The Sharon Apple Cometh

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HIGH Modern rhythm gaming at its challenging best (for those who can dig the music.)

LOW The anemic track list.

WTF Are you reading some of these lyrics?!


 

If there’s no accounting for taste, how does one account for rhythm games?

Every one is deeply involved with its music, be it through plastic instruments (Rock Band) dancing or singing (Dance Central) or in the way audio can serve as an additional component to mechanics (Rhythm Heaven.) However, even the most competently-designed rhythm mechanics won’t save a game if the player hates the soundtrack.

This puts Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X in a bit of a bind. Mechanically, it’s one of the most competent, engaging rhythm games yet released. But, like virtually every rhythm game, it lives or dies by how well players can engage with its music, and in this case, it’s performed by the potentially polarizing Hatsune Miku.

For the uninitiated, Hatsune Miku is the aqua-haired, anime-eyed virtual mascot for Yamaha and Crypton Future Media’s line of “Vocaloid” singing synthesizer software. She’s appeared in pizza commercials and on famous talk show hosts, conquered Japan’s version of Youtube, she functions as the face of a new movement in crowd-sourced amateur music production, and… is not an actual person in any way, shape, or form. She doesn’t sing like a real person either — her voice sounds like an auto-tune program gained sentience.

As much as this style of music may sound like a turn-off for many, the facts suggest that Miku has a reliable following outside her homeland. Project Diva X is the fifth Miku-based game to make it across the pond (and the first for current consoles) and each so far has met with a fair mix of bemusement and measured acclaim. In that respect, this entry is no different.

Like other Project Diva releases, Miku’s accompanied by her Vocaloid pals, including the husky-voiced Megurine Luka, the energetic twins Kagamine Rin and Len, and even mascots for earlier versions of the software, like the more obviously robotic-sounding MEIKO and KAITO.

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Gameplay consists of hitting appropriate buttons to match visual and audio cues as they twirl and rocket across the screen, with a “stage performance” by the virtual singers going on in the background. Not that one would notice, as the note patterns are tricky and capable of causing carpal tunnel at even moderate difficulties.

Of course, wrist injuries might be down to my (generally poor) skill at rhythm games, but playing is still as engaging. The thrill of trying to master a given song, of maximizing one’s score, and hitting a perfect combo is universal, and Project Diva is by now adept at tapping into that desire for challenge and success. It absolutely works… as long as one can stand the music.

While the core is the same as virtually any Project Diva game, where Project Diva X differentiates itself is in the framing and presentation of the track list, which is more “gamey” than it’s ever been, and there’s even a story!

Players are now cast as interlopers in the darkened computer world of Miku and company, tasked with bringing light and life to creation by recharging “Clouds” with musical energy. Each cloud is a separate area of the game, and has a quasi-elemental attribute that corresponds to the mood of the songs contained within. Songs in the “Cool” cloud are more aggressive and rock-inflected, while the “Classic” cloud contains longtime Miku hits. The “Cute” cloud houses songs that are somehow even more saccharine than usual for the Vocaloids’ oeuvre, and the “Quirky” cloud offers the sort of absurd, jokey tunes that pop up when one gives strangers on the internet access to creativity-enabling software.

Reaching and recharging a cloud unravels the tale, told in visual novel-style format. The scenarios are simple and invariably sweet, involving such light fare as the Vocaloids trying to form a rock band to properly get into the mood for charging the “Cool” cloud, and often end with a concert-style medley boss song. While the script won’t satisfy people looking for something JRPG-like, it’s unusual to have any amount of narrative in a rhythm game (and never for Project Diva) so it’s a novel way to add more motivation.

If there’s a blemish on Project Diva X, it’s that its track list is peculiarly small, and of the Project Diva games, Diva X’s is the shortest. The Project Diva installments sometimes gave their songs a music video-style treatment with 2D animation, abstract imagery, and more stylistic flourish, so I wonder if this relatively-thin slate of offerings might be due to porting difficulties, but whatever the cause, it damages the value proposition for the game, especially since the fans of this series likely have few reservations about importing without waiting for an English localization.

Despite the small number of tracks, what’s on offer here is highly accomplished, and Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X’s attempts to bring something new to a rather static style of game are both successful and engaging. Players who can find something to love in Miku’s musical leanings will definitely want to check out their goddess’ latest incarnation. Rating: 8.5/10


 

Disclosures: This game was developed and published by Sega. It is currently available on PS Vita and PlayStation 4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player and multiplayer modes, and the game was completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game’s rating is T, and contains lyrics and mild suggestive themes. The game features musical rhythm gameplay and anime-style characters. Some outfits worn by young-looking female characters may be regarded as risque, and the lyrics in some songs could be interpreted as suggestive.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game features subtitles in English and transliterated Japanese (romaji), but voiceovers are locked to Japanese. Due to the nature of Vocaloid voice synthesis some lyrics and speech cues may be difficult to understand. Almost all songs in the game are in Japanese, and being a music game, audio is a major part of the experience. However, it is entirely possible to play the game using only the visual timing cues.

Remappable Controls: The game contains remappable controls for the face and shoulder buttons, as well as PS4 touchpad and stick options for certain input types.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes in the game.

Josh Tolentino

Josh Tolentino

Growing up in the Philippines, Josh's video game habit and growing love for the medium were enabled by rampant piracy lowering the price of otherwise prohibitively expensive titles. He grew to treasure dense, RPGs he never had time to play and the anime antics of Japan's gaming industry,spending time with his friends in fetid internet cafes playing custom matches of Counterstrike. He would later discover and grow to love more persistent online games, and wrote his college thesis on the players of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Ragnarok Online.

Today he continues to write for a living while trying to turn his fledgling knowledge of Japanese into a marketable skill. He is Managing Editor of Japanese culture site Japanator and is a Contributing Editor for Destructoid. He has written for The Escapist, The California Literary Review, Esquire Magazine, and proudly holds the badge as the premier apologist for Star Trek Online.
Josh Tolentino

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