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  1. Developer: Sega/Crypton Future Media Publisher: Sega Platforms: PlayStation 3/PS Vita Release Date: November 18, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS3 version of the game Hatsune Miku is an anomaly that I don“t completely understand. I get that her rise of fame started as synthesized vocal software (aka vocaloid) and her anime design managed to catch on in Japan. What I understand much less is how she became such a phenomena that she can take over established pizza chains, appear on late night American TV shows, or go on concert tours all over the world. Her cling to the title of the “most popular virtual singer” is not to be belittled. Still, if it means that I get more great rhythm games like Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd in the process, I could not care less about fully understanding her existence. Despite the virtual idol's strange popularity as of late, Sega still took a chance with bringing over the Project Diva series beyond Japan last year with Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F on PS3 and delayed Vita release early this year. Likely deeming that a success, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd now finally sees a simultaneous release on both PS3 and Vita. Little has deviated from the central formula of previous releases in the series. This is by no means bad, of course. As with earlier entries notes appear from pretty much every angle until they overlap with their corresponding face button notes. To also keep the player on their toes, notes also have extra variables like direction based inputs or flicks of the analog stick, with an entire new star note that requires simultaneous taps on the analog sticks. It is certainly not ground-breaking amongst rhythm games, nor does it try to be, but it nails the intrinsic feedback of it. Despite how I may enjoy the recent Final Fantasy Theatrhythm: Curtain Call, that is an example in the genre where the core gameplay somewhat feels off-sync with the music accompanying it. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd does not have that problem and pretty much always feels in tune with both the gameplay and music together. It may sound simple and arbitrary, but I think that is what separates a good rhythm game and a great one. Well, that, and the quality of the soundtrack. Vocaloid J-pop music is certainly an acquired taste. To be honest, aside from the soundtrack of Magical Beat it would be difficult for me to say that to say I care for most vocaloid tunes in general. I tend to enjoy the series more for the well-crafted rhythm gameplay than anything else. I say that, but I think the quality of the soundtrack really stepped up overall in Project Diva F 2nd. I have gone from liking less than a small handful in previous releases to finding, erm, multiple handfuls dangerously catchy in Project Diva F 2nd with its 40+ tracks (not including dlc). To match the crazy presentation the J-pop vocaloid soundtrack also likes to utilize bubbly, eclectic beats to some surprisingly intense rock-like rifts. What remains as the series' double-edged sword is how extravagantly it is presented. The visuals are very eccentric with their colorful vibrancy, expressive movements and dances, and the sheer variety of the motifs. One music video may play with an romantic manga style while another is completely different by having Miku fight with dual katanas and then dying (oops, spoilers?). It probably has a bit too much personality in how it is displayed for would-be newcomers. Also, it becomes a developed skill to pay attention to the notes appearing and not constantly miss because of the extremely busy visuals. Heck, even the notes themselves will occasionally leave the player baffled the first time they see them—for example, a series of them will be in the shape of a heart. I may have personally become much better at not getting distracted, but even I get tripped up by several songs the first time I see them because of the aesthetic. I“m not going to pretend that I am great at most rhythm games, but it is clear that the standard difficulty has seen quite a spike over previous releases. So much so, that as one who has been able to complete hard mode in previous games, I have struggled quite a bit with some of the last songs even on the normal difficulty. Some of the last songs have inputs appear so fast that you don“t have any hope of sight-reading them and succeeding on your first try. For the first time ever I turned to the use of "help items" (which makes parts of songs easier at the cost of a score penalty) to even be sure that I even had the skill level to complete the song(s) anytime soon. Which, even then, I repeated certain songs quite a few times before completing them—I'm looking at you 2D Dream Fever. There is certainly more to Project Diva F 2nd than new songs and an increased difficulty, however, even if I don't really understand (or care to know) more than half of it. Customization options are abound from lots of unlockable costumes, accessories, and challenges to works towards, as well as a "Live Studio" which attempts to recreate a concert setting. Refinements have also been added to the edit mode, which allows players to customize music videos and upload/download them with other users, and the Diva Room too. To be clear, Diva Room is sort of a weird sim-like mode where you can use points earned through songs to buy stuff to customize a vocaloid's room and to raise their.affinity level with items, poking them (literally), or various minigames. Really, though, Diva Room occasionally feels creepy, the minigames within it are poorly designed, and room customization unappealing, so I don't really find any personal appeal in it. It also has a few new additions that are neat for returning fans. For example, being able to carry over saves from the previous game for new unlocks or the ability to convert a Japanese save file to English to carry over progress for possible early importers. Cross-save usage between both PS3 and Vita is pretty seamless for those that happen to have both. Also, Sega now has both a Romaji translation and the newly added direct English translation for those who want learn context behind the various songs, which is cool. Granted, I'm convinced that some songs make less sense in English, but it is the thought that counts. Lastly, a subtle, but smart (and dangerous) addition is "spotlight", which randomly selects songs in the main rhythm portion and gives the player one chance to complete a song for significantly more bonus points towards unlocks and pushes that "Just one more song..." mentality. As a smart performer, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd improves upon previous gigs in nearly every way. It's flashier, has a stronger overall musical selection, useful new features, and is dense with content and modes to work towards. The only real problems is that its significant raise in difficulty can be rather daunting, especially for newcomers, and some long-standing problems with the series still remain. I may never understand the enigma that is Hatsune Miku, but at least I can be at ease knowing that a lot of fun can still be found with her newest rhythm game performance. Pros: + Music is better than the previous Project Diva F overall + Vibrant, varied, and entertaining visuals + Very responsive controls and gameplay that syncs great with the music + Plenty of unlockables and challenges to work towards Cons: - Standard difficulty has spiked a lot. - Diva Room still weirds me out - Visuals can be distracting Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great With a better overall performance and musical selection Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd has proven that this idol is not out of tricks just yet when it comes to putting up a great rhythm game show Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS3 code provided by the publisher.
  2. Developer: Sega/Crypton Future Media Publisher: Sega Platform: PS Vita Release Date: March 4, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen "Have you heard of Hatsune Miku?"- a wise man once said while advertising pizza. If you didn't get that reference, Hatsune Miku is a "Vocaloid" (a glorified synthesized voice program software) that is incredibly popular in Japan. So popular, in fact, that she has become personified as a green-haired Idol that sings a wide-array of original songs as well as covers, and has become an internet sensation because of it. In an attempt to continue to merchandise on her ever-strangely popular name, Sega brings us the newest iteration of "Project Diva" to Vita, a series which initially debuted on the PSP. With the unorthodox release schedule overseas actually following the enhanced PS3 version , does the original Vita version of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f have reason to shine in the spotlight? For the rhythm game genre, Project Diva f is rather standard fare in terms of the actual gameplay. Musical notes are displayed based on the Vita's corresponding face buttons until they overlap with their timed input marker, and generally vary based on pressed and held button-presses. Opposed to, let's say, Rock Band or Guitar Hero, notes are not visually presented in an obvious way, like on a track, and can appear from pretty much any angle from the sides of the screen depending on the song. Even if they are displayed in a rather confusing way at times, due to the busy presentation, the core gameplay is easy enough to learn in addition to having very responsive controls for the most part. Unfortunately, in a gimmicky fashion, the Vita release incorporates touch-based controls for the newly added star-shaped special notes. In the PS3 version these special note inputs were relegated to a simple "flick" of the analog stick, which was easy enough to do. Normally, I would not even mind the touch-based controls if it was a simple tap-based input using the Vita's touchscreen or rear-pad, like how DJ Max Technika Tune made it work quite well, but in Project Diva f these inputs are swipe based. To illustrate, the swiping gesture requires a much more deliberate motion, which is harder to do with consistency, especially in a rhythm game that is bombarding you with other notes very quickly on higher difficulties. It is not game-breaking, but it is a tough compromise to make in a genre that requires consistency and creates an unnecessary extra layer of difficulty when trying to master each song. A good majority of the soundtrack is actually conceived of original tracks made specifically for the vocaloid characters. So, if you don't recognize the music in the slightest, it's probably safe to assume you aren't an extreme devout to their music. That said, the soundtrack does spice it up some surprising remixes and variations of songs you aren't likely to expect. Would you expect an arrangement Amazing Grace, Leven Polkka, or even the original version of Nyan Cat (which apparently came before the Nyan cat video)? Well, they are all songs, among many others, that are in this game. Still, even if you aren't familiar with this hit-and-miss soundtrack, Project Diva f presents each track with such energy that it is very easy to not care and just go with the flow of the engaging gameplay. Now, I don't know if you picked up on this or not, but Project Diva games are relatively bizarre. Not just the musical selection of them either, but especially with how they are presented. Honestly, it's kind of shocking how high the budget is for this entry in particular considering its very polished and fluid visuals which are full of zany personality. It has no problem using an entirely new visual motif with each individual song and complementing them with many crazy dances and stages. In addition, there are plenty of one-off stages like a Phantasy Star Online 2-themed song that goes all the way in humoring it with its aesthetic to even a song that uses 2D animation almost entirely, just for the heck of it. Needless to say, the presentation is just plain weird in Project Diva f and it somehow really works in its favor. To add to a sense of progression, many cosmetic options are available in the game to unlock various costumes and accessories through the use of in-game currency. Multiple outfits, hats, glasses, masks, backpacks, bow ties, tails, animal ears, you name it, are there to obtain through the in-game shop. But that's not all, as there are even more items to unlock as bizarre gifts or room decorations in the "Diva Mode".... which I won't even pretend to understand how it works since I only care about the rhythm game portion of this title. For those who are also super meticulous, they can get much out of the fairly in-depth "Edit" mode which allows the player to incorporate their own MP3s and personalize both the music video and gameplay notes during it. So, if you were ever worried about the game holding you over beyond trying to master the many songs on higher difficulty, there is a lot to unlock for those who enjoy tailoring the vocaloid cast or creating their own music videos. Overall though, the Vita release is pretty comparable to the PS3 version, even down to the lengthy load times between each song. The load times are a bit faster, most likely due to it being a digital Vita release, and the visuals are less distractingly glossy than the PS3 title, but vary in minor ways for the most part. Aside from that, there is an AR mode which is exclusive to the Vita version which is not too worthy of note. At the end of the day, however, it really comes down to how much you enjoy the main rhythm game, which is quite well-made and captivating when it counts the most. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f manages to be a rather engaging rhythm game title, almost in spite of itself. Aspects like the busy presentation and awkward touch-based controls do unfortunately hinder the very well-made rhythm game underneath. This leads to the Vita release in particular not being the definite version, if only due to the awkwardly implemented touch-based controls, but for those who would prefer a portable experience, like myself, can find it to be a very worthy alternative. It's weird and crazy, yet Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f proves to more deviously engaging than it should be on the portable system. Pros: + Fluid, vibrant, and very polished presentation that oozes crazy personality + A lot of customization and cosmetic options in the game's various mode + Tight, responsive controls + Easy to learn gameplay Cons: - The busy presentation can be more than distracting at times - Lengthy load times between different songs - Special "star" notes requiring the touch-screen and/or rear-pad are awkwardly implemented Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great It doesn't make for the definite release, but Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f on Vita serves as a welcome portable alternative to this very well-made rhythm game. Disclosure: PS Vita downloadable code was provided by the publisher for this review