(Note: As of this writing, the concert editor mode is not available on PSN. The mode is part of the game, but must be downloaded separately. Therefore, it will not be included in this review until it becomes available; it will be edited in at that time.)
After taking a break from Sony systems to break out on the 3DS, Hatsune Miku is back with her Project Diva series! This latest game marks two interesting firsts for the series. For starters, this will be the first time the game will appear on PS4. Secondly, this will be the first game with a story mode of any sort. The latter development has drastically changed how the game plays out from top to bottom, and will be the main determiner of PDX’s success or failure.
While there are still several modes in the game, you’ll be started right out in the story. The player is somehow transported to the digital realm where Miku and her friends sing and dance to their heart’s content. However, it turns out that the light has gone out from several “clouds” throughout the realm and that has caused songs to disappear as well as caused the vocaloids to lose their ability to sing. With your help, Miku gets the train rolling again by building up “voltage” to get the clouds lit back up. You’ll do this by playing the rhythm game and earning points.
As far as stories go, there’s nothing impressive here. The characters are intentionally left as blank slates to continue their existence as characters that players can project personalities onto. They reveal nothing about themselves apart from how much they like singing. As far as your own interaction, it feels like a young child’s show where they ask you a question and then applaud you for your answer. The player is constantly being thanked and told how wonderful they are. It’s pandering at its finest. Still, it’s cute enough that you likely won’t be offended.
The mode progresses by having you complete various requests. At first, you simply have to play each song in a cloud. Doing so will unlock a medley that you can play to finish out said cloud. You may then move on to the next cloud until you’ve gotten them all. Each cloud represents one of five different aspects of performing: classic, cool, cute, quirky, and elegant. The songs in each cloud mostly fit that theme to some degree, and the characters will debate how to best embody those attributes. You’ll also get event requests that each task you with completing a specific challenge. The benefit here is you’ll be able to unlock exclusive bonus items. Once you’ve gone through each cloud once, you’ll have to replay songs form that cloud until you fill up a meter on each of them. Do that, and you’ll unlock a request that gives you the final song.
For other modes, there’s been some shakeup. You can no longer visit the characters in their rooms. Instead, the story menu serves as a communal room where you can swap them out at will. You also lose the ability to decorate apart from changing up the background. Instead, the room will be filled with gifts that you hand over to the characters. The photo mode and concert editor also return for this game. The latter is once again not included on the cartridge or even as part of the main download. You’ll have to download it separately. It’s free, but it’s frustrating. Finally, free play exists so you can just play any song at your leisure off of a list of unlocked song. You’ll have to clear that song in the clouds first though. More importantly, you won’t be able to unlock new modules, accessories, or gifts in free play. Those are only unlocked by clearing requests, and can’t be purchased like in previous games.
The new setup allows for a more integrated system that relies less heavily on moving back and forth between different modes. New modules are unlocked mid song for completing chance time events, accessories and gifts are handed out as bonuses for good scores, and you can hand out gifts to the characters without having to go through several different menu options. It is an interesting system. In many ways, it is better throughout. It’s just that some of the options were left on the cutting room floor to make this happen.
PDX continues the series’ tradition of good but not great graphics on the Vita. The models are lively and brightly animated, but low on the polygon count. Instead of a mix of music videos and choreography, each song is a just a choreographed dance over a changeable background. While this may be disappointing, it also means less crazy stuff happening in the background when you’re trying to play a song. You might get distracted less often as a result. Of special note is how much cleaner the new menu system is. You’ll be able to navigate more quickly as a result.
While previous games have come jam packed with forty plus songs, this game comes equipped with a mere thirty. Six of those are medleys that include snippets of songs not featured in the game. It’s a disappointingly small soundtrack made worse by the comparative lack of songs for characters who aren’t Miku. While previous games often featured multiple tracks per character, that is simply not the case here. Miku gets nearly all of the solo songs, and performs in the most of the rest as well. While she is the star of the game, fans of Rin, Luka, Len, and the others will be disappointed. The good news is that the track list is chock full of good songs. Almost all of them are new and almost all of them are good in some way. It’s also neat to see how the songs fit the themes ascribed to them by the various clouds. You’ll get cuter songs on the cute cloud, for example. As for the rest of the package, you get the same snippet of voice clips and sound effects that were used in the previous games. You even have the same jingles for gift events. The game sticks with what works.
Gameplay remains largely unchanged. Melody icons will appear on the screen to the beat of the song. They will fly to a target on screen. When they cross over, you need to hit the corresponding button. It’s that simple. You’ll use the face buttons, the d-pad, and either the touch screen or the analog sticks. Most of the notes will be in the shape of the face buttons, but colored arrows require you to hit two buttons at once. For example, a blue down arrow means you need to hit the cross button and the down button at the same time. There are also hold notes where you need to hold down the button until the slide disappears. Star notes ask you to flick the sticks or swipe the screen. As you hit notes, your combo and score will increase. Your goal in each song is to fill the bottom meter. Depending on the difficulty and mode you’re playing, this will be different levels of challenging.
There are some mechanical changes. Gone are alternate star icons. You won’t need to flick both sticks at once or draw a shape this time. In their place are rush notes. Rush notes are marked by the word “rush” appearing underneath the target. For these, you need to mash the corresponding button as much as possible before the note runs out to earn bonus points. It’s an odd change, but it does make things more simple.
The basic rhythm gameplay as a whole remains fun, addicting, and challenging. The various difficulties mix things up by giving you different note layouts and more notes overall. For example, on easy, you only need to hit the circle button. On normal, you’ll rarely have to alternate button presses. On extreme, you’ll need to keep your thumbs flying to keep up with all of the action.
When completing cloud requests, you need to build up your voltage meter. While simply hitting notes will do that, you’ll also want to increase your voltage rate in order to earn a bonus multiplier for your score. This is done in a few ways. Firstly, the rate will slowly go up over time. Secondly, some notes will have a glowing white outline. Hitting these with a good or cool rating will give you a decent bonus. Finally, you can boost your starting voltage rate by changing costumes and wearing accessories. Each costume and item in the game is assigned one of the auras from the game’s cloud. If you wear a matching item, you get a boost. You can earn bonus boosts by wearing accessories that fit a theme. For example, the more metallic items you wear, the better boost you get. This allows you to pretty much game the system so you can play the song without having to worry too much about hitting every note perfectly.
There are bonus sections in each song. Technical Zones ask you to hit a good or cool rating on each note in a sequence. Doing so will net you a sizable amount of bonus points. Chance time asks you to hit notes in order to fill up a star. If you can do that and then hit the final star icon of the event, you’ll also earn a bunch of points. More importantly for this game, however, you’ll also transform into a different costume. When this happens, you have a chance to transform into and therefor unlock a new module! This represents the heart of the game’s collecting sub theme. If you want all of the modules, you’re going to need to keep playing. It gets easier as you go thanks to costumes that grant you an increased chance of getting a new one, so it thankfully isn’t completely random all of the time.
Depending on what your goal with this game is, you’ll find the challenge and play time can fluctuate greatly. If all you care about is playing some songs and unlocking the costumes, you can play on easy and grind them out. If you want to test your skill, playing on the harder difficulties will get your fingers moving while also offering you to the chance to earn bonus items for good score. Perhaps best of all, getting a good starting voltage rate can let you “beat” songs on extreme without having to be a master of the game. It will essentially let you practice without having to worry about failing the song.
The real bummer here is the small track list. We’re simply used to more, and having to see a number of great songs turned into thirty second clips for a medley is no substitute. While a smaller track list makes going through the story less of a chore, it does also hamper the game’s overall value. While this doesn’t mean the game is a wash, it does keep it from being as great as it could have been.
Short Attention Span Summary
In some ways, this is the best Miku game yet. In others, it’s a let down. The new story mode that features integrated features and unlockables is undeniably a step up. Not having to go back and forth between half a dozen menus is a god send. However, the game’s comparatively tiny track list is not something that can simply be shaken off. It feels like more was taken out that was added in, and that’s never good. All told, fans will still enjoy this game because it offers the same great rhythm play they’ve come to know and love. It also offers the best experience for newcomers thanks to the story mode. If the track list were just a few songs larger, it would be a smash hit. As it is, it feels like more of a lateral step.