No! This cannot be!
Vocaloids again? Gah! I was a fool to think it'd be over...
Ahem. Guess we'd better fling out the standard three notes on this one- first, we took our own screenshots, so click them to embiggen them. Second, we've done our best to avoid having to parse Vocaloid names in full, using only their first names simply because it gives us a headache. Additionally, we've gone with the English translations of song names seeing as they're as close to 'official' as we're likely to get. Whether these names will stick, only time will tell. I know my idiot writer has a hard time calling it Rushin Yukai and not Meltdown, but that's not my circus, not my monkey. Finally, for the third time in a row, Edit and DIVA Room modes have been skipped because we have spoken and in this awful place, we are the law. Well, that and to be honest, even with the English version of the game, EDIT Moed is beyond us.
Also, keen-eyed readers will note this review is based on both versions of the game, but unlike the first, both the PS3 and Vita versions have a capital F. Important to note, that.
Also also, we're completely able to do this with no outside help at all. Just what have we become?
This is the eternal story of how I became the worst Vocaloid fan in the world.
(Hey, stop! If you haven't already, I'd highly recommend reading Gaming Hell's reviews of 2nd and the first f before carrying on!)
Before we begin... It's pretty funny to look at the first Vocaloid article on this site because it's peppered with references to me not being a real Vocaloid fan. How times have changed, as I've upgraded from 'not a true fan' to 'probably the worst'. Anyway... Last time, I thought we might've seen the back of Vocaloids on this site. I'm really not sure why, except Project DIVA f was apparently pretty expensive to make, and I guess I didn't fancy the Vita's chances of getting another one. Hahaha, what a fool! Vocaloid is eternal and not long after the international version of F was released, Project DIVA F 2nd was announced. Surprisingly, a Western release was announced too (in what can only be described as the worst possible timing, the announcement was made the very day copies of the Japanese version started getting shipped out to Westerners. Whoops!) and so the rest of the world could finally keep up to date with The Gamesoft Vocaloids. Err, except it was released internationally half a year later but it's the principle, isn't it? As I felt F was a step above its PSP predecessors, you could say I was pretty hype for F 2nd. New songs! Same robust game mechanics! And they'll probably have fixed that weird stuttering in the Vita version that was kinda there in the demo but there's no way that's in the final game! Surely that'll be the case, right? Well...
Anyway, it should be obvious, for a third time, that Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd is a rhythm game.
(Yes, that line is a running joke now.)
The basics are the same as F, so we'll go over them briefly for those playing catch-up. As the promo video (PV) plays in the background, notes will float on-screen, with the aim being to smash 'em by pressing them in time with the music- hit them correctly for COOL and FINE ratings that contribute to stage clearance, barely get them for SAFE which keeps your health but breaks your combo, and totally flunk them for SAD or WORST that break your combo and cost you health- run out of health, and you fail, and not hitting enough notes means you won't pass either. There's six note varieties now, up from F's four- standard (press the corresponding button!), Hold (hold the note and let go when it finishes!), Direction (press the face button and corresponding d-pad direction both at once!), Scratch (wipe the touch-screen with your finger or tap the analogue stick!), and the newcomers Double Scratch (wipe the touch-screen with two fingers or tap both analogue sticks!) and Link Scratch (one Scratch Note starts a chain of Scratches across a line that may have a different tempo to the rest of the song- keep up!) who we'll be dissecting in a moment. This time, the setlist is split down the middle, with 20 brand-new songs and 20 coming from Project DIVA 1 (7), 2nd (7) and extend (6), with 3 of them getting new PVs and the rest being spruced up significantly. This does mean that there are a few more repeat producers than last time (kz made Decorator and some old songs, ryo shows up twice, three times if you count DLC, and DECO*27 is in twice with DLC also).
All of the enhancements from F over the PSP games still stand- the improved gauging of your progress through clearance bars and percentages, Technical Zone and Chance Time mechanics which help your song clearance chances and can change the PV's ending, and greater character customisation so you can give Miku as many cat ears as you like. There's even further improvements and tweaks from there in F 2nd, including but not limited to a more interesting unlock system (each song has a set of unlockable given gradually by a separate menu, and they involve things like 'play this song with a fake moustache' or 'score 21 hits of one rank type'), HUD skins (a feature from Project DIVA Arcade that finally makes it to the home games), more customisation for note sounds (you can have Hold Notes make their own noises if you wish for more audio feedback on them) and what feels like shorter loading times. The Challenge Items have also been revamped, as you can pile on multiple challenges but each one only increases your DP earnings by 50%, even if they are more varied (Tiny Melody Icons? Sure. Super-fast ones? You got it. Randomized note directions? If you want, I don't see why not) and there's other subtle changes that may get raked up in a moment. The final obvious change is that the difficulty has been ratcheted up a notch, with even Normal putting up a decent fight, and that's before you go onto Hard and Extreme. As a result, it feels like a touch-up, but with a great setlist like this, that's OK for me.
So, it sounds like it's an improvement overall, right? More of the same, just a lil' better, yeah?
Well... This is where things get a little weird. This is a tale of two games.
Let's start where I started, with the PS Vita version.
As ever, I imported the Vita version because, at that point, I didn't know if it would make the leap across the pond. I also wanted the bonus that came with. And, well, I was excited! I don't experience hype too often these days, but with this one I did. Bear that in mind, perhaps, as I relay how I was disappointed. On the one hand, the setlist is very solid with some obvious classics returning (Two-Sided Lovers, Luka Luka ★ Night Fever, Clover♣Club) and some great new songs (Blackjack, Hello Worker and Envy Cat Walk, but the standout for me is Meteor), there's the improvements mentioned above, and some of the note patterns are genuinely fun and engaging. That said, I was still disappointed by the end. The main culprits are the Scratch Notes and their new friends. The Double Scratch Note, to be fair, is relatively innocuous as an addition- it makes sense given the Direction Notes already well-established by the games, but on first brush the Link Scratch Notes are annoying. They feel unnecessary, like an addition made to the series simply so they could say "Well, we changed things up, didn't we?". They alter the tempo of the beats, which didn't sit well with me as they'd often interrupt you just as you were getting into a good pattern of note-smashing. After you play through them the first time, they feel slightly better- they are in time with the song, after all- but I felt in the end they were mostly added to say 'here's something new' and because they leave after-images related to the song, like a heart, a crown or a sword slice. They felt like surplus to requirements, basically.
More importantly, the Scratch Notes have been changed for this one. In F, you were given a bit of leeway with the Scratch Notes as you could never get a Safe or Bad rank with them- either Cool, Fine or a total miss. This worked, especially with the touch-screen controls- they're not as solidly performed as the actual button-presses, and while including them in a game all about tight timing was a bit odd, I felt that the fact that you had to mix up what you were doing with your hands and they were usually split quite well from the normal notes made them feel like they worked. However, the timing has been tightened in F 2nd, where you can get a Safe with these notes, and it will drive you nuts. I've dropped more than a few combos as a result. There's also a lot more of them in annoying configurations, as if they are deliberately trying to confuse your hands (some, like the Link Scratch Notes followed immediately by button notes in Two-Sided Lovers, can be dealt with if you use the D-Pad, but seriously fuck Kagerou Daze where it has Direction Notes straight after Scratch Notes). To be fair, this is mitigated ever-so-slightly by the new addition of letting you use the analogue sticks on the Vita, but those analogue sticks have never felt super-great to me, so finger-slippage can still be a problem.
Additionally, the minor stuttering problem from F has not been fixed. In fact, it is actively worse. In the previous game, this was mostly on Hard and Extreme, where the notes would 'stutter' slightly and skip ahead or slow down. Maybe it's just me, but I noticed this, and it was a little distracting. This time, not only is it prevalent on Hard and Extreme (Roshin Yukai in particular on Hard is an absolute nightmare for it) but there's even a bit of it on Normal too. This also plays into making it far, far easier than before to lose track of what's happening- always a minor problem with the series, but for some reason it's far worse here, with the worst offender being the PV for I'll Miku Miku You (For Reals) (watch out for the flashing lights in this one) as so much shit is happening in the background that losing notes is too easy. However, it's the stuttering and reliance on obnoxious Scratch Note placement that, in the end, sorta made me give up. For a long while, I was stuck in F on Sadistic.Music∞Factory and NegiPosi*Continues on Extreme, but I stuck with it, and eventually got my Platinum Crown as proof I was either vaguely competent at the game or just lucked out repeatedly (or just persistent). The equivalent Extreme songs in F 2nd are Two-Sided Lovers and 2D Dream Fever... And I gave up. The stuttering is especially bad in 2D Dream Fever, and I had no motivation to do it at all. I had a lot more to unlock, but I just couldn't be arsed. A real shame as 2D Dream Fever is a really fnu song to play, but it wasn't worth it.
In the end, when playing the Vita version, I felt a like like I did when I was playing PSP 2nd- that I was doing so out of obligation rather than really getting stuck into it like I did with F. I wouldn't say it was a complete wash, as some of the adjustments are a move forward, but it really felt like one step forward, two steps back (i.e. the total opposite of what I said about F). We're back to three stars on this one, which is a shame as it was really making progress! If three stars sounds a bit high for what I've just waffled on about, bear in mind that I may have got a little hyped up, especially about them fixing the stuttering, so I feel the score reflects my feelings about it if we put hype aside from a moment. Ah, if they'd only built more on what F did well rather than go and tighten the Scratch Note timings and completely ignore the stuttering, we could've had something magical here. Alas.
... But that was the Vita version.
Playing the English PS3 release was a completely different affair.
(We've switched over to PS3 screenshots now. See? Clever!)
At this point in our story, I hadn't actively played F 2nd on my Vita for a solid few months (I believe I spent much of that time swearing my way through htoL#NiQ
and forgetting everything I knew about Project DIVA by playing the LoveLive! iOS game) so I was pretty out of practice with F 2nd specifically- in other words, the best possible state to go in. I did remember a couple of the Line Scratch Note tempos, but that was about it.. And the strangest thing was I wasn't getting nearly as frustrated with the game. I was still getting a little mardy with it at times (Clover♣Club on Extreme has a very silly Technical Zone and seriously, Kagerou Daze, what is this shit you are trying to pull) but it felt far more natural and less like the game was deliberately trying to throw me off with some of the Hard and Extreme patterns. The feeling of disappointment I had with the Vita release was almost completely gone here, and at first I simply couldn't put my finger on why. It was the same game, and the only obvious difference was the fact that the stuttering was almost completely eliminated from the game. Why was I having far more fun with it?
Only after beating 2D Dream Fever on Extreme- remember, that thing I couldn't do on the Vita- that it finally clicked what was going on. Now, at least some of this is just supposition on my part and only based on what I think is the case, but if you think about it, the first F was created with the Vita in mind. That's where it was planned for first, that's where it was released first, and the PS3 version was announced much later. Things got jumbled up for the Western version, but it was planned for the Vita first. This second game had a simultaneous release on both the Vita and PS3 but to me it seems the game was created with the PS3 in mind. The most obvious thing is that there's almost none of the stuttering, and that's very important, but surprisingly there's also the Scratch Notes- these patterns are far more intuitive on the more-comfortable dual sticks of the PS3! The way the Scratch Notes work on the Vita, you can just barely 'drum' them (i.e. use both thumbs to alternate) but it doesn't particularly feel great or natural (especially since it's very easy to fluff it up, and this is not made easier with those tiny little analogue sticks) and it takes just a smidgen longer to move your thumbs into place. On the PS3, though, I took to them instantly and had to go back to the Vita port to make sure they were the same patterns- they were- it's just they're far more suited to the easier drumming technique you can do with the dual sticks. In fact, the tightened Scratch Note timing seems specifically made for the PS3 as it's far more satisfying to nail the timing just right on the dual sticks than the slightly-off touch screen.
This is especially weird as I never really felt like this happened with F when I switched between the Vita and PS3 ports. If anything I felt the touch screen controls in F were a little better than the dual sticks! Again, they felt natural on the touch screen in that game, but here it's the other way around. While the criticisms about the Link Scratch Notes and some of the more annoying ways they're used still apply, these felt like considerably more low-key issues. I really enjoyed going back to it far more than the Vita version! Again, I have to stress, this never felt the case with the other game. As a result, it's easier to appreciate the good note patterns and the visuals (for the songs that aren't too busy in the background, that is) in here when the nagging feeling of poor touch controls/stuttering is eliminated. This is probably all minor stuff in the grand scheme of things, but I can't say the game's the same on the two platforms, 'cause to me, it feels like it really isn't. To me, it's like this was always meant to be played on a PS3 and not
the Portable Umihara Kawase Shun Joy Machine the Vita.
(Now we've got Vita on the left, PS3 on the right because we're talking about both. Still clever!)
So... Um... What the hell do we score this one? The Vita version is relatively easy to rate- it's a definite three. The improvements from F are still present, and I did have fun with it at points, but it felt so reminiscent of my experience with PSP 2nd that I figured they were on the same level- just OK, but not as good as it could've been. The control and stuttering really bring it down a peg. The PS3 release needed a bit more thought for the score, but generally, the big problems in the Vita version feel much less significant in this version. It's still not enough to bring it up to a full five stars, though, because they're still there, so this isn't quite the ultimate DIVA game. Out of F and F 2nd, I think I lean slightly more towards F, as the note patterns are a little better and lack the annoying Link Scratch Notes, but I can't say F 2nd on PS3 is leagues behind it... Just a little bit. If you want to be pedantic, consider this a 'low' four out of five- those who thought F was too easy will definitely get a kick out of it, but that does come with some caveats as we've discussed at length today. So, know this, Project DIVA series- you're gonna have to get serious and clean your act up for next time! I still got faith in you, kid, but you'll have to really do your best for the next game.
Because I'm certain, there will be a next time.
(But one last thing- transfer your F save over after unlocking as much as you can, otherwise you'll be here for a while).
On the plus side, our ending Haku image is an improvement on last time!
It's still no 'chillin' with Not-Godzilla' shot, but I think 'sitting in a cocktail glass' will do.
For being the worse version, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd on the Playstation Vita is awarded...
In a sentence, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd on the Playstation Vita is...
A step backwardss.
For being the better version, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd on the Playstation 3 is awarded...
In a sentence, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd on the Playstation 3 is...
A step to the side.