If you’re not familiar with the story of Hatsune Miku, the short version is that the character was created as a “vocaloid” back in 2007 for use in the music industry. Musicians would load up their synthesizer or tracking software with the Hatsune Miku voice and be able to create vocal lines for their songs without needing a real singer present. Many other vocaloids are also available, but Hatsune Miku caught fire. There was even a much-publicized live concert with a holographic version of the character. Naturally, the character translates well to rhythm gaming, so Sega got busy with a series of rhythm/idolmaker hybrid titles based on Miku and some of her digital friends.
Gameplay progresses along relatively simple and repetitive lines in Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your goal is to guide Miku and co. as they sing songs in order to try to restore light that has been drained from five “Cloud Prisms” which each represent a different style of performance. Along the way, the characters learn the ways in which Classic, Cool, Elegant, Cute or Quirky performances differ and collect accessories and modules (which change their base outfit) so that they can better fit in with the required performance type.
Generating combinations of the accessories and modules that you have available to you will provide bonuses to your score, making clearing more difficult tracks a little easier. For a “cool” song for example, you might get a starter bonus as high as 48% for choosing a module of Miku dressed in a suit, topped off with a pair of smart specs, a shoulder bag, and…a model shark perched on her head. Some of the options don’t make a great deal of sense, it has to be said.
The “X” part of Project DIVA X refers to the fact that this is the tenth game in the franchise (if you include spinoffs) and as such, the in-song gameplay has been repeatedly tweaked and has now reached a really nice point. You’re still tapping (or holding) buttons or flicking the analog sticks in response to on-screen prompts of course, but gone are the unpopular double star and link star moves that were brought in for the PlayStation 3’s Project DIVA F 2nd. A new “Rush” move has been brought into play as well, which requires you to mash the indicated button (and corresponding d-pad input) in order to pump up your score. Rush prompts add a little variation to proceedings at times and are used sparingly enough that they don’t destroy the flow of a track.
They also don’t alter the difficulty curve a great deal, which means that the game is as easy to pick up for new players as it ever was. While the moving targets on the screen are a leap away from the usual fixed locations that other rhythm games provide and can be a little jarring at first, it doesn’t take more than a track or two before you find the default “easy” setting to be too slow-paced.
Moving up to the “normal” difficulty level provides a slightly more feverish playing experience but for those that master that quickly, Project DIVA X trips up. On your first play of each song in the Cloud Request mode (which is the main story), you’re forced to either play on Easy or Normal. Hard and Extreme modes for each song are available – along with challenge variations, which are optional – but only if you want to take them on in free play, or if you’ve restored all five of the Cloud Prisms (meaning that you’ve played all 30 tracks) for the first time. It’s a little disheartening, given that there appears to be no actual reason for it other than to force players to play each song at least twice on their way to the grand finale, which they’d more than likely have done anyway, only on their preferred difficulty setting.
However, this doesn’t stop the game from being intensely addictive. Sure, you might have to plod your way through tracks that are easier than you’d like, but the drive to unlock more accessories and modules through solid play to increase your scores further down the line is enough to keep you playing. Plus, there’s the fact that by the time you’ve taken on the 30 included tracks, you’ll likely have spent just as much time on stage as you have giving collected gifts to Miku, Rin, Len, Luka, KAITO, and MEIKO in the hope that it’ll raise their affinity level, or playing in free play to try and unlock a specific module that gives an aura boost for your favorite character.
Failing that, you’ll be taking on some of the various “Event Requests” that the characters give you as you play. Maybe Miku wants to sing in a three-song festival that will progress the main story, or maybe Luka wants you to beat “Raspberry * Monster” on Extreme difficulty? There’s plenty to do here when compared to other music-based games, even without the idolmaker portions.
As well as trying to make your new digital friends even more friendly towards you, for those with an interest, an entirely family-friendly photo booth mode is available which allows you to dress up your favorite characters, change their poses and facial expressions, and snap a shot or two for use on social media or as desktop backgrounds and the like. To take things further, you can even put together an entire concert in almost any way you choose, changing lighting, stage effects, camera movements and everything else. These will only be for the super-hardcore Miku fans of course, but the two options are certainly well fleshed-out for those folks who have an interest.
Central to any rhythm-action game is the selection of songs that are available. As you’d expect, all tracks in Project DIVA X are sung in Japanese (not that it really matters) with your choice of either English, Japanese, or Romaji on-screen lyrics, and there’s a varied bunch of tunes on offer.
From the quirky “Humorous Dream of Mrs. Pumpkin” to the almost Ibiza-themed banger “Satisfaction,” there’s almost certainly something for everybody, even if the list is a little bit thinner than previous games in the series. It does have to be said that while there’s plenty of variation, the finale track – “Ultimate Exquisite Rampage” – is a (purposefully) glitch-filled monstrosity that is more punishment than reward. You’d expect something upbeat and celebratory for getting all the way through the tracklist a couple of times. Think about how fitting the final crescendoing song in Sega’s own Space Channel 5 is, for example. Instead, you get something that sounds like a madman smashing his face into his MIDI board a thousand times a second as Miku bravely tries to carry on singing whilst suffering extended electrocution.
Fortunately, you don’t have to play that track more than once if you don’t want to and you will have had more than enough enjoyment for the asking price by the time you unlock it, anyway. Enough that there’s a strong draw to keep on playing well after the credits roll, to try to really perfect your favorite song, to collect all of the modules or accessories, or simply to pick up another trophy or two.
For franchise players, the changes to Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X will be enough to make things fresh and players who have been thinking about taking the plunge for a while can feel safe in the knowledge that while it isn’t without fault, the game’s western PlayStation 4 debut is addictive, compelling, and plenty of fun.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
While it isn’t without fault, Hatsune Miku's western PlayStation 4 debut is addictive, compelling and plenty of fun.