Release Date: August 30, 2016
ESRB: T for Teen
It is hard to believe that Japan's sensational virtual popstar, Hatsune Miku, has reached nine years in age. Literally. She is supposed to perpetually be of age sixteen, but that's another discussion altogether. The point is, the popular, green-haired, synthesized popstar has been around for a while.
I only really became aware of her through her series of surprisingly solid rhythm game releases under the Project Diva name that seemingly release every other year. Though I have enjoyed my time with basically each release (even former import only PSP titles), they have more or less played it a little too safe over time. If anything, 2014's Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd likely alienated newcomers altogether with its absurdly high standard difficulty. This is why the newest release, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X, serves as a curious contrast to prior games, as if it has hit a more impressionable age with the apparent changes to its personality.
The most bizarre addition that is introduced right at the very start of Project Diva X is an actual story mode. Yes, Hatsune Miku talks to you. More accurately, Miku talks to the player character and asks them to help guide her and her friends in revitalizing her digital world through music. Admittedly, the storytelling is not very deep, or particularly engaging with a shallow script and characters, but at the very least it is inoffensive and creates an interesting setup for its various gameplay structure changes. That said, it does lock players into either normal or easy songs until nearly completing it after a couple hours, which can potentially turn off more hardcore players.
Beyond the strangely included story mode, Miku changes the rules to her newest game. The inherent rhythm gameplay is mostly the same with note inputs moving from the outer screen to their corresponding face button note. Honestly, the only truly new thing to the pure rhythm gameplay is basically the added button spamming "Rush" note. Still, I suppose there is little reason to change an already addictive and fun formula and I was reminded that even when I should probably be fatigued of the series at this point.
The progression, however, has changed quite a lot and is easily the most accessible entry because of it. This is generally a good thing, as I'm still recovering from my trauma of failing songs like "2D Dream Fever" too many times in Project Diva F 2nd. Through loose narrative context, Project Diva X much more directly weaves elements like changing costumes/accessories or participating in its sim-esque friendship feature (formally called "My Room") to have functional gameplay benefits in the main rhythm game. Actually, they're sort of indistinguishable in Project Diva X because of how closely linked they are.
For example, wearing a costume or accessories that fits with a song's theme will give you more "voltage", which are required to pass a song in the Cloud Mode (aka story mode.). This new scoring system also makes sure the entire song will play from start to finish and you are not kicked out of a song if you miss too many notes consecutively like prior games.
The same rules apply towards raising a friendship rating through gifting the vocaloid cast items they like or changing up their room's aesthetic, which also grants you extra voltage. In prior games I actively avoided cosmetic aspects associated with the "My Room" feature, because I have always thought it had a creepy edge to it and caused me to never touch it (....like a pointless petting game, for example). In Project Diva X, however, it feels much more tastefully handled. You are rewarded for unlocking and applying as much goofy or cute stuff you want to your character for either practical reasons or fun. And yes, you are literally bribing vocaloids or somewhat randomly changing their clothing to make passing songs easier for you. Who knew that giving Miku a fake mustache would have given her extra bit of confidence to pass that "cool" song.
I may be able to appreciate the changes that Project Diva X makes, but it does feel like it is at the sacrifice of other former components. The most primary step down is that the song selection is noticeably smaller, and I personally think much weaker in song quality as well. Project Diva F 2nd had forty tracks in the game by default (not including) and Project Diva X only has thirty total. And, for what song compositions I did find myself liking, they either felt very few and far between or were just outright medley compositions of familiar songs from the prior games that, while neat, only serve to remind me of games I preferred more overall.
The other is that the production values also feel noticeably lower than the previous games for the actual music videos. Though the videos certainly have a lot more character than most other rhythm game releases, comparatively there is far less visual and choreography variety than the previous two games that makes unlocking the next song less satisfying. This is all the more apparent when the player has to use the "concert" mode for either the main story mode or "requests", which has multiple songs play back to back and can easily cause many of them blur together with their interchangeable stages and visual themes.
Miku's newest rhythm game feels like the foundation for appreciated change in direction, but at an unnecessary expense of certain other aspects at times. Without a doubt, Project Diva X's most appreciated alteration to the familiar gameplay formula is that it is far more approachable than previous games from the standard rhythm game difficulty to even justifying cosmetic features in both a fun and practical manner. In the same breath is also likely disappointing for returning fans with its weaker, and smaller, song selection Project Diva X and the less zealous approach to the presentation.
At the end of the day Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X is easily the most accessible entry, but it is not likely well-rounded enough to satisfy many returning fans that were hoping for improvement in addition to the seemingly random changes it presents.
+ Simple, yet addictive, core rhythm gameplay remains fun even now
+ More approachable progression that smartly encourages dabbling with both the main rhythm game as well as the various cosmetic features simultaneously
+ Medley compositions are a neat take on older songs
-Significantly less total songs than prior games, and the ones that are there feel less noteworthy overall
- Though mostly inoffensive, the newly included "storytelling" is not particularly good
- Cuts corners on the music videos
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
Project Diva X makes a concentrated effort in making the series more approachable, from actual difficulty to even a newly story mode, but with it being a far less consistent overall rhythm game package will likely make existing fans be forced to overlook some rather apparent shortcomings.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.