Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F Review

By Andrew McDanell on October 20, 2013

Rhythm, timing, crazy dance routines, and voice synthesizers. All of these things add up to one interesting franchise known as Vocaloid, but in this instance, we're going to be specifically referencing one ever popular rhythm series featuring Hatsune Miku. Many believed this title would never reach the western audience, but Sega finally broke the tradition and answered the call of fans by localizing our first console version of Hatsune Miku.

For those unaware, Vocaloid is a voice synthesizer program that when lyrics and notes are entered, produces a singing voice. Think of it as a text-to-song program. Ultimately from its success birthed a computer generated diva known as Hatsune Miku. She's a huge sensation in Japan and became the poster child for everything Vocaloid.

Hatsune Miku Project Diva F was originally released on the Playstation Vita in Japan, however it was never released in the West. Due to the large demand, Sega buckled and it's led to the West received a version on the PlayStation 3 that sees some minor tweaks, including improved visuals, faster load times, and new songs.

At its core, Project Diva is a rhythm game. Your main goal is to strike the face button, D-pad, and analog stick when the note reaches its home. Based on the difficult you select, the amount of face buttons and directions used at any given time varies. This can range from standard single button presses, to analog stick tilts, to button holds and even D-pad and face button combinations.

To add to the score building, players are rewarded for having perfect timing versus being slightly off, and building combos adds even more incentive to maintaining precision. There's even Technical Zones that give bonuses for keeping up a combo that are essential to getting high scores.

For new players, the easy difficulty provides for a very welcoming stage to learn while also having a few challenging songs to nudge you forward. As you climb up to higher difficulties, it's at that point that you learn if you're willing to take the leap forward into becoming a true rhythm expert. Put simply, Project Diva holds no punches in higher difficulties and it takes a great deal of practice as well as memorization.

If you're someone who's not used to the whole Vocaloid scene, the songs in Project Diva can be a bit of a stumbling block for some players. The music itself is exclusively Japanese including J-Pop, J-Rock, and J-Trance. To add to that, the voicing done by the Vocaloid system may be hard to get used to as some of the voices sound more noticeably robotic. Oddly enough, once you hear it enough it gets very catchy and you'll soon find yourself a Vocaloid fan if you're not careful.That all said, the musical selection is varied and has some very catchy tunes. You have the serious and dark music like Tokyo Teddy Bear, and some straight silly titles like Rin-chan Now. Each offer a varied amount of beats per minute (BPM) as well as speed for the notes, producing a wide variety of challenges and feel. Having said that, a couple of songs feel like throwaways and could have been left out, like Poptart Cat.

As you play through each stage, depending on your difficulty and performance, you'll be awarded Diva Points. Diva Points can be spent on many different items including costumes, accessories, and items for use in the Diva Room. The costumes are your typical fan service including school uniforms, swimsuits, gothic attire, and more. Each item equipped upon your diva will be worn during performances.

Another use for Diva Points is to spend them on challenges. Challenges range in cost and put into effect a restriction in order to reap significant rewards. For example, you can force your energy meter to start out at ¼ and never replenish in order to gain 3 times the amount of Diva Points in the end. Energy meter depletes as you fail notes, so this can cause you to fail entirely. It promotes an interesting dynamic where it challenges you to risk sacrificing your hard earned Diva Points.

One element in which makes Project Diva shine is the great work put into the design and choreograph of the background visuals. Each song has a theme about it that is very unique to one another. From pool-side whackiness, heavy metal stage performances, bending digital to reality of an MMO, and a psychotic song involving a teddy bear.

The creative level makes for some interesting elements, sometimes almost too interesting as they can distract you if you're not careful. The only real problem that arises from crazy background visuals is that it can sometimes cause some notes to be missed or hard to see. An example being a red circle note being lost in a red environment. This is rare, and can often be trained after a few attempts. However at first it may cause frustration.

The visual direction is much to be expected for anyone familiar with the series. Never aiming for realistic, its visual style is a 3D rendered anime look that gives it a colorful and cartoonish feel. However with that is some rather lacking textures and enclosed environments that sometimes leaves much to be desired. That said, the animation, and again choreography, makes up for this in great design.

Probably one of the more polarizing features in Project Diva F, is the Diva Room. Polarizing in that you'll either love it, or hate it. The Diva Room is essentially a room in which your selected diva hangs out. You can pat them on the head to cheer them up, give them presents, play mini games, or decorate the place by spending some hard earned points. Unfortunately parts of this seems rather shoed in from the Vita version as you're controlling a hand with an analog stick rather than just touching a screen.

For the more dedicated fans of the genre, Project Diva also features an extensive Edit Mode where creative (and patient) players can create their own levels. Choose from existing music or MP3s on the PS3, select the stage, change camera angles, set animations, and throw in your own symbols. Everything is there and at your fingertips. Just be ready for hours of work as it is no simple task.

The final and least useful mode is the Studio Mode. Here players can choose either a pre-set concert or a still environment with set poses. Its only real purpose is to take photos of divas in different settings for wallpapers or keepsake.

Final Thoughts

Fans can rejoice that the West has finally seen some Hatsune Miku love. Deep down, the game has some solid rhythm gameplay coupled with a good selection of songs and choreography. There are a few questionable choices in there, such as the Diva Room and Studio Mode, but if you're willing to give Project Diva F a shot, Hatsune Miku might just win you over.

Great dance routines and effects
Addictive and challenging score system
Fun even for new players
Switching Divas does not change the voice track
Too many short load screens to do simple tasks
Diva Room is rather odd.
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