Review: Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X (PS4)
Project Diva X is a charming, toe-tapping rhythm romp that's sure to delight returning fans and convert the nonbelievers.
Bright colors, anime eyes, an endless wardrobe and maddeningly catchy J-Pop: This must be Hatsune Miku. Project Diva X, which marks the digital idol’s debut on North American PlayStation 4s (and her return to the Vita). While it’s a solid mix of old and new for series fans, it also serves as a totally accessible starting point for newcomers.
Whether you’re a tone-deaf noob or a rhythm game aficionado, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X is sure to make you smile and get those toes tapping – as long as you can stomach the cuteness.
Kawaii so serious?
Hatsune Miku‘s roots are buried deeply in Japanese “Kawaii” culture. Kawaii means cute or adorable. It’s colorful, squiggly kanji scribbled in crayon as if by a toddler; it’s a toilet-seat cover that’s made to look like a baby bunny; it’s an egg-timer fashioned as a tiny, fat Gundam; it’s a blue-haired virtual idol with the voice of a 12 year-old singing power-pop so sweet it’ll rot your teeth.
Many of you might be immediately turned off by the aesthetic and style of Project Diva X. I’m sure some of you would rather get caught watching a racy internet movie than be caught tapping along on your controller as Hatsune Miku and her band of “vocaloids” skip, dance and sing in musical numbers that resemble a Disney Broadway show on mushrooms. That’s fine, but I urge you to give Project Diva X a chance. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, I think you’ll find it’s a refreshing escape getting lost in this world of shameless quirkiness.
Same song, different dance
Veteran vocaloids know exactly what to expect in Project Diva X. Controls and gameplay are mostly the same. You’ll watch as prompts representing different direction and face buttons fill the screen, and when their matching shapes zoom into view and overlap the prompt, you’ll tap the corresponding button in time with the rhythm. There are some special types of notes with special rules, but nothing too fancy.
There are two new gameplay mechanics introduced in Project Diva X. The first is “Rush” notes. Triggering a Rush note will have you smashing the corresponding button as many times as you can before the timer runs out to build more points. I hate it.
The “quickly tap a button as much as you can” trick needs to die; it’s never been fun, and it’ll never be fun. I can’t think of a genre less appropriate for mindless button-mashing as it really takes you out of the zone and can throw you off in the middle of a challenging song. Thankfully Rush notes are fairly rare.
“Chance time,” on the other hand, is a great addition. Every song has a special section during which successfully hitting notes builds up your Chance meter. If that meter is full by the end of Chance Time, you can hit a special star note that triggers a flashy “module” change mid-song. Modules are what this game calls costumes. Modules are always earned through these Chance Time sequences, and they ensure that every song has a really special climax and reward before it ends.
On cloud whine
There are other changes in Project Diva X that won’t be well-received by series fans. One annoying difference is how modules and accessories are earned. The modules (costumes) and accessories you wear are important because they offer bonuses and enhancements. Also, they’re just fun. There are a ton to collect, and it’ll take some serious grinding to collect them all since they’re dished out at random. Modules will unlock through chance time, and accessories are earned at the conclusion of a song. Both are meted out under the providence of RNG; total chance. This will drive you completionists mad.
Project Diva X also has a story because … I don’t know why. Miku’s world is made up of five “clouds” that have lost their light and power. Through the power of song (of course), Miku and friends must restore voltage to these clouds to restore them. Each cloud contains five songs for you to clear, and you can only focus on one cloud at a time, which is a bit annoying. It’d be nice to have more freedom to browse the game’s repertoire at will. The cutscenes in between each event are also totally pointless, and only the most hardcore Hatsune Miku fans will enjoy watching the vocaloids talk to each other.
I should also mention that each cloud has a corresponding aura: classic, cool, cute, elegant, and quirky. All modules and accessories are categorized by these five auras, and synergizing certain costume combinations while performing in specific clouds will grant larger bonuses.
For example, when in the “cute” cloud, I’d get a higher voltage bonus by pairing a bright puffy dress with a bright name tag and backpack. The aura bonuses do offer an incentive to try on a variety of modules and play around with accessories, so that’s a nice touch.
Rhythm in motion
Once you’re all decked out and on stage, Project Diva X is a dizzying spectacle. The game looks fantastic on the Vita and on the PS4, but of course you’re in for prettier visuals running at a silky smooth 60 FPS on the latter. Colors are bright and pleasing, characters are well-animated, and all of the venues are bursting with detail.
In fact, there’s so much to look at that it can sometimes become a problem. Even on the normal difficulty setting, some songs build up to such complexity and play at such a fast tempo that it becomes difficult to keep up. The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that button prompts fly in from all directions and the background visuals can occasionally obstruct them with bright flashes, erratic movement, and sudden shifts in perspective.
It’s common for rhythm games to challenge your focus with distracting visuals but there’s a right and wrong way to go about it. An example of the right way would be Rhythm Heaven Megamix, where sometimes the visuals are intentionally obstructive but the game awards your focus by giving you audio cues to follow. In Project Diva X all you have is the visual cue of shape and prompt overlapping, and there are times when it becomes damn near impossible to tell when that’s happening because of everything happening on-screen.
Project Diva X is a charming, toe-tapping rhythm romp that’s sure to delight returning fans and convert the nonbelievers. If you can get past the excessively cute and cuddly exterior, you’ll find challenging and addictive gameplay hooks that will have you glued to your television for hours at a time.
There are a few missteps along the way, and the cast of vocaloids accompanying Miku don’t get their fair share of tunes, but the songs that are included are fantastic. I do have to warn you: once you hear the tutorial song you can never unhear it. It will become a part of you – will never leave your mind – and you’ll love it.
- A great selection of tunes that will get stuck in your head forever
- Looks and runs like a dream
- Tons of unlockables, events, and additional performers offer ample replay value
- Chance Time is a great addition that makes for dramatic moments
- Over-the-top kawaii vibes will turn some away
- Rush notes are an unimaginative and annoying addition
- Story is pointless, clouds feel limiting
- Importers will find Future Tone to be a better value