Hatsune Miku Project Diva f is one in the long line of Hatsune Miku Project Diva music-and-rhythm videogames. If that means nothing to you then you aren’t alone; I came into Hatsune Miku Project Diva f having absolutely no prior knowledge of what Hatsune Miku was. As it turns out she’s the lead in a diverse cast of characters, the image of a brand and most importantly, she’s the digital poster girl of an entire sub-culture.
Some years ago the Japanese media company Crypton Future Media created an application that gave amateur music creators a powerful new tool; a application that used synthesized voice samples which, when strung together could create a digitised voice to sing along to digitally created music. Suddenly, not having a pair of golden vocal chords was no longer a limiting factor for the aspiring amateur.
The application went on to be a roaring success, a large part of which could be attributed to the Hatsune Miku character herself. A voice synthesizer application is an abstract concept and not particularly endearing, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that CFM drew up a humanoid persona, or ‘vocaloid’, to be the face of the product. You weren’t just buying an application; you were buying the voice of a character.
As the product grew in popularity new voice samples were created to fill in the gaps in for different genres and voice types. New vocaloids were drawn up to personify these new voices and before she knew it Hatsune Miku was part of a cast of characters that made up a sort of likeable (but improbable) family.
The library of songs that came about from CFM’s software has grown in size and popularity so much that Hatsune Miku and co now perform for packed audiences in real-life. They may only be holograms but the fandom built up around them is very real.
A popular IP means merchandised goods like lunchboxes and videogames. This is where the Project Diva series comes in. The newest entry, Project Diva f, has been released on both the Playstation 3 and the PS Vita in Japan but as of yet the West has only seen a localization of the PS3 version. Favorable fan reception has led to an announcement of a localization of the Vita port of the game for some time in 2014.
This review will look at whether the Vita version of Hatsune M-….PDf, is worth your time.
PDf doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to the music-and-rhythm genre. Symbols, shaped like the Playstation face buttons, appear on screen and you have to press the corresponding buttons when an icon of the same shape overlaps with the symbols.
Regular button presses are peppered with prompts to hold buttons down, or to press the d-pad and corresponding face button together (x and down, circle and right etc). At select points you have to strum along to the guitars by thumbing the touch-screen or rear touch-pad.
Time all those inputs right and you should find yourself tapping to the tune of the song you are playing. Play the song well and a gauge at the bottom of the screen fills up. Fill it up enough and you will clear the song, earning you Diva Points (in-game currency). In addition you will unlock purchasable items in the in-game store along with new songs and difficulty modes.
It’s pretty much business as usual as far as gameplay goes. What sets PDf apart from its peers is the breadth of the scenarios the developers have dreamt up to go along with the songs. In ‘Weekender Girl’ Miku takes part in an eclectic light show where the scenery becomes an impromptu dance aide. In ‘Hm? Ah, Yes.’ a disturbed Miku struts her way through a mansion that has been thrown into a chaotic, telekinetic disarray; she waltzes nonchalantly through a clockwise swirl of crystal debris, while you try and keep pace with a counter-clockwise assault of button prompts.
And then some scenarios go far beyond being creative to being just plain batshit insane. These music videos work because they can sell you on the characters no matter how many different hats you’ve see them wearing. Provocative song siren, anti-establishment punk rocker, the heart-broken girl-next-door; Hatsune Miku is whatever the music needs her to be.
The vocaloid characters have a kind of universality about their design that allows them to play different roles believably and cohesively. They are universal without being generic; there is still a core character underneath all those hats. That’s pretty impressive.
Sure, this is a strength of the IP the game is based on rather than the game itself, but the developers went about leveraging that strength smartly, and PDf is a better game for it. I can see how for some people the breadth of expressions the characters display can make them seen disingenuous, and that combined with the synthesized voices can create a sort of low-tech uncanny valley. But give the game a chance and you might find yourself endeared towards them.
Almost everything I’ve said up to this point is also true of the Playstation 3 version of the game. PDf on the Vita inherits most of the strengths of the PS3 version; the varied track-list, the creative music videos, the truck load of unlockable items. But it also inherits some of the clunkiness of its home console counterpart.
The clunky menu design of the console version is intact here. Almost every menu is partitioned from every other menu by an invasive loading screen. This is quite irritating for a handheld game where getting into the game quickly is important.
It’s also apparent that the Vita version of the game is not running internally at native resolution. Unlike the PS3 version of the game which has crisp characters with nuanced texture to their clothing the characters in the Vita version appear washed out at the edges. The Vita can do better than this.
But the biggest, almost game destroying problem with the Vita port has to be the controls. The strumming actions for guitars/bass that were assigned to the R-stick on the PS3 version are mapped here to the touch-screen/rear touch pad.
At first I tried thumbing the touchscreen during the strumming sections with variable success. Switching over to the rear-touch pad produced better results but they were far from desirable. The Vita’s rear touch-pad can be fickle about when it reads your input so I still found I would sometimes drop a note (and a massive combo I had going) because my finger would glide (undetected) over the touch-pad on a fine film of sweat. At other times my finger would jam in place, failing to gain traction over built up finger grime. And then at other times it just plain, straight-up wouldn’t work at all.
It was a disaster. How could I make high score runs knowing there was an element of luck involved? But there was light at the end of the tunnel:
After searching around I found the most effective way to play the game was also one of the most unintuitive; strumming the touch screen with long forefinger strokes. Unintuitive because it requires you to shift the way you hold the system mid-song, and balance the weight of the Vita on one hand (or a knee).
The alternative is to use a claw like grip to reach over to the touch screen whilst holding the system normally, but many players, especially those with shorter fingers, might not be able to pull off this kind of finger-judo. Playing with a stand is the best option but you do sacrifice portability. My control woes were solved and disaster was averted, but some minor comfort issues had crept in.
Still, it worked and it was fun. Unlocking things was fun. Using help items to make it easier to clear songs when you wanted to grind for Diva Points; making the game playable even if you are really tired and just want to relax…that was fun. Seeing the characters interact with each other in the Diva Room mode was fun. Swapping male/female characters around in the music video viewer and reveling in the hilariously campy results was fun too.
If you were on the fence about getting PDf for either the Vita or PS3, you have to following things to consider: You don’t need an expensive sound system or have to faff around with frame-lag correction to enjoy the Vita version. And it is portable.
Some people might be considering double-dipping for the Vita version so they can accrue Diva Points on the go. But PDf Vita does not support cross-save. Your handheld money is going to stay on the small screen.
If you already own the Playstation 3 version of Hatsune Miku Project Diva f, and playing the game in some capacity on the go is not a big deal to you, I’d suggest passing this up as it’s not like you can transfer Diva Points between the systems. If you have neither version and playing it on the go isn’t absolutely critical to you either, again, you’d be better off passing up the Vita version. If portable is your primary option you will find that Hatsune Miku Project Diva f on the Vita is a decent game with a creative spark in it. It is fun to play on both systems, but slightly better overall on the Playstation 3.