Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is the latest game in SEGA’s Project DIVA rhythm game series, and also the first to be released on the PlayStation 4. While there’s also a PlayStation Vita version (of which I played the Japanese import), it’s the English PlayStation 4 version that I’ll be reviewing here. With Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X, SEGA made several big changes to the traditional Project DIVA formula, perhaps in an attempt to revitalize the franchise which appears to be showing some fatigue in Japan. The question is if the changes were for the better? Read on to find out my thoughts on that!
I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to play the PS4 version of the game ahead of this review, but I’ve unlocked the final song in the game, and I’ve spent a lot of time on the Japanese PlayStation Vita version. As such, I believe I have a good view of what the game has to offer. As you may have noticed, this is a rather lengthy review, as there are quite a few things to discuss!
Cloud Requests and Story
The previous Project DIVA games had a very “arcade” feel to them, at least in regards to the core rhythm gameplay. There was no story built around the rhythm game, and you simply played the songs in succession until you unlocked and cleared all of them. The closest thing to an “ending” that you could achieve were the game’s ending credits, and players would typically probably spend most of their time clearing songs on various difficulty settings, and unlocking modules and other content.
This has now changed in Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X, which introduces something of a story mode. At the beginning of the game, Hatsune Miku asks for your help in restoring light to five different “Clouds”, which can only be done by clearing the songs that belong to the Cloud in question. Each of these Clouds is linked to an “Aura” (Classic, Cute, Cool, Elegant, or Quirky). Much like in a visual novel, the five main characters will now talk to the player and each other as you progress the story by fulfilling “Cloud Requests” (which basically means clearing songs) and return light to the Clouds.
The game’s story isn’t exactly profound, and it’s debatable whether or not a game like this really benefits from it. One of the interesting aspects about Vocaloids is that they don’t really have a personality of their own. Instead, it’s the artists using the Vocaloids that define their personality, usually within the context of a song. As such, the game’s story has to retain a somewhat neutral personality for the characters, and perhaps that’s the reason why there’s little in terms of meaningful storytelling. You have a limited impact on the dialogue when the characters ask you questions and you get to choose one out of two possible answers. Depending on the answer, you may get a different reaction from the characters, although the impact of the choices does seem rather minimal. Much like with other aspects of the game that I’ll discuss below, there’s certainly potential in this new story mode here, but it’s just not fully realized in Project DIVA X. Still, it’s a nice addition that doesn’t really get in the way of your progression of the game. Like the songs, the dialogue has all been subtitled in English. Reaching the end of the story isn’t difficult, although unlocking the final medley can be rather tedious, as you’re basically asked to repeat the entire process that led you to this point.
Accessing the Clouds is done via the “Cloud Requests” menu on the revamped Home screen. This new Home screen is now somewhat of a mix between the “DIVA room” and the classic menu selection screen from the older Project DIVA games. Aside from a menu on the left side of the screen, it also shows the currently selected character in a room in the background. Much like the DIVA room in the old games, you can change the design of this room by selecting different themes (which are gained as a reward for playing songs). It’s an interesting way of bringing the DIVA room to the forefront rather than keeping it tucked away in a separate mode.
In the Cloud Requests menu, you’re asked to select a Cloud before being able to select the Requests (songs) inside of them. The Clouds are unlocked one by one, starting with the Neutral Cloud. When you complete all of the songs in a Cloud, a special medley will be unlocked. Completing this one will then completely fill the crystal inside of the Cloud, and allow you to unlock the next Cloud.
As mentioned before, each Cloud contains “Requests”, which are essentially requests to clear a song. These can typically be selected in various difficulties, but at first you’ll only have access to Easy and Normal until you manage to restore all five Clouds (which means playing all the songs at least once). A similar mechanism was found in earlier Project DIVA titles. Despite constant requests from the veteran fans to allow them to play the higher difficulties right from the start, it appears the developers are particularly stubborn in keeping this limitation in the games. Personally, I’d rather see this obstacle removed, as it really serves no purpose.
As you progress through the game, you may be given a special Event Request. These are found in the separate menu of the same name. Completing these requests involves clearing a song, and may grant various rewards. Among these Event Requests are the (even more special) Festivals. Here, you’ll get to pick three songs, each with the character of your choosing, and a stage to play them on. The game will arrange a special medley version of the three songs, which you’ll be asked to play for a live audience. The audience will actually cheer you on, and while this addition to the game is really a great idea, its implementation is rather limited. I wish SEGA had taken this idea a step further. If they want to move forward with the idea of “live concerts” in Project DIVA games (and that’s a big if, but more on that later), I think this is the aspect of the game where they can really revolutionize the series.
One aspect that SEGA didn’t make a lot of changes to is the core rhythm gameplay of Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X. As such, it remains largely the same as the one in the previous installment: Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd. When playing a song, you’ll see one of the five Vocaloids (characters) performing the song in the background. Meanwhile, “Melody Icons” (icons that match the PlayStation controller buttons) appear on screen and move towards another target icon. When they reach their target, the player has to press the corresponding button at the exact moment when they overlap. The timing is essential here, because you’ll get a “Grade” that shows how well you timed the button press (Cool, Good, Safe, Bad or Miss). You want to get the Cool and Good notes, since the others won’t grant you any points. And those points are needed to successfully clear a song. Other than the standard notes I just described, other types of notes exist which require different actions (like holding down a button of flicking the thumbsticks).
One noticeable difference with Project DIVA F 2nd is the absence of Linked Stars. Introduced in F 2nd, these proved to be unpopular with the long-time fans of the franchise, so it’s not surprising to see that SEGA didn’t include them in Project DIVA X. On the other hand, the game now introduces “Rush Targets”. Instead of pressing a button once the Melody Icon reaches its target, Rush Targets require you to press the corresponding button on the controller repeatedly, and as fast as possible, until the target disappears. Much like Linked Star Notes, I don’t feel like these really add anything to the gameplay. Frantically mashing a button on the controller isn’t exactly something I think is fun, and it has little to do with “rhythm”. It feels like these were added just for the sake of having something new, rather than to actually improve the gameplay.
More changes are found in the way that you successfully complete, or “clear”, a song. Like in previous games, a song is cleared by filling a gauge at the bottom of the screen. But rather than the “Song Energy Gauge” from earlier Project DIVA titles, the game now shows a “Voltage Rating” in the bottom left corner of the screen. This shows a multiplier that’s applied to your score, which can gradually increase over the course of a song depending on certain factors. By default, the Voltage Rating starts at 100%. But as you play the song, this rating will increase. As such, when you’re nearing the end of the song, this means the bottom gauge will be increasing faster than at the start of the game. This means that increasing the Voltage Meter is a crucial aspect of successfully clearing a song.
One way of doing so is by successfully hitting “Rate Up” notes, another new kind of Note in Project DIVA X. These are virtually the same as the standard notes, but they differ in the sense that they “glow” on-screen, and hitting them successfully grant an instant 5% boost to the Voltage Rating. Other ways of increasing the Voltage Rating exist as well (more on that later when we discuss modules). If you manage to fill the bottom gauge before the end of the song, you’ve cleared the song! However, it’s also possible to fill the gauge several times before the song ends. This will determine how many items you get as a reward afterwards. Typically, playing on higher difficulties will net you more rewards (but only if you can manage to clear the song).
Also worth noting is that in past Project DIVA games, repeatedly failing to hit targets could result in a “Drop Out”, which was more or less a “game over” screen, as you were thrown out of the song before you even reached its end. It was basically the game’s way of saying that you’re out of your league on the current difficulty setting. This is no longer the case in Project DIVA X. Regardless of how poorly you do, you can still play through the entire song. This seems like a welcome change, as the past Project DIVA game continued to ramp up the difficulty to cater to the veteran fans, which in turn made it a frustrating experience for newcomers.
In terms of song selection, the game features “only” 30 songs, medleys included (but not counting the 2 DLC songs, which are unfortunately not free for the West). This is less than in Project DIVA F and F 2nd, and it remains to be seen if SEGA will release more songs as DLC (though I’d be surprised if they didn’t). Whether or not the tracklist is a good one is really down to personal preference, but I personally found it to be a very balanced and varied selection of songs, more so than in F and F 2nd. That said, most of the songs are for Hatsune Miku. Meiko, for example, doesn’t even have any songs where she’s the only singer. Hopefully, if SEGA does release additional songs via DLC, they’ll pay a bit more attention to the other Vocaloids.
The team working on the localization has added English subtitles to all of the songs, an effort which I think is worth pointing out in this review. For those who aren’t familiar with all the songs, you may be surprised to learn what the characters are actually talking about. Indeed, not all of the lyrics of the songs are quite as innocent as the characters would make them appear.
Modules, Accessories and Difficulty Levels
Another change made to the game’s formula also makes Project DIVA X more friendly to newcomers. A staple of the Project DIVA games are the “modules” (costumes) and accessories with which you can dress up your characters before you start a song. While these were only there for cosmetic purposes and didn’t influence the gameplay in previous Project DIVA Games, this is no longer the case in Project DIVA X. In the same way that the Clouds each have an “Aura”, the songs in those Clouds also share that same Aura. And the Modules and Accessories that your characters can wear now also have an Aura attributed to them.
Where things get interesting is that matching moduls and songs with the same Aura can boost the Voltage Rating. For example, a “Neutral” module in a “Neutral” song will give you a +20% boost to the Voltage Rating, right from the start of the song. This can be increased further by adding accessories such as glasses or cat ears to the characters, each boosting the Voltage Rating by another 5%. And some combinations of modules and accessories may even grant you an additional boost. Using this method, even difficulty levels that would be normally out of reach for the player can now be made manageable. The concept is not all that dissimilar from the “Help” items in previous Project DIVA games, but it’s just a lot more accessible now. As such, Project DIVA X stops the series’ trend of increasing the difficulty with every new iteration, and I welcome the change. In addition, each module has its own innate ability to influence the gameplay. For example, some may increase the number of Rate Up notes in the song, while others may increase the Voltage Meter periodically. All this makes it interesting to try different combinations of modules and accessories to tackle the game’s requests.
That said, there’s another change that I’m less thrilled about. The modules and accessories are now unlocked randomly. In Project DIVA F and F 2nd, the “Chance Time” was a particular section of the song where you needed to score enough points and then hit a Star Note at the end of it. If you were successful, this used to change what happened in the music video shown in the background. This is no longer the case in Project DIVA X. Instead, succeeding at Chance Time now unlocks a random module for you to use. This is also the only method, other than paying for the module unlock DLC, which you can use to get the in-game modules (with some exceptions being specific modules gained as a reward from Event Requests). The caveat is that you’re not guaranteed to get a new module, and you may in fact get one that you already unlocked earlier on. Thankfully, some modules can increase the chance of getting a new module during Chance Time. But if you’re unlucky, this aspect of the game can quickly lead to frustration when you’re trying unlock a particular module. It’s not that the previous Project DIVA games didn’t require “grind” to unlock modules and accessories, but adding a random aspect to its unlocking is simply unnecessary. And I can’t help but raise some eyebrows at the fact that this is accompanied by optional paid DLC to unlock the modules.
Interestingly, the game’s “Free Play” Mode is almost identical to the main mode from the Project DIVA F games. As a result, those who aren’t thrilled about the new story-based Cloud Requests will find their more familiar, arcade-like, mode here. Unfortunately, if you’re hoping to unlock modules here, you’re out of luck. While you can still clear Chance Time here, it won’t grant you any modules. I had hoped for SEGA to present an alternative method in the PS4 version to unlock methods in the Free Play mode, much like in previous games where you acquired DIVA points to buy modules in an in-game store. Sadly, this isn’t the case.
Graphics and animation
Visually, the game’s move to PS4 results in a clear improvement compared to the PlayStation Vita version. We get a much higher 1080P resolution and some improved textures, although the geometry appears to be largely the same. Unfortunately, the background and ground textures can look rather blurry, despite some upgrades compared to the PlayStation Vita version. Personally, I was really disappointed in the “glowsticks” audience that’s featured in certain songs and in the Event requests. This is one area where the jump to PlayStation 4 really could have been used to make a significant upgrade, especially giving the “live concert” theme of Project DIVA X, yet they still look largely the same as the PlayStation Vita version. Overall, the minimalist style of the Project DIVA games means they don’t really need to show high-end graphics, but I’d certainly like to see what a Project DIVA game made specifically for PS4 would look like.
In terms of art style, the characters appear largely the same as in Project DIVA F and F 2nd, but the added dynamic shadows in the PS4 version do give them just a bit more of a 3D feel. Personally I really prefer this pseudo-2D style over that of Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone, where the characters resemble something more akin to real-life plastic dolls. While Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone on PS4 (available in Japan only for now) can look visually more impressive in certain songs, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is more consistent in the quality of presentation.
However, the real game changer here for the PS4 version is the 60fps framerate. While Project DIVA F and F 2nd on PS Vita and PS3 all operated at 30fps, the PlayStation 4 version of Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X finally brings back 60fps. This was long overdue, and it makes a big difference in terms of gameplay. Coming from the PlayStation Vita version, I found the game a lot easier to play on PlayStation 4, solely because of the framerate.
Music Videos: Is Less Really More?
The music videos for each song are now all situated on a single “live” stage. In fact, calling them music videos is no longer accurate, as it’s more of a “live performance” that focuses solely on the character’s dance routine and singing, all set on the same stage. This change has the benefit that all of the game’s songs can now be played on any stage, unlike in previous Project DIVA games. As such, in the game’s Festival Event Requests, you can pair the songs with a stage of your choosing.
Unfortunately, this also means we miss out on the visually impressive music videos in past games. It’s one of Project DIVA X’s most controversial changes, and I’ve often seen this pointed out in user reviews from the Japanese version. And it’s easy to see why. Vocaloids are all about community created content. It’s the fans who create songs and music videos, and these often served as an inspiration for the music videos which the developers created for the Project DIVA songs. In previous games, the songs were accompanied by music videos which often played out an entire story, usually matching the lyrics of the song. Even though the original Project DIVA F didn’t feature English subtitles, fans could often still get some notion of what the songs were about just by watching the music video. Sadly, this story aspect is gone in Project DIVA X.
As such, the artistic direction seen in music videos for songs like “Two Breaths Walking” in Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd eclipse anything seen in Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X. And personally, I don’t think the “live” feel of the performance in Project DIVA X makes up for the lack of music videos. Perhaps if the crowd interacted more, and if the characters actually interacted with the crowd, maybe the result would have been more impressive. Again, the fact that the in-game crowd still look like a bunch of floating glowsticks, even on PlayStation 4, is just another example of something that could (and should) have been improved. I’m not sure if this change was done out of budget reasons or not, but it really feels like a step back for the series.
Unfortunately, the absence of story-telling music videos is not the only problem. The game’s Concert Editor Mode, which allowed fans to create their own music videos and share them with the community, unfortunately pales in comparison to its previous incarnations. In Project DIVA F 2nd, you could select an MP3 from your hard drive, and given enough time, create a completely original, and playable, music video. In Project DIVA X, you’re reduced to selecting an existing song and a stage. You can change the camera angles, lighting and add some effects. But that’s about it. You have no control over the actual character anymore, nor can you add a custom note chart. The end result is just a non-playable video that plays more or less the same performance you’ve already seen before (excluding the songs for which the unedited, longer version is included), just from different camera angles and on a different stage, with a few different effects. For those who enjoyed playing custom charts after completing the game, the option is simply no longer there.
Admittedly, The Live Edit Mode is a lot more accessible now and much easier to learn. But the mode is so limited that I have to wonder why it’s even there, or why one would bother using it. I’m also surprised by the fact that SEGA opted to add PlayStation VR support solely for this mode (to be added later with a patch once PlayStation VR is available). Of all the things that this game and this mode in particular needed, PlayStation VR support really isn’t it.
Friendships and Photo Studio Mode
The game still has the option to gift items to the characters, which in turn can be used to build up your friendship with the character. This has an in-game benefit in the rhythm game: the higher the friendship level, the more Rate Up Notes will appear while playing a song. Gifts are also obtained as a reward by completing songs. While there’s a separate menu for gifting items, the characters might spontaneously ask you for a gift as well, although they won’t tell you exactly what they want. Pick the right gift, and your friendship level will increase, and you may even get a short event clip. On the other hand, give the wrong item and you’ll get a disappointed reaction and a lower friendship level.
Like in the previous games, The photo studio mode allows you to load a background of your choice and overlay the game’s characters on them. With the improved graphics on PS4, you can get the best results yet. There’s also an option to export the image to JPG and PNG format.
Let me be clear: Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X is by all means a very solid rhythm game, and fans of the previous games will no doubt have plenty of fun playing this latest entry. For newcomers as well, Project DIVA X proves to be more accessible than ever, and that’s a very good thing indeed. The PlayStation 4 version also reintroduces the 60fps frame rate, which is arguably the biggest reason to choose this version over the PlayStation Vita one.
However, in its attempt to break away from the more arcade-like formula of its predecessors. it does introduces some controversial changes compared to the previous Project DIVA Games. The randomized module unlocks, lack of story-based music videos and the limited Edit Mode all feel like changes that SEGA would have been better off not making. I also find it unfortunate the PlayStation 4 version fails to address these problems, despite the feedback from fans in Japan and the West regarding the Japanese PS Vita version. As such, I do hope that SEGA listens very closely to the feedback from the fans next time around.
All things considered, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA X doesn’t quite offer the evolution that the franchise really needed at this point, but it nonetheless remains a solid entry for the series. And if haven’t played any of the Project DIVA games before, Project DIVA X is probably the best place to start. The game will be available in both the Americas and Europe on August 30, 2016. In Europe, the game is only available as a digital download via the EU PlayStation Store.
Review copy provided by SEGA of America