... Huh. Vocaloids again. Not sure what's worse for my health, Vocaloids or Love Live!. Tough call.
Ahem. Guess we'd better fling out the standard three notes on this one, so standard that some of this text is actually recycled frmo the Editor's Note for F 2nd (it's economically friendly)- 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. Finally, Sega spoiled our streak! We had three articles on the trot where we didn't touch the DIVA room or Edit Modes, but now the DIVA Room elements are integrated into the game properly, and Edit Mode is gone!... Replaced with Live Edit Mode which we still didn't touch because a) no point, b) yuo can't play these songs and c) traditions never die here at Gaming Hell.
Oh, and ta to Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell, HokutoNoShock, for checking this over so were weren't talking complete balls.
This is the ever-continuing 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 both F and F 2nd before proceeding!)
When we last left our computer singing friends, the Project DIVA series was at an interesting impasse. F 2nd was a solid game with a brilliant setlist and some light iteration on a formula that worked, but the songs did have a bit of a reliance on those pesky touch-screen/analogue stick notes (mostly noticeable in the PS Vita version, admittedly, which also had way, way worse stuttering problems) and the additions made weren't really super-substantial. Overall I felt it did its job well (on PS3 anyway), but if I had to pick between F and F 2nd, I'd go for F. So, at this point, the series could go any number of ways- try and rein in some of the touch-screen clutter like Miracle Girls Festival but with a bigger, better setlist, or perhaps adjust those elements to make them more conducive to the game, to add to it rather than take away. That and sort out the bloody stuttering on the Vita version. In any case, Project DIVA X was announced as a PS Vita and PS4 (!) game, and similar to the release of F, was going to come to Vita first and PS4 a lot later. Now, I got myself all hyped up for F 2nd, which I feel led to a bit of disappointment in the Vita release, so I decided to not keep up with X at all. This was doubly so as some of the early rumblings about the game- that there was going to be a new Quest Mode with light RPG elements, and the structure of the game was changing dramatically- were a bit troubling. So I kept myself in the dark, even about the songs in the game (for the most part) and made a last-minute decision to go for the game because, well, I had to know.
Anyway, it should be obvious, for a fourth time, that Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is a rhythm game.
(Yep, still going with that line.)
Oh, and, er, this is definitely based on the Japanese Vita version. Very important, that.
Let's start with the rhythm mechanics first and foremost- that's how we always do this, but there's a special reason for it this time. The standard game rules apply- notes fly from all over the place, smash the relevant face button to pieces and get a high enough success rate to be ranked and judged accordingly- but there's been a tiny bit of shuffling here and there. The changes to the formula generally indicate a de-emphasis of the Star Notes, with Double Star Notes and Link Star Notes introduced in F 2nd completely gone, and the Star Notes being used a lot more sparingly in songs. This makes things a lot easier on poor PS Vita players! Instead, the only new note is the Rush Note, which just asks you to hit the chosen button repeatedly for extra points until it disappears on its own. So, basically the tapping lines from Groove Coaster in Project DIVA form. Again, these seem to be a 'let's add it so we say something changed' type of note, but they're usually sensibly placed, and can be used to tip your score over the edge for a better grade in tight spots. As a result of the Star Notes being toned down dramatically, X's note patterns are more manageable and refocused on the standard buttons, with highlight note patterns being Ai no Uta, The Lost One's Weeping and Brain Revolution Girl which will really test those fingers of yours. Throw in the medley songs, which are a lot longer and tougher- essentially acting as 'boss' stages- and you have a pretty solid set-list with great patterns to back it up. Although Underhanded Squadron Urotander on Extreme deserves an award for the note pattern best designed to give your hands a headache, somehow.
So, an improvement, right? We're in five-star territory now, surely!
Nope! The rhythm game may be fine, but the game's new structure does its level best to demolish it..
So, let's begin. In my mind, the structure of the Project DIVA games have always revolved around two things- simplicity in accessing songs and modules, and a little grinding. To start with the first one, while way back in 2nd I belly-ached about actually getting to some of those songs because of how surprisingly tough some of the others are, it's always been a pretty simple case of 'beat the song, get a new one, repeat until you're done', and even if you're not unlocking new songs, you're meeting requirements to get new modules in the shop, or building up the necessary DIVA points to buy them, or just getting better at the songs. This simplicity makes them ideal to blast through in one sitting when you start, to get all the songs out the way then work on getting the rest of the game's modules and extras. Well, I mean that's how I tend to do it. However you play them, it's the simplicity, the ease of access, that adds to the appeal of the game, personally, and from there you can make more out of it by aiming for Perfects or getting your score as high as possible.
X does away with this and instead insists on delivering everything through its overly-complicated Quest Mode (Cloud Request in the EN version) where you have to restore power to Miku's world (yes, there's a plot this time, told in talky-head cutscenes that PRESS START TO SKIP) by playing songs divded into five Areas/Clouds- Neutral/Classic, Cute, Cool, Beauty/Glamour and Chaos/Quirky. Starting with Neutral/Classic, songs in Quest Mode now use a Voltage meter which has a percentage that raises as you successfully hit notes, especially the special Rate Up notes (like the special notes in Fever Time in Miracle Girls Festival), and your module and accessory choices can boost it from the off- both have a type associated with them, so wearing a Neutral module for a Neutral song boosts the percentage, as does co-ordinating colours or themed sets of accessories. This percentage serves as a multiplier, so if it's at 150%, you'll be getting 150% of the points for notes you successfully hit. Meet the target score and you beat the 'quest', your points are added to an area gauge that, when filled, unlocks the medley for that area, and beating that lets you unlock one of the other areas, giving you five new songs and a medley at the end. Eventually, you're able to fill the area score meter again, and each subsequent filling unlocks new quests for each area, including higher difficulties and stages with Challenge Items already activated (like drunk notes and randomised note ratings). The overall goal is to fill that score meter for each area seven times (!) to get every challenge available, including special event quests that drop specific modules and either have set characters or songs with special cutscenes that play afterwards. The neat thing about the special events is some let you make a set-list of three truncated songs that have different Technical Zones and Chance Times- a nice way to mix things up!
Now, we'll get back to that 'drop specific modules' bit in a second (and how!) but let's start out positive here, this new structure addresses one of my concerns that goes back to 2nd, where some players might struggle to unlock new songs. You get 5 songs at a time now, and being able to get a head start on the Voltage multiplier means you can unlock the next set of songs a lot easier, and give yourself a leg-up if you need it, especially as modules have effects like increasing voltage over time or adding score after certain note combos. If you just want to get all the songs and have struggled with these games before, you really won't have any trouble here. On the other hand, the later unlockable quests that add multiple challenge items on Hard and Extreme difficulties are there for the veteran players who want to pull off impressive party tricks with their rhythm game prowess, although near the end the par scores get so high that module and accessory co-ordination is a must.
It's an interesting system, but it doles out difficulty increases only after a bit of a grind, barring the Chaos area which is trickier than the others- something like Miracle Girls Festival's Tour Mode, which gradually ups the ante, would've worked better, personally. The grind also applies to unlocking the final medley (basically a boss-rush of previous tough/final songs in the series) where you gotta fill those meters at least twice before it becomes available. The main problem is that it really doesn't quite feel like the older games' standard game mode, because the Voltage system alters the scoring significantly. Not that different is inherently bad, but there is a little bit of randomness involved, as the Rate Up notes that increase the multiplier can have their appearance rate altered. It doesn't quite feel as 'pure' a rhythm game, if that makes sense. That, along with the Voltage bonuses given by modules/accessories, may appeal to some players, as a sort-of min/maxing exercise, and it's fair to say it has more of an immediate impact on the game than the stage effects in Vita Love Live!, but it didn't really appeal to me outside of making some of the later quests easier/actually doable. I'd rather play the game without the Voltage stuff, but luckily you can... Although as we'll see, you may not want to.
... OK, now we've got to talk about module drops because oh wow, are these a bad idea. The DIVA Shop and DIVA Points are gone, so almost all modules are now randomly dropped in a song- clear the Chance Time segment and you'll get one. Let's drop (Arf! Arf!) some key points here- the drops are completely random although some are only dropped in specific songs and there are 'rare' ones that show up less often; certain modules increase the rate of new or rare module drops; if you fail to reach the Voltage goal you will lose the module you acquired; and you absolutely can get duplicates that you cannot trade or do anything with, they're just there to taunt and mock you. This is a problem for several reasons- you can't decide what you get, duplicate modules will drive you nuts, and modules only drop in Quest Mode, so you can't work on your Perfects in a mode that saves your score while grinding. Hell, grinding in Quest Mode is hard enough, as if a Vocaloid wants to request an item from you (yes, they actively hassle you for junk now, so no escape from the DIVA Room stuff) then the option to retry will be greyed out (same thing happens if you fill the score meter), and if you stop replaying a song, the last module you won- whether it's new or a repeat- is automatically applied so you gotta change it for the next song.
On the one hand, as I said grinding for modules has been in the series since the beginning- you had to grind for DIVA Points, and in F 2nd you had some very grindy unlock requirements. I can grudgingly accept a little grind because I like the core game that much. However, there's a big difference here, and it's that it always felt like you were working towards something that you wanted in previous games, in a more immediately-visible way- you are getting the points towards a module you want that you've unlocked in the Shop. Here, you are playing a slot machine constantly where dud rolls are the order of the day, and it adds to a lot of frustration. Technically, X shows you your progress too in the form of the score meters... But really, it feels far more like a chore, because filling those only unlocks an event to unlock a specific costume, so you're not working towards the choice of modules to get. The fact that there's so many modules that drop too is particularly discouraging, and again while you had to grind in previous games, at least you knew, after almost every song beaten, how far you were from the module you actually wanted. That's not even mentioning the meanness of having twelve rare module drops on one song (Coward Ranger Urotander), a move I'm half-convinced was done solely to make the Chaos module unlock key available in the Playstation Network store (oh yeah, it's a microtransaction, baby!) that much more tempting.
What all these things create is a system that overcomplicates a simple game structure for seemingly no reason other than, "well, other rhythm games have a campaign mode, like the Love Live! Vita game or Miracle Girls Festival, and it ties into our theme of live shows an' that, so...". It turns getting modules you actually want into a frustrating process, even if the game tries to account for it (all of the guaranteed drops for the Neutral special events grant New Drops Lv. 4 modules, the highest level available... Except for Miku, you'll have to luck out with rare module drops for her) and while the new quest challenges gives you plenty of stuff to do, the way it doesn't reflect the pure rhythm gameplay of previous titles makes it less appealing to play through. The fact that you have increasingly-large score meters to fill out kinda sapped my enthusiasm to plod on, especially as the songs are divded so, say, if you don't like the songs in Beauty, then tough, you're playing a lot of Ai Dee to fill that bar up to get at the final medley and those Beauty medley costumes (some of the few new costumes, by the way!). What's maddening is the game has a perfectly acceptable solution to the module problem with those special events that have guaranteed drops, but there's a very small number of them (and even then, they're padded, as you have to beat two other events first in the non-element-tied ones) and perhaps Sega felt there were too many modules to accomodate. I would've been much more amicable towards the game if the drops were fairer like that, though.
What vexes me even more is, after I felt I was done with the Quest Mode and happy to not touch it again until I really, really feel the need for the maskeless MEIKO Underhanded Squadron module, I played through the whole setlist in Free Play mode... And it was pretty great. This mode does away with the Voltage meter, and plays much closer to previous games, it's just you won't get module drops here. There's areas to criticise, of course. The chief complaint is the style of PVs has changed dramatically, as you can set them on any of the stages available in the game, but this comes at the cost of more story or proper music video-like PVs, such as Meteor, Two-Sided Lovers and The MMORPG Addict's Anthem. Arguably, this was done to evoke the 'live show' feeling of the game, but honestly it kinda falls flat, and this is something Miracle Girls Festival pulled off a lot better. The punch, the impact of the PVs is lost as a result. Also, non-Miku Vocaloids have never been at the forefront of these games, but they get the boot a lot harder this time- MEIKO and KAITO don't even get their own songs this time, they gotta share duets- and there's also only 30 songs, a little short for a DIVA game. I imagine the longer nature of the medleys were intended to make up for that- and to be fair they're the highlight, with the Mitchie M and OSTER project medleys being the best- but while it's not a super-low number, it's still a little weak, and maybe some of the songs in those medleys would've been better as their own songs. Even so, most of the songs are fun to play with fairly challenging note patterns (I'd pitch the difficulty as between F and F 2nd, mostly owing to the reduced emphasis on the Scratch Notes), with only the Beauty area really being full of songs I didn't care about. Just a shame that a big part of the appeal- unlocking new modules- is implemented so badly. I'm sure you could argue the modules really don't matter, but... C'mon, they do. They're a core part of the DIVA experience, and you know you want that Red Riding Hood module bad.
Ultimately, the question I have to think about is simple: does the structure actively hurt the game? I'm going to say yes. For the 'hardcore' player (certainly not me!), it means you'll have to chin up and put up with the Quest Mode for a little while, and then either accept you're not unlocking any more modules until you leave Free Play, or put up with it more, for a long time, to unlock all the remaining modules. For the more casual player (not meant as an insult, I promise you) you're given a little leg-up when unlocking songs because you can use the Voltage bonuses to your advantage... But if you want cute modules, you'll have to get ready for grinding and disappointment. As I said though, the core game is fine! It's still there! It's just that, comparatively, the improvements made to the base game don't make up for the failings in the structure and aesthetic/visual departments, so you're better playing the other games. Hence, a three outta five, just by the skin of its teeth. We ummed and ahhed about giving it a two, but I felt that the rhythm game foundations, with the touch screen stuff reigned in a little, were scrubbed up enough from F 2nd just enough. It's a game that does its job, and I'd hardly call the base gameplay bad, but you are better served by the others in the series at this point. That's such a shame because without all the padding and grinding and stupid random drops, it would've been... Maybe not amazing, but at least better than this.
So, not essential unless you desperately need that witch MEIKO costume in your life.
Or, as our ending image shows, you need Haku doing The Clash to a guitar.
I mean, I kinda need that in my life, I dunno about you.
For having a great game trapped in a mess of random drops, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is awarded...
In a sentence, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is...
A step backwardss, once more.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Again, we've glossed over some of the finer details regarding both the game and Vocaloids in general.
For more detailed intel on the Project Diva series, point your eyes at The Project DIVA Wiki which catalogues... Everything.
For more information on Vocaloid itself, go forth to The Vocaloid Wiki although be warned, you're best searching for producers rather than individual songs.
I'm not responsible for what you do with this knowledge. Stay dangerous, everybody!
Just a short little 'extra' segment this time, as a lot of the stuff we're about to cover isn't really out yet.
So first up, a bit about the Playstation 4 version. Unlike F 2nd which was a simultaneous Vita/PS3 launch, the PS4 release came several months later in Japan (although a simultaneous release will be happening for the Western release) and actually has a different title- Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X HD. There's two main differences this time around- the entire game now plays in 60 frames per second, a first for the home-based DIVA games (although the PS4 port of Future Tone Arcade also has this distinction) and two extra songs, Sharing the World and Hand in Hand, have been added (and are coming to the Vita version later). That's it, really. Technically we'd be able to cover the PS4 version as we actually have one (Gaming Hell keeping up with the times? I know, man, I know, it's scary, just stay with us) but we'll have to see. The whole structure of the game is the same, though, module drops and all.
We also normally go over DLC in great detail, but most of what's been released so far is not really within our interest zone, aside from the standard Haku, Neru and Teto pack (which now includes all of their modules, and Sakine MEIKO too) and Mikudayo was launch DLC this time, so, you know, that's good.
That's, uh, that's it for now! All the Sega reference costumes are the bloody same as last time too. Boo.
... Although Miku's costume from 7th Dragon 2020, in the screenshot above, is in as standard this time, while it was DLC for F 2nd.
So that's nice.
Oh, rest assured, we will be seeing the Project DIVA series again on this site. Sooner than you think, too!
It'll be a little trip back in time, actually, to 2010... Culminating in a voyage to 2016. Please look forward to it!
Are we going to the arcade? I think we're going to the arcade.