Not How We Planned It
Taking an idea from conception to finished product is often a long and complex process. One in which the final outcome may not always reflect everything from the original idea. Perhaps new ideas or tweaks came up during creation. Maybe something in the original plan isn’t quite working correctly, so it is removed. Or, as seems to happen often in entertainment media, your test audience doesn’t like something from the original idea, so it’s eliminated or changed.
Mid-project changes seem to happen quite a lot in the creation of video games. How often have you followed a game’s development, got excited for some kind of feature, only to be disappointed that it is missing from the final product, or is there in some kind of bastardized form? Maybe the opposite: a game seems mediocre during development, but the final product introduced some changes and new features that piqued your interest more? Personally, I’ve had both happen to me quite a number of times.
One of those times is the game we’re looking at today, IA/VT Colorful. I started getting into the whole Vocaloid craze with the Hatsune Miku Project Diva games. The Vocaloid known as IA became a favorite of mine due to her voice, which was sampled from the singer Lia, of whom I was already a fan. When I found out a rhythm game based around her music was announced for a mid-2014 release in Japan, I hopped onto my favorite import site and placed a preorder. Watching promo videos of the gameplay hyped me up even more.
Then news broke: IA/VT would be delayed until later in the year. Shortly thereafter, another delay was announced, pushing it into 2015. Once the 2015 date approached, yet another delay occurred, pushing it back another month. Then, finally, on July 30th, 2015, a year-and-a-half after I originally preordered the game, IA/VT Colorful was released in Japan. As it turned out, though, the game that made it into my hands was much different than what the original promos and announcements made it out to be.
Developed and published by Marvelous AQL, IA/VT Colorful was released for the Vita, and it currently remains Japan-exclusive. As a rhythm game, though, it is relatively easy to navigate and play with no knowledge of the Japanese language.
Catch the Rhythm
Rhythm game, no story, skip that section, etc.
By this point, we all know what basics to expect in a rhythm game: symbols representing button presses drift toward a target, and you have to tap said button when they line up. What it really comes down to is, what does IA/VT do with this formula to make it unique?
In this game, all of the symbols (representing the four d-pad directions and four face buttons) follow a line track toward a circular target, and you have to tap when they cross the circle. The unique setup brought to the table here is in the tracks and target itself; the target drifts around the screen according to the music and background video, while the tracks revolve and change shape around the target. Occasionally more than one track appears on screen, which means having to watch multiple different lanes for notes and a bit more work in sorting out the rhythm.
IA/VT also has a unique “Colorful” target, which can be hit by pressing any button. The challenge is that these notes must be hit with perfect timing to increase the “Colorful” gauge percentage. At certain points in songs, the layout of the target system changes to a large circle, with notes moving from the center outward. Once again, the notes must be hit when they cross the edge of the circle. In these segments, the “Colorful” segments (see where the game gets its name yet?) you get a higher score multiplier depending on how high you got the “Colorful” gauge.
Ranking in songs is highly dependent on score, so hitting all the “Colorful” targets precisely becomes hugely important to get the best rankings, especially on the higher difficulties.
With the gameplay in action, it’s easy to see what the originally-planned cut game engine was. In the original build, the player had to navigate their cursor around the circular target to the track the notes were coming from, rather than just tapping them as they cross the target. Some remnants of this build still seem to exist; during some songs, your cursor seems to hang awkwardly on parts of the target that have no tracks attached, before suddenly snapping back as notes approach.
It was this original “note catching” build that intrigued me about the game system in the first place, but I can also see why it was eliminated. I would assume with the original build, the four face buttons were the only possible notes, as your other hand would be too busy moving the cursor with the analog stick. Getting rid of this mechanic opened up the use of the d-pad, allowing for more complex and interesting note charts.
This is especially welcome, as IA/VT is on the easy side of the rhythm game spectrum, even on the higher difficulties. The system is incredibly lenient on accuracy, and your note chain does not break unless you straight up miss a note. Even getting a “bad” rank on accuracy keeps your chain going. This makes aiming for perfects on all songs much less difficult of a task…luckily there is still challenge in getting score for higher ranks. On the positive side, though, this makes IA/VT relatively easy to get into for newcomers to the genre.
Aside from the standard game mode, there are a couple of other modes offered. One, “Step Up Play,” involves completing certain setlists and challenges, increasing in difficulty the further you get. Challenges range from getting a certain rank to chaining a certain number of notes, to missing a certain number of notes. The other is “Daily Play,” which offers up a certain song with a certain challenge once a day. Completing tasks in both of these modes unlocks alternate costumes for IA to wear in certain songs.
A Little of Everything
This section is hugely variable for IA/VT as every track has its own video created for it. Unlike in the Project Diva games, where every song’s video is done with in-engine graphics, the majority of the tracks in IA/VT get their own graphical style. Some songs offer a static image with lyrics for most of the runtime, and these are genuinely disappointing. Others are presented in a series of still images, manga-style, or fully animated. These run the gamut from decent to excellent. A couple of the more electronic or trance-y tracks use music-visualizer style background animation, and for most of the tracks that use this style, it works quite well. One specific track, “Inner Arts” by Jin, had its own 3D CGI video created for it, and it looks pretty good…although IA’s facial animation is a bit off-putting here.
A chunk of tracks, though (around 10-12 off the top of my head) do offer videos done with in-engine graphics. These are also the only videos where you are able to change IA’s outfit. If you are at all familiar with MMD Videos (music videos for Vocaloid songs made with a 3D-rendering program called MikuMikuDance), it is nearly that exact same art and animation style you will see in these tracks.
One theme across all of these different videos and graphical styles is that the star of the game, IA, doesn’t actually appear much in many of the videos. Even in the in-engine videos, IA only appears for a small chunk of them, with the rest of the runtime dedicated to other 3D-rendered shapes and colors.
Drop the Bass
IA/VT comes with an impressive number of songs for a rhythm game: 60 tracks out of the box, all of them full tracks. If you have a Japanese PSN account on your Vita, you will also have access to another 15 or so DLC tracks. Even with the sheer number of games on the cartridge, though, the sound quality of the tracks is excellent.
The setlist is also, in my opinion, quite strong. The music written for IA trends strongly toward electronic and hard rock (unlike some other popular Vocaloids that tend more toward pop), and IA/VT is definitely a reflection of that. If you’re looking for something more lighthearted and poppy, there probably won’t be much here that you will like. Otherwise, though, all kinds of electronic genres are represented here, along with some good headbanging-style songs to tap along to. There are a couple poppier tunes and some rock ballads interspersed here and there in the setlist, but there isn’t too much diversity in genre.
Solid Yet Lacking
Overall, IA/VT is a solid rhythm game, and a good jumping off point should it ever develop into a series. However, it is clear that Marvelous doesn’t have much experience working in the rhythm game genre. The game leans a bit too strongly on the easy side of the spectrum, note charts can occasionally be either extremely repetitive or surprisingly awkward, and sometimes the way a song lines up with its respective notechart doesn’t feel natural. The multitude of graphical styles for each song is an interesting idea, and it works for a number of tracks, but many of them come across as dull and surprisingly lacking in showing the star of the game.
Despite my complaints, though, I have sunk countless hours into this game. The ranking system is on the difficult side, and provides a nice challenge for those looking to get the highest score and rank. The sheer number of songs offers a diverse selection, even with the electronic-and-rock-heavy focus. The songs sound great quality wise, and many of them are catchy and addicting overall.
If you are a fan of rhythm games and are hurting for something to play on Vita, I would definitely recommend IA/VT. However, the game remains a Japan-only release, and with the costs that can be associated with importing a game, I would say only go for it if you can find a good deal. If you have a Japanese PSN account on your Vita, though, I’m sure you can download a version of it, and I would definitely recommend you should.
~ Final Score: 7/10 ~
Review copy purchased by reviewer for Vita. Screenshots taken from official game website and videos.