the lack of an Expert difficulty for songs. While a small selection of songs have an unlockable “Superhard” mode, most of the tracks top out at Hard difficulty. In most cases, the difficulty of these is directly comparable to the Diva series’ Hard mode, which will be disappointing to series veterans or rhythm gaming fans.
There are a number of activities to take part in outside of the main rhythm game as well. Just as in previous Miku games, you have the ability to purchase different outfits for the game’s characters. Each character also, once again, gets a “room” to hang out in, and you can purchase decorations for it.
Unlike in past releases, however, your ability to interact with the characters in these modes is significantly less…creepy. The characters are able to understand and respond to a few voice commands via the 3DS microphone, allowing some fun but extremely limited communication. You can also play “against” the characters in a game of Othello, or as your character against another in a full version of Puyo Puyo. Fun, if not substantial, additions to the game.
Also available are a mode to customize dance routines for songs, and an AR Mode, which went untested as I did not have access to the AR cards that will come with the retail release of the game.
The characters of Mirai are presented in a super-deformed style. Hell, their heads are bigger than their bodies. This definitely doesn’t limit their maneuverability, though, as they’ll still be dancing their hearts out to the tracks of the game. The animation is very smooth, although you probably won’t notice it as you’ll be focusing on the note chart. The notes themselves are large and easy to distinguish from one another, which is, of course, ideal for a rhythm game.
For the most part, the character movements are well-choreographed, if a bit basic. Video choreography, though, definitely lives up the series name. Environments are surprisingly detailed and active, especially for the 3DS.
Overall the game has a very…cute…vibe about it. Which is definitely not a bad thing. However, if you were turned off by the aesthetics of the Diva releases, the saccharine-sweet cuteness of Mirai may be physically painful.
As always, soundtrack will make-or-break a rhythm game. As in past series releases, the track list in Mirai is relatively diverse. However, it does lean a bit more JPop-y this time around. Some of the tracks do sound compressed as well. This was especially noticeable for me on the track The World is Mine.
Typical of Vocaloid, the quality of the voice jumps between surprisingly natural and choking robot. What surprised me the most in this department, though, was the quality of the alternate voice tracks. Rather than a quick cut-and-paste job to shove in a different voice, the tracks that feature this option appear to have been recalibrated to fit the aesthetics of each alternate voice, rendering some alternate tracks to come out even better than the originals. I especially noticed this when playing the character Luka’s version of Romeo and Cinderella, compared to the original Miku version.
Sing for the World
Overall, I’d say Sega and Crypton have created another excellent rhythm game…and another crack-like addiction for myself. Despite the understandable scaling-back and disappointing step-backs compared to the Diva games, Mirai is a highly-polished and mechanically-sound rhythm game, and a great addition to the series.
The loss of English lyrics is a minor nitpick, and the lower fidelity of the tracks is understandable taking the system into account. Graphical presentation is surprisingly great, the setlist is relatively strong (although, in my opinion, weaker than past entries), and the game is easy to pick up and play. My biggest complaint is the lack of an Extreme difficulty, but that’s just coming from me as a rhythm game addict.
To anyone that enjoys Vocaloid, is a fan of the series, or is interested in rhythm games in general, Mirai is a strong addition to the 3DS library. I just hope you like cute things.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Sega for 3DS. Screenshots provided by Sega. Header image taken from game box art.