Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd (PS3)

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, November 23, 2014

Even if you don’t know that much about Hatsune Miku, chances are you’ve come across the name or a picture of the virtual idol before. Since the vocaloid software came out in 2007, it has really become a worldwide phenomenon and concerts featuring the virtual idol have been very successful. There has even been a somewhat bizarre performance on David Letterman, showcasing that Hatsune Miku has moved outside of the usual otaku crowd to an extent. Last year Sega released Project DIVA F for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, a rhythm game featuring songs with Miku and the other four vocaloids. It was the fifth title in the series, but the first to make it to North America. I wasn’t overly familiar with the music or the Hatsune Miku character outside of the occasional reference in anime, but decided to give it a spin when it went on sale a few months back. What I discovered was that this was one of the most addictive rhythm games I had played in a number of years, and there were plenty of songs that were stuck in my head for quite some time.

The original Project DIVA F may have come out in North America and Europe almost two years after its Japanese debut, but there hasn’t been as long of a wait for the newest entry in the series. Project DIVA F 2nd comes about six months after its Japanese release, and packs just as much content as its predecessor. The biggest differences between the Western release of the two games is that 2nd will get a physical and digital release on both platforms, and Sega has spent time offering English translations for the majority of the lyrics. It’s clear the publisher is ready to give Hatsune Miku an even bigger push and get the rhythm game series in the minds of more gamers. But for those of you who have spent quite a bit of time with the first Project DIVA F, does this sequel have enough content to be worth a purchase?

After spending about ten days with this newest Hatsune Miku game on PlayStation 3, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is a resounding yes. From the outset, it appears that the focus of this sequel has been to provide the same addictive rhythm gameplay while making subtle tweaks and offering brand new songs for Western audiences. It’s clear that Sega has done their best effort to attract players who were fans of the original and those that might’ve already imported Project DIVA F 2nd but want to experience it in English. There is not only the option to import data from the original game to use previous unlocked items, but you can also import save data from the Japanese version and cross save between PS3 and Vita. This is a nice touch that I haven’t seen in very many titles, and made me feel like Sega was really trying to appeal to the full spectrum of gamers that might be interested in Hatsune Miku.

Chances are you will spend the majority of your time with the main rhythm game portion of Project DIVA F 2nd. There are 40 songs in total, with some additional ones available in other game modes. Some of these are repeats from earlier Hatsune Miku titles, but none of them were available in the previous installment so they should all be relatively new for English audiences. If you didn’t play the original title but are familiar with some of the other rhythm games out there, it should be easy to jump right in. Outlines of each button will appear on-screen, and the notes will fly in from the sides. As the button overlaps its outline, you must press it to match up. The game ranks players on how accurately they do this, with “Cool” and “Good” indicating that the notes were hit with the correct timing. “Safe” indicates a slight mistiming and will still earn points, but doesn’t count towards combos or Chance Time (which I will get to in a moment). Miss too many in a row and you fail the song, though I did find that compared to some of the others in the genre I have played that it wasn’t until the Hard and Extreme difficulties that I outright failed. You do need to hit 80% of the cues in order to successfully pass a song though, so the bar for completion is a bit high. In addition to pressing specific face buttons, there are also icons indicating you need to hold the button for a period of time, press a direction on the D-Pad at the same time as a face button, or flick one of the analog sticks (which is indicated by a star). There are two new additions to Project DIVA F 2nd, which are star icons that require you to flick both analog sticks at the same time and chain stars. Chain stars show all of the star outlines linked together, and you must flick as they move along the chain in rhythm. It’s not a major change from the last title, but these subtle tweaks do provide some additional nuances for veterans to master.

Each song has two Technical Zones and a Chance Time section, and if you want to get the highest score you’re going to want to try and complete all three. Technical Zones have you attempting to combo a certain number of notes at once without missing any, and this means that you must either get “Cool” or “Good” in order to complete it. Successfully moving through a technical zone gives you a significant boost to your score and the progress bar at the bottom of the screen. Chance Time is indicated by black bars appearing at the edge of the screen, and during this time you attempt to successfully hit as many button presses as possible to fill up a star meter at the bottom left of the screen. Fill it up by the end and you’ll see a big star icon come across the screen that’s glowing bright colors, and once you hit it you get a score boost for completing Chance Time. These two elements of the rhythm game tie in to the idol performance style that Hatsune Miku is all about, and makes it distinguishable from some of the others in the genre. Plus, it’s really satisfying to pull off some particularly challenging Technical Zones on the harder difficulties.

One of the main reasons that I got hooked on the original was due to how well the button patterns flow with each song. The main challenge is not only hitting all of the buttons in time to the music, but also making out what you’re supposed to be doing with all of the background noise. Since every song is set to a music video, there are all sorts of distractions on-screen to take your concentration away from the task at hand. But once you practice enough and get some muscle memory for many of the songs, you may find yourself able to complete the material and watch what’s happening on-screen at the same time. Once you get towards the higher difficulties the cues are extremely close to the music, making it easier to concentrate if you really focus on each one. Compared to the original Project DIVA F, the patterns in 2nd seem to have been bumped up slightly in difficulty for Normal, but once you start to get a handle over each song it shouldn’t be too pass most of them. I’ve managed to clear all 40 on Normal and Hard but about a quarter the songs on Extreme continue to destroy me with the sheer number of button presses required. Everything also feels smoother than before, as I went back to the original game and the patterns didn’t seem quite as fluid by comparison.

Project DIVA F 2nd offers a lot of value, and while there weren’t quite as many songs that grabbed me right from the beginning this time around I did find that a lot of them were stuck in my head after continuous play time. The two I’ve spent the most time with are “Thousand-Year Solo” and “Break It Break It” but chances are that each player will find different songs they come back to the most. There’s a lot to do in the main rhythm game, as not only are there four difficulty levels, but there are plenty of unlockables earned for completing specific criteria on each song and throughout the game. Unlockables range from costumes for the characters, items for each character’s DIVA Room, user titles, and songs in the other game modes. For this edition the developers have made it easy to see how many unlocks are left for a particular track and what criteria are required for some of them. For added or reduced challenge, it is also possible to use rhythm game items to change the gameplay. These include everything from making the button indicators smaller and harder to see to making the timing a bit more lenient for button presses.

Speaking of the music, whether you’ve spent a good deal of time listening to the Hatsune Miku and other vocaloid tracks that others have created or this is your first exposure, if you like J-Pop or any of its variations then quite a few of the songs will likely have you coming back for more. This was what I found to be the case with the first title and it’s still true for this edition, as there are plenty of really catchy instrumental and vocal sections. It isn’t just the same J-Pop sound for all 40 tracks though, as there is a considerable amount of variation between each song and even a few that have some swing influence. I wasn’t aware before I played both Project DIVA F games that there are so many composers creating music with the software that has then been pushed out on a global scale, and it was enjoyable to discover a lot of these songs.

In addition to the core rhythm game experience, Project DIVA F 2nd provides a lot of additional modes, which all return from the previous title. There’s a DIVA Room where players can interact with each of the vocaloids and purchase and give them gifts in exchange for special event sequences. Aside from some mini-games, this is basically just interacting with a virtual avatar, and while huge fans of Miku and the other characters might spend a lot of time with this I found that the novelty wore off pretty quickly. There are also Photo and Live Studio modes, with the latter being what I spent the most time with outside of the main rhythm game. The Photo mode is fairly self-explanatory, as you choose different poses and other options for a character of choice before snapping a picture that can be saved directly to your system. Live Studio is a bit more interesting, as it lets you watch all of the in-game music and some additional tracks in a format that mimics the Hatsune Miku live performances. After picking what tracks you want to hear you get to see the vocaloids perform them on-stage, and can use the analog sticks to wave around glow sticks. It’s also possible to watch all the background videos in the main rhythm game once you’ve beaten them. While some of these modes seem like they’ll only appeal to people that are really into Miku and the others as characters and not just for the rhythm game component, it’s still a nice inclusion that really rounds out the overall package.

The final gameplay mode could potentially hook players just as much as the core experience, as it allows them to edit and create their own song patterns. Not only can you edit the existing tracks and make your own patterns to go along with them, but it is also possible to create entirely new videos using MP3’s on your PS3. There are a lot of customization options when it comes to using your own music, and the interface is fairly easy to use while still offering enough depth for those that really want to spend a lot of time with the creation process. Edit data for existing songs can be shared via PlayStation Network, and while I didn’t see a whole lot of downloads available when I checked a few days ago I’m hoping that over time there will be more to further extend the life of the game. Editing and creating new videos is admittedly something I didn’t spend nearly as much time with compared to the rest of Project DIVA F 2nd, but it’s the type of feature that is welcome in any rhythm game and I hope the English community embraces it.

Looking at videos it wouldn’t be surprising if you thought that all of the songs had button patterns laid over top of pre-rendered footage, but this doesn’t seem to be the case considering that any customization the player chooses is reflected with playing. The backgrounds don’t change during a song, but whatever vocaloid you chose to put into a particular song and the items you gave them are reflected while playing. That means that if you decided to dress them up with a pumpkin head or other silly accessories you’ll get to see all of that placed over whatever backing scene a song uses. I tended to avoid doing this and keep most of the defaults as many of the music videos are distracting enough in their original incarnation. The same is true of the unlockable skins, which replace the overlay at the bottom of the screen, but tend to be so bright that they can distract you from the button prompts. I don’t think that anyone is going to come into Project DIVA F 2nd expecting graphics that absolutely push the PS3 to its limits, but the level of detail is still impressive and the models are detailed enough to grab your attention. Everything also runs silky smooth, with no slowdown of any kind, and there are options where you can adjust the input lag for your television to ensure that you’re getting the right kind of button response. The only downside is that there are far too many loading screens, as moving between any menu results in loading. Artwork featuring the characters (some of which is downright scary looking) is shown on these screens, but it does become just a bit too frequent when you’re playing for long periods of time.

Even for players who have spent a considerable amount of time with the first Project DIVA F, there is enough new content to hook you all over again. The majority of the modes outside of the main rhythm game remain the same from the original title, but the additional tweaks to the gameplay and catchy music makes it one of the best genre experiences currently on the market. If you don’t know anything about Hatsune Miku or the vocaloid phenomenon but like playing games of this type, preview some of the songs online first and see if it sounds appealing, because if it is you’ll find the gameplay to be at the top of its class. It’s also great to see Sega put additional effort into the localization by offering English translations of some of the songs and the ability to import save data from the Japanese version, as it shows that they recognize the interest level in Hatsune Miku and are trying to provide those who are interested with the maximum amount of content.


Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd

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