Despite being aware of the existence of the ‘Hatsune Miku’ video game series, I’d never actually played any of them. I’ve always enjoyed rhythm games, but there wasn’t a whole lot to the series that really appealed to me. J-Pop and dressing a virtual pop star? No thank you.
Now I’ve finally had my first experience of the series in Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X my opinion has changed – the fact that I’ve neglected such an entertaining gameplay experience for such a long time leaves me with a deep sense of shame. Why had I not played this addictive, charming series before?! The amount of hours I’ve spent on it borders on ridiculous at this point, but I just can’t stop playing. I suppose that’s a lesson for anyone who’s looked at the game and though that it might not be for them – give it a go, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Before going onto the gameplay, it’s probably necessary to talk about the story of the game. There’s a narrative behind the song-singing, note-hitting fun of Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X, with something going on about refilling clouds with voltage. I’m not too sure, because in honesty I started skipping through conversations just to get back to actually playing the game. Perhaps if I’d played previous entries in the series I might have been more invested in what was going on, but with no interest in the characters and a basic grasp of the story I was more than happy to just skim the text. Maybe I missed out on something, though I don’t really feel like I hindered my overall experience too much.
What’s really special in Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is the gameplay and songs on offer. Whilst most traditional rhythm games tend to follow a static route with a series of buttons you need to hit, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X instead has notes (represented by the buttons on your controller) coming into the screen from all directions. Whilst it was initially tricky to follow each button input and keep track of the order they came at the screen, once I got used to it I could appreciate it for the ingenious idea that it is. You’re really kept on your toes, and with the tempo of the song changing up you really have to be aware of the speed the notes come travelling in.
The core concept of the note hitting is fairly bog standard in a rhythm game sense; if you’ve played something like ‘Guitar Hero’ or any ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ game, you’ll know exactly what to do. The face buttons of the controller hit the screen so you’ll know what to press, though sometimes you might have to hold a button down for a set period of time or even mash it. There are also instances where you have to press down a face button and a d-pad button at the same time, making things a little more difficult but not to the point of frustration. There are also star notes that hit the screen too, but those are easily dealt with by either flicking one of the analogue sticks or using the Playstation 4 controller’s touch pad – I found it easier to use the analogue sticks, but each to their own.
The ultimate goal of each song is to beat the required score. You’ll want to try and hit as many notes as possible, though the game is fairly flexible that you can get away with missing quite a few and still reach the required score for a song. You get bonuses based on how accurate you hit the note and for hitting consecutive notes too, each helping you boost your score. Complete a song with the required score and you’ll get to re-fill a little bit of voltage to the clouds, as well as unlocking some cute accessories for Miku.
Halfway through a song you’ll come across something called ‘Chance Mode’ – it’s essentially a solo sequence, giving you the opportunity to unlock one of the game’s modules (a costume for the characters). It’s fairly simple, with a star meter filling up as you hit notes during the sequence. If you fill the meter before Chance mode ends, you’ll see your selected character transform into their new module and you’ll unlock it for use in other songs. You won’t always unlock a new module in Chance mode though, with quite a few duplicates showing up – it’s a little lame, but seeing as the game is so addictive I didn’t mind playing through more and more to unlock those missing costumes.
The modules provide plenty of different costumes that each have their own unique look and additional power-ups that’ll give you a boost during each song. Each module also has a specific aura assigned to it – either Classic, Cool, Cute, Elegant or Quirky. Songs are also assigned an aura and if you use a module that corresponds with it you’ll earn an extra score bonus. It’s not compulsory to do, so if you have a specific costume you’re a fan of (like Miku’s quirky Power Ranger-esque costume) then you can stick to that if you like.
There are four difficulties to play through in the game, but you have to complete each song on normal before you can tackle them on the harder difficulties. Whilst Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X isn’t really an easy game per se, my experience with rhythm games meant that the normal difficulty was a little too easy for me. I’d have preferred to have been able to switch to hard mode without the restriction, though having to re-play songs wasn’t really too much of an issue seeing as I slowly became hooked to the game anyway.
Of course, a rhythm game would be nothing without a great soundtrack, and thankfully Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X certainly delivers. Initially I didn’t think I’d care much for the songs on offer, but there really wasn’t a bad song to be found. They span multiple genres too, so there’s a little something here for everyone. There’s a good mixture of upbeat pieces, as well as those that are a little more calm and slow – each one is matched with a stage performance that fits the theme of the song too, so everything manages to feel like a spectacle.
Everything is performed in Japanese, but the lyrics to songs appear on the bottom of the screen in English – it’s hard to read them though, given the amount of action that takes place all over the screen. When I did catch a glimpse of them they were typically utterly bizarre, but I didn’t really expect anything less. No matter what song you were playing though, everything about it would lend itself well to the gameplay and theme of the game. I’ve found before that some songs don’t work well in a rhythm game, but Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X really managed to get everything spot on; I was even left humming some songs long after I’d stopped playing the game…
Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is certainly a pretty game, with each song performed on a stage with Miku (and often others) showing off their slick dance skills with a plethora of dazzling special effects and colours shown off around them. It’s all done in a cool 1080p at 60fps too, so everything really does stand out in the game. One of the benefits of the notes bouncing around the screen is that you get to check everything out too – typically a rhythm game will have you staring at one spot, but my eyes were all over the screen in Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X so I could really appreciate everything that was going on. There was the occasional cringey dance routine, but even they still managed to look good visually.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X as much as I did, but after spending a lot of time with the game I’m now a converted fan. It’s just so much fun playing through each of the game’s songs, whilst the quirky set up of it all manages to simply feel charming.
As far as rhythm games go, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is certainly one of the most enjoyable I’ve played in a long time. Whilst I’ll admit it doesn’t have the same immersive feeling of holding a plastic instrument in your hand, it’s still a blast working through the game’s library of cheerful, yet often bizarre, songs.
Developer: SEGA, Crypton Future Media
Release Date: 30/08/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation Vita