Dammit, now the robots are gonna be our pop idols? What's next!?
Rhythm games are some of my favorite titles to pop in and play. Since the early 2000s I’ve spent my fair share of time split between a Dance Dance Revolution pad, a beatmania PS2 accessory, and even rotating my thumbs against that damn Sanbone trio in the great Gitaroo Man. I love experiencing the multitude of ways developers have figured out to play with the beat of a good song. Sometimes it works super well, and sometimes it just feels silly. I was the guy that reviewed We Cheer 2 early in my career. (That abomination of a Michael Jackson cover still gets under my skin.)
This round of toe-tappers features virtual J-Pop diva Hatsune Miku and her friends, a variety of alternating backup and featured singers, like the opposite-sex-yet-identical twins and the serious-and-mysterious guy, to round out the group. Each song brings with it a music video to enjoy, complete with dancing and special effects and such, which plays behind the playfield. Each video is distinct with its environment and dance moves performed behind the flow of button combinations that need tapping at just the right moment, spanning both the D-pad and the diamond buttons.
With only 40 tracks, the song list may seem small compared to listings of other franchises in the genre, but these are both full-length songs and the performance quality is definitely up among the best. There are even multiple styles represented, like traditional instruments and fast-paced techno dance party sounds. The instrumental performances are all interesting and engaging, but the voices… well, the multiple duets are like listening to two auto-tuned SIRIs. I know it’s a “virtual diva” and all that, but I would have liked some more realistic voices. Some songs pass it off well, while a handful of the slower tracks are barely better than Stephen Hawking with auto-tune. Kind of takes away from the fantasy of this pop idol too much.
The lyrics, when translated, are a lot like modern-day American pop songs: incomprehensible, ridiculous, and written by and for either the creatively forced or emotionally unstable. One particular love song actually asks the lover to let the singer be an “air tank” and never stop kissing them. Might just be me, but that sounds like a song written by someone who enjoys the feel of properly-treated human skin worn as a coat. (Though the metaphor about words “rusting on our saliva” sounded really neat.)
But that’s alright. Hell, that’s not even a downside, as it’s all in a language I don’t speak. But what is a downside is that some of the gameplay is difficult to decipher, thanks to the music video happening behind it. As beautiful as the videos may be, some of them offer a lot of flashing lights and colors and lines that, while not directly interfering with the floating buttons that need hitting, can mar the playfield and make it difficult to see when the correct button needs to be hit. Thankfully not every song has this issue, but a number of faster tracks do, which can make higher levels of difficulty nigh-impossible.
The Diva Room space is where you can “hang out” with the various divas in the game. It’s a people-centric version of a Tamagotchi (thankfully sans pooping) with the ability to give gifts to the characters, re-decorate their rooms, and dress them up in purchased outfits to make them look like a variety of archetypes… or just put them in casual, comfortable clothes. Some of the outfits are interesting to see in other video contexts, like the otherworldly environments in traditional kimono or a shrine with some future-y skirt. It doesn’t really add much to the experience overall, but it’s a fun touch.
All that said, it seems worth the effort. For the few songs that will catch your ear and push you to finish even on Extreme difficulty (which lives up to its name) and fiddle with the virtual pet aspects of finding the right gifts and such, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd is a funny name, but a solid rhythm experience. The E3 trailer proclaiming it “the future of rhythm games” is a bit of hyperbole. But hey, it might well be a step in the right direction. With a bit more fine-tuning, like making sure the background videos doesn’t totally screw with the actual play of the game when it does, this could set a new bar.
Copy provided by publisher, review based on PS Vita version. Also available on PS3.