... At least it's not Love Live this time. My writer won't have an opportunity to soapbox about how your favourite Love Live is shit and Nico is superior.
As ever with our PS Vita coverage, if you click the images they get bigger and more powerful. Also, while there is DLC for this game, we won't be covering it as we foolishly played the game on our English Vita account, so no swimsuits for you, bucko. The only other bit of housekeeping here is that unlike Vocaloid and the dread spectre of Love Live, we have almost zero familiarity with any of the series represented in Miracle Girls Festival. My writer halfwit openly confesses that 90% of the reason they got this one was because it's so heavily based on Project DIVA, and the other 10% was because, and I quote, "Have you seen this Karen girl, she might be the best" (and, after an independent and exhaustive verification, we have confirmed this to be true). So, I dunno, if you're a big Vividred Operation fan we might get some shit wrong or whatever, and quite frankly we do not care. That said... In the years since the publication of this article, a few of the series shown here have become Gaming Hell office favourites. Especially Gochiusa. That was unexpected.
This is the permanent story of how I became the worst Vocaloid fan in th- wait, no, hold on.
This is, instead, the also-ongoing story of how Sega figured out what to do with Project DIVA without the DIVA bit.
As you can easily tell from that screenshot to your right, even without the HUD, Miracle Girls Festival is a Project DIVA game without the Vocaloids and friends, to the point where people were wondering if the note symbols were just temporary (they weren't). Announced in March 2015 back when Project DIVA X wasn't a thing at all, Sega was oddly shy about actually showing the damn thing for a while, which was a little worrying (see also: Love Live! on Vita) but upon release, it turned out it was... OK. Not bad, like. We're going to find out why that is today, obviously. The game gathers together characters and songs from... Deep breath, now... Yuru Yuri, Nyaruko: Crawling with Love / Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, Vividred Operation, Kin-iro Mosaic / Kinmoza, Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova / Aoki Hagane no Arupejio, Tesagure! Bukatsu-mono, Wake Up, Girls!, Go! Go! 575 (actually a Sega-owned property, so this is cheating!), No-Rin, Engaged to the Unidentified / Mikakunin de Shinkoukei and Is the Order a Rabbit? / Gochūmon wa usagi desu ka?. If that sounds like a lot of series you've never heard of, then you're in good company 'cause I still don't know what Arpeggio of Blue Steel is supposed to be. Still, Yuru Yuri and Kinmoza? Good, strong choices. In any case, there is actually a plot to this- the girls of Go! Go! 575 work with an unseen director (that's you, silly) to organise a series of concerts, taking the girls of all these series across Japan and, eventually, into space (no, really).
The basics of Project DIVA are here- a swirling maelstrom of notes corresponding the face buttons appear on-screen, including standard notes, notes that need to be held, and double-notes that require the d-pad too, smash them to bits in time with the music to score points and pass the song- but a lot has been rejigged or thrown out, some in an attempt to give that live show 'feel' to proceedings (fortunately, this is done far more elegantly than in the Love Live! Vita game) and others to make the game a bit friendlier to newcomers. The place to start is the structure- rather than DIVA's system of just clearing songs to unlock everything, Miracle Girls Festival has a Tour Mode, with a total of six tours taking place in different locations and each tour having up to four days. Each day has a selection of up to three songs- once you've seen most of them, you're free to pick one or two of a day's song for yourself- and you have a par score to reach across those songs. Make the score and you move on to the next day, otherwise back to dance practice for you.
Strangely, you'll only play and unlock half the songs like this- one song for each of the represented shows (usually the opening theme) plus both of the available songs for Go! Go! 575 unlocked in the last few tours- and you buy the remaining songs (one per series, sometimes an ending, another opening and at least one insert song) via the in-game store in the Backstage menu. As a result, if you don't figure this out, you will be playing the same songs again quite a few times so it can get repetitive, but to its credit the Tour-chosen songs get progressively harder and you're encouraged to play well to get an Encore song (which is always a full-length version of a song played pn that day) which scores you more points and also unlocks a Special Message from one of the in-game voice actresses. So if you wanted to hear Tanaka Koharu from Tesagure! Bukatsumono call you Director-san, your oddly-specific wish is granted.. The structure is a little unusual, and it probably would've benefited from including both songs from each series as standard, but while rhythm game veterans will coast through it, for newbies it's a fairly gentle introduction and ratchets up the difficulty gradually.
As for how it actually plays, it plays far, far closer to the Project DIVA playbook than the PSP K-On! game (which used the same engine but heavily reworked) with lots of things stripped out and reorganised. For a start, there's no health meter (the lowest grade is O.K. which you can get by just leavnig your Vita alone), Technical Zones or Scratch Notes this time around (rejoice, you won't miss a Perfect chain because of those bloody star notes anymore) and Chance Time has been replaced with Miracle Fever. There's a little timer in the right-hand corner that ticks throughout the song, but there's a portion near the end coloured red. As you hit notes, you'll build up a Voltage meter at the bottom of the screen, roughly analogous to the progress meter in DIVA games, but this maxes out at 200%- get it as high as you can before you enter the red portion and you'll enter Miracle Fever, where the crowd goes wild and star-shaped normal notes will start appearing that offer more points and get the crowd chanting along. Additionally, your pass-grade is now determined by the percentage of Cool + Fine notes plus the Voltage meter, making it a lot easier to get a proper pass. While the difficulty is probably on par with DIVA F rather than the tougher F 2nd, experts are catered to with the Bingo Challenge system- each song has the same set of objectives to clear, including clearing Normal with no Bad / Worst notes and playing the song at three different locations, and each line you clear on the card gets new modes, including separately-playable full-length songs, Extreme Mode and new Ura (turns the Voltage meter into a lifebar which you can't refill, when it drains you're out) and Expand modes (based on the Stealthy Target challenge from previous DIVA games).
Overall, the game plays just fine. It has been made a bit more inviting to newer players, but there's still an element of challenge for verterans with the unlockable modes. The game is far more effective at creating the feel of a 'live' show than Love Live! Vita, with stage effects being activated automatically and actual responses from the crowd- the only downside is the fan chanting can sometimes put you off your rhythm, but fortunately the chanting can be switched off. This does mean the presentation is a bit more static and less daring than some of the music videos found in Project DIVA games, but it fits the particular theme of this game well. Visually, the game also hits the mark, as while I'm not familiar with the vast majority of the cast, it feels like they were trying to reflect their personalities in the dances and their animations (the casts of Kinmoza and Nyaruko are probably the most noticeable examples). There's a nice variety of stages to play on too (including an outer-space colony), and with an option to play without the HUD, you get to see the attention given to their animations at your leisure. There's still one thing lingering from the Vita DIVA games, and that's the jittering- it's still about. It does seem to happen less, but it's still there (the second song for Vividred Operation, Arifureta Shiawase, has petals fly on-stage that causes this, for example). A real shame Sega never ironed that one out.
With all that said, the main issue with Miracle Girls Festival is that there's really not a lot here. Saying this as nicely as I can, some of the series Sega got for this game definitely feel like a case of "We want some faintly recognisable names, but we don't want to pay much money", and the fact that each series only gets two songs each means there's only 22 songs, half of what's usually in DIVA games. That doesn't sound too bad, but with one or two exceptions (the Nyaruko songs have a very faint Spanish influence to them, and Kinmoza's Your Voice is as close as we'll get to big-band stuff here) many of these songs fit snugly into the Standard Anime Opening and Ending genre, so the song variety is already down on DIVA before you take into account the number of them. It does its best to make the most of what it's got, at least- the Bingo Challenge system encourages repeated plays, and having the full-length versions of songs unlockable is a really nice addition, but if this kind of song isn't your cup of tea, your enjoyment of the game's going to be quite limited. If you are a fan of these series though (which, as it turns out, I am for some of them because I am trash) beyond the songs and the Special Messages, there's also a series of figures to collect via the in-game lottery which also include little voice-clips, and characters from the game will radio into the menu at random to talk to you (the favourite being Karen from Kin-moza jumping in to shout "SHOWTIME!" at you).
Miracle Girls Festival is a bit of an odd one, then. The mechanics, in the tradition of Project DIVA, are solid and work well- in fact, if you really hate the Scratch Notes from the Diva F games, this will definitely appeal to you simply because they're nowhere to be found. It's also an ideal jump-in point for new players as there's changes and additions that cater to them, but there's also a few features specifically for the hardcore (even if, overall, the difficulty is pitched a little lower). There's even some features I'd like to see in future DIVA games, like removing the HUD entirely while playing! However, the lack of genuine improvements on the DIVA F games (specifically, that slowdown and stuttering is still there) and the limited range and quantity of its setlist (and, to an extent, extra content overall- only one unlockable costume per character outside of the DLC, no silly accessory stuff, etc.) means this is one for either huge, huge fans of the shows represented, newer rhythm game players who don't mind having a small selection of songs, and die-hard DIVA maniacs (I think I fit in that category). In other words, it's alright, as long as you keep those caveats in mind.
Also I swear this game got the Tesagure! Bukatsu-mono OP lodged into my head for a God-damned week.
For putting on the best show it can with what it has, Miracle Girls Festival is awarded...
In a sentence, Miracle Girls Festival is...
Another DIVA, just a little less so.