One of the things that a lot of people think of with rhythm games is that they’re usually following one of two styles: the first, following in the route Dance Dance Revolution revolution opened up, focuses on the dancing side of things while the other, following in the route Guitar Hero opened up, focuses on the performance side of things (usually instruments, but you could easily extend that to include vocals). While none of that is necessarily inaccurate, rhythm games does have larger ranges of styles which can surprise you if you know about them, with arguably the best examples being Crypt of the NecroDancer (which combined dungeon crawling with a rhythm game…yes, seriously!) and Audiosurf (which basically is a puzzle racer where the levels are generated from your own music collection).
With that all said, probably the strangest one, at least to a Western audience, is likely to be the Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA series. Now, on paper, it’s not all that weird, as it follows the conventions of the genre fairly faithfully: you have to press buttons in sequence to score points following on screen prompts. However, it’s when you look at it beyond the conventions of the genre that you realise that there’s a lot of stuff that, to a Western audience, is going to be very weird and require a lot of explanation.
So, you might want to copy-paste the next few paragraphs into a word doc of some sort, because there’s a lot to cover.
Part of what makes the game interesting is that the music of the game is not focused on genres of music that you usually hear outside of Japan, but is instead focused on Vocaloid, a genre which can be a niche thing even among otaku in Japan. Vocaloid is kind of hard to nail down on paper, as it’s technically also the name of the software which you create the music from, but, if you want a rough idea of what it entails, Vocaloids are somewhat like synthetic voice actors, autotune and fanart rolled into one.
…I know, that sounds absolutely crazy on paper. You’d certainly be right to say Vocaloid is a rather odd thing to nail down because it combines a lot of stuff which doesn’t sound like it should go together at all. In practice, however, it’s actually pretty interesting. See, each Vocaloid has its own personality and styles of music best suited towards singing, but nothing else, which encourages people interested in Vocaloid to basically go nuts on their personality if they want to (hence the fanart part of the description). Anyone feasibly could create a song for a Vocaloid if they wanted to by buying their software package (hence the synthetic voice actor part of the description) and, using autotune to shift their vocals to suit the melody they want the Vocaloid to sing, release it as a song featuring them. There’s also nothing to stop you from creating your own Vocaloid in theory (in practice, it’s a bit more difficult, but it can be done), so you could feasibly do anything you want with Vocaloid if you’re talented enough to do it properly. Arguably the best known Vocaloid for most people is Hatsune Miku due to her long turquoise pigtails, but my personal favorite Vocaloid is actually Megurine Luka (put it down to me being a sucker for girls with pink hair, her default outfit being a combination of black and gold that I think looks pretty cool and her singing voice being a little easier on the ears for me than Miku’s voice).
Keep copy-pasting if you’re doing it, I’m not finished being Prof. Atkins yet.
To everyone in Japan, the series has been around since 2009, having started out with Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA (which was released in July 2009). It was originally a PSP exclusive, but a downloadable game on the PS3 called Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Dreamy Theater allowed players with access to a USB cable to plug their PSP into their PS3 and play the game with improved visuals (I would presume you do not need to have the game on your PSP already to do this, but I don’t know this for certain). Four other games followed that before the series would start to get a Western release: an arcade game titled Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Arcade (imaginative naming, Sega…), a sequel titled Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA 2nd that basically followed the release pattern of its predecessor, an expansion to Project DIVA 2nd titled Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA and a spin-off game titled Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai which was the series’ first appearance on a Nintendo system (specifically, the Nintendo 3DS) and also featured a surprisingly different art style from the rest of the series, being influenced by Nendoroid (basically, big head with smaller body intended to look cute).
It’s after this that the series has, for the most part, been released outside of Japan as well (there was a second arcade game titled Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Arcade Future Tone and a sequel to Project Mirai titled Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai 2 which haven’t had an oversea release at the time of writing, but the latter is due to have a release in Europe on the 11th of September under the name Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX), but the first two games from the series that got Western released were actually iOS games: Miku Flick (and yes, I know I should be reviewing that at the moment and not giving you a truckload of information about the whole series, but I think I’m justified this time: most of this is stuff you’re not going to know about and need to know to actually understand what I’m talking about when I get to the review!) and Miku Flick/02 (very imaginative naming again, Sega…). They must have been popular because Sega managed to localize the next two games in the series, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA f and Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd, for Western released on both the PS3 and the PS Vita (albeit as download only for the former).
You may now stop copy-pasting, if you’re still doing that.
How did I first come into contact with the series? NOT through the games, surprisingly: I happened to be bored once while visiting a shop, looked over at the card games section, spotted the Project DIVA f intro deck for a card game, felt like learning the game and purchased the deck. It was only a bit later when me and a friend suddenly realised we knew nothing about what the deck was actually based on and I looked it up, half expecting to hear it was an anime.
Yeah…my introduction to this game series was literally dumb luck and an impulse buy for a card game I hadn’t even tried out yet. And it was for the series that, had I known about all of the options available before I’d bought the deck, I would have gone with simply because I’d have loved the idea behind it so much that I’d have gone with it. You couldn’t make that up if you tried…although, let’s be honest, a deck involving a bunch of music related stuff? Perfect for a guy who has a reputation for being a music geek!
So, with all of that over with (and you probably wondering how much of that information is actually necessary: trust me, it’ll all make sense once we dig into it all!), let’s start by looking at the franchise’s first two Western releases, Miku Flick and Miku Flick/02.
The Miku Flick games have several noticeable differences from the main series, as you would probably expect. First of all, the method of scoring points is surprisingly different from any other installment of the series (well, of the series that has had a Western release so far, at least: from what I’ve read, the Project Mirai games do also have a surprisingly different control scheme from the main games, but I can’t really give details because I’ve not played them!) in that, rather than having to simply press the appropriate button on the screen on command like a typical rhythm game, you will have to press a button and flick your finger across the iOS device’s screen in the appropriate direction to hit the appropriate symbol on the screen. On paper, that probably looks very strange, but it’s actually surprisingly instinctive in practice and is actually pretty interesting overall. The fact the game tells you which button and direction to flick in via what basically is a huge number pad across half of the screen helps as well, as I imagine trying to remember all of the 50 choices you have for hitting a button and where they all are on the screen would be a nightmare for most people! I think my only problem with this is that it is very possible to flick your finger so far away from the button that it doesn’t register the button as what you wanted it to, but that’s a problem a lot of touch screen stuff has, so I think that’s a bit of an unfair nitpick. What isn’t is that the difficulty can get surprisingly intense, even on normal difficulty, because you will sometimes have to hit and flick options in a tiny window of time that are on the same core button, which can screw you over if the window to hit them is so close that you’ve got maybe a few milliseconds to move your finger back to the core button and flick it in the direction to hit the second button and sometimes you’ll have to hit a huge amount of them in a tiny period of time, which can screw you over simply because you’re so busy trying to focus on the first bunch of stuff and trying to hit that that you’ve not had a chance to properly process where the next stuff is. Probably the one artist who seems to love these difficulty enhancing tricks is CosMo, who is the creator of the penultimate songs in both games and BOTH of them require you to keep up with Miku singing at a speed that would make even DragonForce sound slow. Needless to say, if you’re not used to the game’s controls properly by the time you get to his songs, you’re screwed…and you almost certainly won’t be ready when you see the songs for the first time, as they play directly after you get the end credits on both games and won’t play on the difficulty you played the last song on (either Easy or Normal, depending on what you picked), instead going to Hard difficulty for Miku Flick and Extreme difficulty for Miku Flick/02.
Another change is that the game doesn’t render the song’s on screen accompaniment in real time, instead opting for a pre-rendered video instead. Now, I can see why Sega did this (I think most iOS devices would explode if they had to render everything from the game in real time to respond to the player’s progress) and I will admit that it does still work, but it does make the game feel like the actual game part of it and the on screen part aren’t connected up, especially if you’re familiar with the console game’s real time rendering of the on screen visuals. That said, it does mean that, if you opt to watch the pre-rendered video via the PV option in the option’s menu, you know you’re going to actually see what is in the main video, which allows you to really appreciate the hard work that went into the visuals of the game and allows you to just listen to the song if you’re not up to playing the actual game.
The third change is that, in Miku Flick, you only play songs sung by Miku. This might not seem like much if you’re only familiar with the games from a Western viewpoint, but, if you’re familiar with the games released in Japan, you’ll know that the series up until that point hadn’t had a game dedicated purely towards one Vocaloid. I guess it makes sense on one level that Sega did this (it’s kind of in the title, when you think about it, not to mention it means international audiences aren’t overwhelmed by a bunch of new Vocaloids that they’ve never heard of), but I honestly feel that Miku Flick/02 adding other Vocaloids was the best decision, as it’s closer to what the main series is about.
So, that’s the main changes from the main installments of the series. So, how do the games work in and of themselves?
Well, I think both games are fairly good. The graphics are pretty good (although I noticed there are minor framerate dips in the pre-rendered videos for Miku Flick/02 which don’t affect the gameplay, but will frustrate those watching the performance videos who notice them), the gameplay itself is fairly good, if maybe a bit flawed by the constraints of the touch screen system for playing the game on, the challenge is enough to make it a lot of fun while still having the potential to give even the most hardcore rhythm gamers a lot of challenge and even the song selection, while a bit smaller than some might like (14 for Miku Flick, 11 for Miku Flick/02 if you don’t buy any DLC) is pretty good (although a good amount of the songs will be familiar to people who have played the Japanese games and several of them have gone on to appear in F 2nd). For some reason, the lyrics option in the games doesn’t translate the songs, which is REALLY frustrating if you want to know what is actually being sung by the Vocaloids (and kind of defeats the point of the karaoke option: you can’t sing what you can’t pronounce or understand!), but, beyond that, my thoughts on the games are that they’re actually very well made and do their jobs very well. While I’d personally recommend Miku Flick/02 over Miku Flick, the only reasons for it are that it’s cheaper (£4.99 for Flick/02 over £8.99 for Flick), has a longer list of overall songs available to it (if you count all of the DLC songs, you have a total of 68 songs in Flick/02 compared to 14 in Flick, although getting all of them would negate the previous reason of price) and being closer overall to the original series due to the use of multiple Vocaloids.
So, if you have a liking for J-Pop, rhythm games and/or Vocaloid, but don’t have a PS3 or PS Vita, then go pick up the Miku Flick games if you have a device capable of using iOS, because you should find them to be surprisingly enjoyable games. Even if you DO have a PS3 or PS Vita and own the other localized games, I’d still suggest picking up the Miku Flick games if you can because, while indisputably weaker than the games in the main series, the different control scheme should prove to be an interesting change of pace for you and they are still fun games in their own right. People who aren’t fans of J-Pop and/or Vocaloid will probably want to give this a miss, for fairly obvious reasons, but I think the games might be worth a look into even if you usually don’t like rhythm games because the different control scheme might actually win you over to the idea more than you might be expecting.