In Japan, Hatsune Miku is an unqualified sensation, with the anthropomorphized singing synthesizer dominating music sales charts, video sharing service Nico Nico Douga, as well as serving as an ambassador for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Google, Domino’s and Toyota. But when the vocaloid’s inaugural stateside game, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F, was released in August, 2013, U.S. Miku-mania was still in its infancy. In the subsequent duration, conventions on both coasts, an opening spot on Lady Gaga’s concert tour, and a spot on the Late Show with David Letterman have secured the teal-haired temptress with a legion of domestic fans that are fervent for Miku tie-ins and merchandise.
Although the recent release of Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd for the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita doesn’t make any radical changes to the rhythm-based franchise, major modifications are hardly necessary. Building on the foundations established in a pair of Japan-only PSP releases and the aforementioned PS Vita title, Project DIVA F 2nd focuses on supplying a new selection of forty songs, each elevated by captivating choreography and a selection of unlockable wardrobes for both Miku and her crooning companions. While an appreciation for vocaloids is a requisite, aficionados will undoubtedly treasure the engaging title.
A trip to the game’s interactive tutorial imparts the basics of play, while Hachune Miku keeps time to “Ievan Polkka” by using a leek like a conductor’s baton. Beyond imparting the rudiments of cadenced button presses and screen swipes, the lesson also reveals DIVA F 2nd’s fondness for fan-service. Look beyond the main campaign, and the title extends a bevy of satisfying supplements. The game’s Diva Room offers a Tamagotchi-esque recreation where players can configure a habitat fitting for the global superstar- outfitting her abode with decorative items and bestowing a bevy of gifts. While the mini-game feeds into an overarching incentive system, pushing players to replay songs to earn additional currency, there are a few peculiarities- like having to rub Miku’s face in order to maintain a good mood.
Things are a little less peculiar in the game’s Edit Mode which, which provides players with the tools to make their own music videos. Although Vita owners are required to download an additional (albeit free) 747 MB file, the component extends the type of creative control which helped to catapult the virtual pop idol into the collective consciousness. After selecting a level of user interface complexity and choosing any of the game’s songs or opting importing a MP3 file, players are given access to a Final Cut Pro-style linear editing system. On a scrolling timeline, everything from character animation, lyrics, and camera controls can be manipulated, theoretically giving players the power to make a music video just a robust as any of ones used in-game. Naturally, creating robust content would take a herculean investment in time, and DIVA F 2nd‘s Edit mode tutorials only cover the fundamentals.
For PS Vita owners, the title comes with a curious AR element, allowing gamers to superimpose posed characters over images grabbed by the portable’s camera. While the inclusion is almost as versatile as Edit mode, it’s also undermined by the quality of the Vita hardware. In execution, the high-resolution models stood in sharp contrast to the pixelated, often underlit images captured by the camera. Still, if fans can find bright backdrops, the AR mode can potentially produce some amusing fodder for social media.
Moving into Project DIVA F 2nd’s main Play Mode reveals a rhythm game that’s rooted in genre rudiments. Beyond the basic input of notes, the game throws a few variations at players. Star icons return from DIVA F, oblige a swipe of the touchscreen. One of this game’s changes in the inclusion of Linked Scratch Targets which require a two-finger streak, a potentially precarious maneuver for a two-hundred dollar portable system. The title’s other mechanical change is found in Linked Star Targets, where the traditional trajectory of notes is altered to shifting patterns, requiring players to follow a symbol that’s darting around the screen. During each of the game’s songs, a period referred to as Chance Time occurs, with a star gauge filing with each precisely timed button press. If gamers are able to top off the meter, they have access to a bonus event- typically a brief reprise proposing the opportunity for a higher score.
Remarkably, Project DIVA F 2nd can be a bit unforgiving, with a success rate of eighty perfect or more required to clear a song and earn each track’s unlockables. Fortunately, four different levels of difficulty ensure than players with a wide range of proficiency are able to enjoy themselves. One of the gripes some had with Project DIVA F was an obedience to Miku’s more poppy side. With the sequel, the singer and her cohorts demonstrate real range- with jazzy, techno, and even a few affecting ballads accompanying the expected J-pop tracks.
Nicely, most songs in DIVA F 2nd offer English subtitles in addition to the romaji captions of the early games. Although it can be a bit hard to follow the lyrics when notes are cascading from all corners of the screen, the translation effort is commendable, allowing all fans to appreciate the meaning behind Miku’s songs. For faithful fans that purchase both the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita iterations of the game, cross-saving allows progress to be shared between platforms. Even better for eager vocaloid-otaku is SEGA’s pledge to bring over DIVA F 2nd’s downloadable content, expanding an already substantial roster of songs.
For fans, a purchase of Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd offers a plethora of content. Beyond the engrossing core game, there’s a video editor, Miku simulation, even the game’s loading screen are adorned with delighting images of the teal-haired troubadour. It’s a title that vocaloid devotees won’t find fault with; a comprehensive package that’s poised to earn Miku a few new fans.
Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd was played on the PS Vita with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 3, PS Vita
Developer: SEGA, Crypton Future Media
Release date: November 18th, 2014
Price: $49.99 PlayStation 4, $39.99 PS Vita