She may not be a household name over here quite yet, but turquoise haired virtual songstress Hatsune Miku is nothing short of a sensation in Japan, with thousands of songs to her name, concert appearances under her belt and even an accompanying manga comic book series. Not bad for someone who isn't even real.
A digital synthesised voice known as a vocaloid, personified as a cutesy pigtailed girl named Miku, her j-pop infused songs (many of which are written by her fans) cover everything from borderline stalkerish fascinations with her fellow vocaloids, to her devotion to a particular alcoholic cocktail, and the live of a vengeful prostitute - amongst the more lighthearted and bubbly songs of love and cute stuff. With a solid stream of successful games under her belt, Hatsune Miku now makes her return to Playstation devices with Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X for the PS Vita and Playstation 4, bringing more vocaloid fun with it.
A rhythm action game, Project Diva X sees you playing along with a number of Miku's tunes, pressing buttons in time with the music as you matching them to the symbols shown on screen, earning points based on how in time you are. Without a defined "note track" to follow (like in the Rock Band games), things take on a slightly more freeform approach here, as the Playstation buttons, triangle, square, circle and x, all fly across the screen to meet markers at different speeds and rhythms - as the icon and its marker overlap, you need to hit the button to play your note. For a better idea of how it all fits together, check out the quick gameplay snippet below:
Harder difficulties add more notes, more irregular rhythms and double 'arrow' notes, which require you to press both the shaped button and it's equivalent direction on the d-pad at the same time, matching circle and right, square and left and so on. Each song has certain sections - called Technical Zones and Chance Time - where you can earn bonus points by hitting every single note in one long combo for an extra challenge.
For the first time in the series, Project Diva X adds a story mode of sorts, where Miku and the other volcaloid idols have been robbed of their ability to sing when the world's five cloud crystals lost all their charge. They need your help to sing again, by recharging the prisms and bringing music back to their world, one cloud at a time. Each of the clouds specialises in a particular 'aura' or feel of song, from classic to cute to quirky and more, with five songs plus one multi-song medley apiece.
Every song you complete will earn you a certain amount of 'voltage' - essentially points - although for the first half of the story mode, it's largely irrelevant as you simply need to clear each new song as the divas 'discover' them. Later things get a touch more grindy, and you need to repeat songs on harder difficulties or in different, more challenging, ways (disappearing notes, faster moving icons, smaller symbols) to amass enough voltage to recharge the clouds multiple times - seven times to be exact.
But playing along is only part of the story - your idols also need to look the part too, and like the previous games, Project Diva X has an impressive array of costumes and accessories to kit out your singers. Each dress, pair of bunny ears and set of hipster glasses has an aura associated with it (who knew a fake moustache was elegant, even on a woman!), and matching your outfit to the song you're singing will net you bonus points, as well as giving you a neat ability that may make it easier to clear the song, and get you closer to recharging each cloud. More outfits are unlocked as random drops while playing songs too, providing you can perfect the Chance Time section we mentioned earlier - miss it, and you'll be waving bye bye to your precious wardrobe upgrades. Some outfits increase your odds of getting clothes you don't already own, or new accessories too, so it's well worth dolling yourself up in those if you're on the hunt for more.
Perhaps to compensate for the fact that the cutesy dialogue between the different vocaloids largely drops off a cliff once you've finished unlocking all the songs, 'event requests' end up taking their place. Between songs, one of the singers may come up to you and ask for your assistance in mastering a certain aura, in planning a surprise concert for a friend, or learning about love through song - and it falls to you to fulfil their request.
Some requests are more freeform, with a choice of songs and difficulties left to you, perhaps even leaving it to you to put together a three song medley of your own as a 'festival', whereas others rely on specific characters or songs instead. A few do require you to complete songs on the hardest 'Extreme' difficulty though, although in return, you will bag some costumes as rewards. While the songs they pick aren't impossible on the highest level, the fact you may have to struggle your way to a complete clothing collection could put some people off.
But outfits and accessories aren't the only things you'll win for completing songs - finishing a tune will earn you a number of other items too, from toys and flowers to food and posters, which can be given to your vocaloid partner as a gift. Dropped at random upon clearing a song, each vocaloid has their own likes and dislikes, and picking the perfect present for each person will boost your relationship with them - whereas getting the wrong one will reduce their opinion of you instead. The better you get on with the singers, the more points you'll score in songs, but in all honesty it doesn't seem to affect things by an appreciable amount.
The real reason for bonding with the characters is more to unlock a number of item-specific scenes that count towards the game's various completion trophies. However, switching between different characters/choosing a new partner is more than a little clunky, with no obviously easy way to change between Miku, Rin, Len, Luka, Kaito and Meiko at all. The best we came up with was via the 'Customize' option in the main menu, which lets you change your current diva's outfit and accessories - as well as switch which character is currently hanging out in the diva room.
While it won't win any awards for a deep and moving plot, the lighthearted story mode does make a nice change of pace from the usual grind for Diva Points of previous games, where you simply play in order to purchase all the outfits and accessories. However, compared to past instalments, Project Diva X does seem a little light on actual songs, with just thirty one tracks on offer here, six of which are medleys, compared to the forty plus of games gone by. We suppose that, technically, the medleys do include snippets of four or five songs back to back, so you could count them as being more than one tune, but really, SEGA - you aren't fooling anyone!
Likewise, the soundtrack does seem very Miku-centric, with most of the others getting just one track each and the occasional duet with the green-haired goddess herself. It's not a huge issue, but it does mean that if (for example) you find yourself with a request to help Kaito (who's a bloke) master the cute aura, for example, it'll limit your song selection to those of the cute aura only, which are entirely female vocal tracks. Which, while hilarious, is also a little odd.
All in all, Project Diva X is still a fun little title for fans of vocaloid music games, and it's new story mode is certainly a nice addition - however, a few more tracks would have been nice, and the decision to effectively lock some costumes off for only the best players is a bit naff. However, there's lots to enjoy here, and while it may be a touch pricey for a digital download on the Vita, completionists will definitely have their work cut out for them if they plan to unlock everything!