Virtual-diva Hatsune Miku sings and dances her way Westward.
Project DIVA is a rhythm game series featuring music created using Vocaloids. Hatsune Miku, the face of the franchise, is a personification of the singing synthesizer software itself. Since her debut, she’s amassed a huge following of loyal fans, found international stardom and even attended live performances as a hologram. The virtual idol has proven her powerful influence overseas yet again as she stars in her third localized video game. The latest entry in the series, Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX (known as Mirai 2 in Japan), is a spin-off developed exclusively for Nintendo 3DS.
If you felt the need to skip my introduction, chances are you’re a big fan; you already have your copy inserted snugly inside your 3DS slot — or better yet, downloaded onto your machine for immediate access — and have clocked a modest amount of play time in your activity log. For the rest of you who don’t know your Rin from your Len, please bear with me. Whether you’re skeptical with just a passing interest in Vocaloids, or already well-informed divas, I implore you to read on to find out why Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX is the perfect entry for newcomers and a worthwhile experience for returning fans and genre enthusiasts alike.
Let’s start with the gameplay, which can make or break the rhythm game experience. The premise is largely similar to the PlayStation games: as music notes fly on-screen, it’s the player’s job to hit each one as it passes in time with the beat. The challenge is mainly found within the execution; well-timed precision strikes award more points, resulting in a higher ranking. String together multiple notes with an adequate amount of accuracy to keep your combo flowing and reap even more rewards. Continuously miss target after target and your life bar will deplete. Let it drain entirely and — in a stereotypical rhythm game fashion — the screen will flicker red before putting you out of your misery with a “game over.” However, if you manage to nail every single note without breaking your combo, you’ll be presented with the prestigious “Perfect” title for that song.
The DIVA games are notorious for the challenge they present. Even on the lower difficulties, the gameplay is incredibly hectic, as notes indicating all kinds of button presses (sometimes simultaneous) are hurled toward the player from all angles of the screen. Fast-thinkers thrive, while it’s a frustrating, but ultimately rewarding experience for those of us with slower reflexes. For better or worse, Mirai offers a much more casual approach to its older sister’s fiendish methods, which is appropriate to its new audience and platform. Instead of firing notes out in jarring directions, a single-rail system is now in place which ensures notes are presented one after another following the indicated guide line. By making the rhythm easier than ever before to follow, this improvement alone goes a long way in vastly improving its accessibility.
And that’s not the only step that’s been taken in order to open up the game to as many new players as possible. Controls are no obstacle here, as there are two different inputs for you to tinker around with to suit your play style. The new “Tap Mode” utilizes the 3DS’s touch functionality by having you tap or hold the bottom screen to the music as the notes roll by, occasionally prompting you to swipe the screen in the indicated direction. Basic enough. However, as you crank up the difficulty, it becomes obvious that the new mode is somewhat less refined and inaccurate. The screen gets divided into sections — each corresponding to a particular color. This is where it gets a little tricky, as you need to tap the area of the screen that matches the color of the note flying past. Being unable to take your eyes away from the top screen to see the incoming notes, it becomes very fiddly to find your way around half-blind. Despite its flaws, I adored this mode. It’s mindless fun that’s easy for anyone that’s ever used a touch device to get into. Fans of simplicity and the Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games will feel right at home with the stylus here.
Series veterans are likely to instead stick to their guns with “Button Mode,” which is a more traditional method of play. The face buttons are used almost exclusively here. As the difficulty is increased, more buttons and even D-pad presses are thrown into the mix to keep players on their toes. Personally, I found this mode much more challenging and akin to the DIVA games, as it requires a whole lot more muscle memory to remember when you need to hit the X button next and not B for the third time in a row. I’d highly recommend experimenting with both control types to find one you’re most comfortable with. If you get bored, mixing it up every now and then can also add some refreshment and challenge, as you’re made to rethink how to approach the same songs you’ve already mastered on another mode.
Aside from changes to gameplay, the visuals have also been completely overhauled. Ditching the realistic art style from the previous games, the characters have taken the appearance of Nendoroid figures. The chibi aesthetic is hit and miss in places, but for the most part, I found it a pleasant change and oddly fitting on the 3DS. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the quality of the music videos compared to Mirai’s more powerful console counterparts. Limited by the hardware, the characters’ movements are lifeless, the backgrounds are basic and they all feel generally uninspired. It’s a shame, because I’d held the series so highly in regards to the superb dance choreography and visual effects. In the DIVA games, the videos were impressive and genuinely moving at times, whereas I feel Mirai’s don’t do half the songs the justice they deserve.
In terms of content, the main mode itself features a whopping 47 tracks, which I found quite impressive. Granted, only 19 of these are new, while the other 28 can be found in the previous games’ catalogs, but the number is an impressive one nonetheless. It’s more than enough to satisfy the ears and eager hands of the newbies playing along for the first time, but unlocking the full list might prove to be a bit of a tedious grind for fans interested in jamming out to their favorite tunes.
If you’re all tuckered out from singing and dancing, and in need of a relaxing (and dull) way to kill time, the life-sim mode is for you. You can pick a partner to hang out with from the usual cast of Vocaloid personalities: Miku, Rin, Len, Luka, Kaito, or Meiko. To interact with your partner, call them over a few times using the microphone; to save yourself the breath and embarrassment, press the Y button. In a bid to become friends, you’re able to stuff your idol with tasty snacks, compete in a confusing mini-game, or give them an allowance using the currency earned from completing songs in the rhythm game. Occasionally they’ll decide to spend some of their hard-earned pocket money to order cute outfits or blow a huge chunk on seemingly pointless exercise workshops — I mean, isn’t all that dancing enough of a workout? You’ll soon grow tired of the limited interaction with your partner. It all sounds fun in concept, but in practice it’s very uninteresting and an overall shallow experience.
Not into diva-sitting? That’s fine, Mirai still has plenty of other far more exciting features away from the main game. Trendy types will soon pour all of their time (and money) into dressing up their partner and sprucing up their room with the latest decorations, while the creative sorts are likely to waste hours away perfecting their own tunes on the keyboard. The biggest additional time sink you’re likely to find in the game however is the Puyo mini-game that’s hidden away in the menu, which I’ve so far found to be equally addictive as the rhythm game itself.
All in all, Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX has a lot to offer both newcomers and long-time series fans. With its toned down difficulty and vast array of customization options, it’s never been easier to step into the world of Vocaloid video games. DIVA veterans will enjoy the fresh take on the series and its generous track-list, but might be left yearning for more when the credits begin to roll after conquering every song on Hard. If you’re a rhythm-fueled fanatic looking for a thumb-blistering challenge, you won’t find it here. However, if you’re a Miku maniac, enjoy Vocaloid music, or simply a 3DS user looking for a fun time: what are you waiting for?
Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX for Nintendo 3DS is developed and published by SEGA. It launched in North America on September 8, and in Japan and Europe on May 28 and September 11, respectively.
Review copy provided by SEGA