The Digital Invasion
It’s been simultaniously strange and exciting to see the Vocaloid phenomenon slowly creep its way westward. At the start of the decade, Vocaloid wasn’t much more than a niche interest even amongst the anime and Japanese pop-culture fandom. Led by the voice known as Hatsune Miku, though, it began to gain more recognition in that community, and even begin breaking through to some minor mainstream awareness.
I don’t know if it’s just been my personal increase of knowledge in the Vocaloid fandom, but it seems like ever since Miku appeared on Letterman back in late 2014, she’s been permeating more and more into western pop culture. Still in a very niche fashion, of course. Hell, imagine my surprise when a commercial released this year for a new LG phone, starring Jason Statham, featured a remixed Miku song as the soundtrack.
Just this year, Miku (and the rest of the stable of Crypton Vocaloids) went on a ten-city tour of North America, stopping in some rather surprising locations like Houston, Texas, and Monterrey, Mexico. I personally attended the Seattle show and had an absolue blast.
In the world of gaming, we have begun to see yearly localizations of rhythm games featuring Miku. Back in 2013 we saw the PS3 release of Project Diva F, which Sega admitted was an experiment to gauge interest in the series. The experiment must have been successful, as this was followed up in 2014 by Project Diva F 2nd, and then last year with the 3DS’ Project Mirai. (We’ve looked at all three here at Gamer Escape and have linked them here, as I’ll be refering back to these a bit in this article.)
As we enter the tail end of 2016, it’s about the time when we’re about due for another bout of Miku rhythm action, which is being provided to us with today’s review focus.
Released on August 30th, 2016, Hatsune Miku Project Diva X was developed by Sega and Crypton Future Media and published by Sega. The game has been released for both PS4 and Vita, and the PS4 version was played for this review.
Singing a Story
Rather surprisingly, Project Diva X offers a story!
In this game, the five emotional “Clouds” (represented by crystal-looking things) that make up the world the Vocaloids live in have faded and lost their luster. This is due to the fact that none of the Vocaloids have been able to sing. Since they’re just personifications of digital programs, they need someone else to create music for them.
Luckily, though, you have arrived in their world!…somehow. Using your music skills, you assist Miku and the other Vocaloids in singing. In doing so, you bring energy back to the Clouds, and restore the world to order!
Really, the story is absolutely pointless. It’s just an excuse plot to wrap around the rhythm gameplay. The interactions between the various Vocaloids, though, is charming and can be downright hilarious at times. Overall, the new story element is unobtrusive and doesn’t get in the way of what you really came here for: the rhythm gameplay.
Sliced in Two
The game system of Project Diva X takes after its predecessors, having you tap various buttons and combinations to the rhythm of whatever song you’re playing. As in every other entry, the timing is tight enough to provide a challenge without being excruciating, and everything is perfectly responsive.
What I really want to note in this section are the differences from past entries, of which there are a few. First of all, Diva X removes two of the note targets from the previous Diva F 2nd: the double-star notes and (thankfully) the line-star notes. New in their place are “Rush” notes, which require you to tap an input button as fast as you can to rack up points while the target is on screen. While this mechanic is, admittedly, somewhat uninteresting, it does add more interactivity to notes that otherwise would have been charted as long button holds.
By far the biggest change to the system in this game is the introduction of “Voltage” and the way you earn in-game items and outfits. While playing songs in free-play mode keeps the traditional Diva series scoring and grading system, story mode instead has you trying to earn a certain amount of Voltage in each song, which is obtained by hitting notes correctly and accurately. You must surpass certain amounts to clear songs, and while your initial unlock-the-songs playthough makes this easy, later challenges do up the difficulty in hitting this number.
Earning items and especially outfits in-game has changed to a much more randomized system. While playing songs in story mode, if you successfully earn enough points in a certain passage, you will randomly earn a new outfit for the character you’re currently playing as.
Despite this lottery being a selling-point of this entry, it is a major disappointment to me. Aside from a few outfits relagated to completing specific challenges, trying to unlock everything comes down to simple luck…which gets even worse when you realize it’s possible to get doubles and repeats. With each attempt at earning an item requiring you to play a full song, and each song clocking in around 3-4 minutes, it’s easy to spend a whole lot of time earning nothing at all when you’re reaching the end of available costumes to unlock.
There is one major gripe I have about this game and its new setup as well – the division between story mode and free-play mode. In every other entry in the series, my end goal has always been to unlock every item, and to get at least an “Excellent” ranking (the ranking right below perfect) on every song on extreme difficulty. With the division of modes in Project Diva X, it is absolutely impossible to do these at the same time. You can perfect a song while playing through story mode to unlock costumes, but that perfect ranking will not be saved for the song in free-play, as the story mode does not keep track of rankings.
Helping to soften the blow, though, is the fact that you no longer have to play a song twice (once each on normal and hard difficulties) to unlock its extreme notechart. After clearing a song on normal in story mode, you gain access to both hard and extreme difficutlies in free-play. As a veteran of these games, this is greatly appreciated.
Smooth and Graceful
As mentioned earlier, Project Diva X has been released on both the PS4 and Vita. Many people I know who play this series prefer the Vita version, as they prefer playing their rhythm games on a portable console. I can understand this, especially as there’s no worries about configuring timing, like there is when playing the game on an HDTV.
However, I would still strongly recommend the PS4 version for one reason: 1080p and 60FPS presentation. The full HD presentation and incredibly smooth framerate does wonders for this game, making watching the background videos a genuine joy.
Speaking of the background videos, another major change in Project Diva X from past entries is the shift in focus from a more “theatrical” story-telling style to a live stage show-style presentation. While the animation and choreography runs from well-done to beautiful (especially in 60FPS), the game does lose a little bit of uniqueness in the elimination of some of the more unusual and occasionally esoteric videos of past entries.
The Perfect Mixtape
Now we reach the all-important part of rhythm games…the soundtrack. Luckily, I can report that Project Diva X features a strong and relatively diverse tracklist. In my opinion, it’s not the strongest in the series (I personally prefer the tracklist from Diva F 2nd), but there are still an amazing number of catchy tracks. I’ve caught myself humming a couple of them at work a few times, actually.
Thanks to the Cloud system of the story mode, the tracks are divided up by general genre or feel: “Cute” for the pop tracks, “Cool” for the rock ones, “Quirky” for some of the more unusual things Vocaloid has to offer, “Elegant” which I still haven’t really figured out, and “Classic” as a kind of catch-all.
This focus on including tracks that elicit different qualities led to the creation of a very diverse tracklist. My only complaint would be that said tracklist is pretty short: only 30 songs, six of which are medleys of various tracks from other games.
One thing I noticed is that, since Project Diva X is the first game in the series in a while to not borrow songs from older games (outside of the aforementioned medleys), many of the tracks here feature more up-to-date versions of the Vocaloid software. This leads to the vocals in more songs sounding much more natural, which might help alleviate issues some may have had about Vocaloid songs and games in the past.
Barely Missing Perfection
Overall, Project Diva X follows in the vein of its predecessors as a very tight and extremely addictive rhythm game. Unfortunately, some of the design decisions in this game’s system take a few steps back from earlier entries. The lottery system to earn items, along with the division created between two major parts of the game, are major stains that I’m still unable to get over.
The lack of songs in the tracklist compared to other entries is disappointing as well, but this game makes up for it by offering a very strong and diverse lineup of songs. A few tracks include some of the best Vocaloid tuning I’ve heard in a while.
As I’ve said in the past, if you’re a rhythm game fan, you’d be doing yourself a great disservice in passing this game up. While it’s not the best entry I’ve played in the series, it’s a very solid release nonetheless. Make sure you go for the PS4 version if you take the dive, though, as the graphical presentation is fully worth it.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Sega for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.