Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA 2ND - OWWW! CHECK, ONE, TSU~
A Vocaloid game? Really? Oh man, who'd we lose a bet with to have to do this?
On a serious note, most of the screenshots for this review were pilfered from Andirasang because while the game lets you take pictures in PV View Mode, these aren't in-game shots and we always prioritise in-game shots! Also, incompetent. More importantly, this is a bit of departure from normal Gaming Hell fare, not just because it's a bloody Vocaloid game but because there are two elements of the game- the Edit and DIVA Room modes- that we're completely ignoring, as they're surplus to the main game. This is less a review of the package as a whole, and more about our experience with the game and its basic mechanics, how they work, and how they don't work. Bordering on NEW GAMES JOURNALISM here, which is a scary thought indeed. Be afraid.
Also, we wanted to try and keep the Vocaloid names western (forenames first, surnames last) but that became a total mess. So first names only, except in the opening paragraph. We are Gaming Hell, and we don't play by your rules.
Also also, we phoned in for help on this one from a Twitter person, Matchi_chan, who is a much bigger Vocaloid fan than us. They fact-checked it for us. So ta for that.
This is the story of how I became the worst Vocaloid fan in the world.
I like my PSP, you see. Nice screen, nice features, and it has a Puyo Puyo theme so it's boss as hell. A few months ago though, I had a problem with it- every game I had for it was either a remake (Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles), a port (Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower) or a collection of old, old games (God, where to start- SNK Arcade Classics 0, Capcom Classics Collection Reloaded, Taito Legends Power-Up)... Let's not even get started on the downloadable titles (JumpingFlash!). After playing Prehistoric Isle in 1930s to death (and, er, reaching a point in Ridge Racer where I couldn't get any further) I decided I needed something new. Something I hadn't played before. Something... Imported. While most of the interesting import-only PSP games are yet more game collections (Salamander Portable, aww yeah) or impenetrable visual novels (see what I did there, hurrr), I decided to hurl myself into new, dangerous territory. After quickly checking with Twitter which version to get (the first is very limited, Extend isn't much of a leap forward) I ordered a copy of Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA 2nd, published by the masters of Blue Sky Gaming, Sega (indeed, if this article on the 3DS game is correct the kings of Blue Sky Gaming, SEGA AM2, have been involved in the series since 2009, so they might've worked on this! However, 'planning and general development' is credited to Dingo Inc., a Tokyo-based developer also known for the PhotoKano games. I'd heard of the series before (mostly good things, too) so I figured, why not? It'd be a learning experience, I told myself.
A brief explanation for those who aren't familiar with Hatsune Miku (and those who skipped the Groups page on this subject. Miku is a Vocaloid (specifically in the Vocaloid 2 range), a piece of software created by Yamaha and distributed by Crypton Future Media with a persona (in the case of Miku, a teal-haired girl with ridiculous twintails) designed for making music by supplying vocals. Essentially a bank of sound files recorded by a real person (in Miku's case, Saki Fujita), you use the software to add vocals to music without the need to strain your own vocal chords. For most intents and purposes it's just a tool for music making, but a fan culture rivalling even that of Touhou has spawned surrounding Miku and the other Vocaloids. However, it's a bit different from other fan cultures, in that it wouldn't exist at all without them- all that Crypton Future Media make are the sound banks, and it's up to the fans to make beautiful music. To this end, producers (the correct term for those who make music with Vocaloids) from all over the internet have created an insane amount of music, covering pretty much every genre under the sun, and Crypton Future Media have cashed in like no-one's business with an inordinate amount of merchandise, resulting in the most baffling car advert ever made. Although there are many different Vocaloids available (many of which are 'playable' in this game) Miku is the most recognisable and it's why she has her mug plastered all over the box of this video game. There are obviously many other facets to Vocaloid culture that we're glossing over, but we ain't a wiki. We play video games, apparently, so let's get to that.
Anyway, it should be obvious that Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA 2nd is a rhythm game.
The mechanics are extremely simple, which is a given because this isn't one of your fancier rhythm games that has the luxury of an over-sized peripheral controller- all you need are the face buttons and the D-Pad. Button prompts will appear on-screen in three forms (the face buttons solo, a face button plus the corresponding D-Pad direction, and ones that need you to hold a face button for a specific amount of time) and you need to press the right button in time with the little clock hand on each prompt- there are five different 'ratings' for each note hit (Cool, Fair, Safe, Sad and Worst) but only Cool (perfect) and Fair (just about) will keep your combo going. Getting any of the others will break your combo and, in the case of Sad and Worst, will probably reduce your life meter in the corner of the screen- if that hits bottom, the song is instantly over.
It's hardly the most in-depth rhythm game you'll ever play, but it keeps you on your toes, as one of its more novel features is that the button prompts aren't neatly arranged like in Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution- they'll float on-screen wherever they want (although it's the same every time each song) which means you'll have to keep darting your eyes around the screen during gameplay (as a hint, you can keep track of what notes are coming next by looking to the corners of the screen). This also means that it's easy to lose track of what's happening, though, especially since some of the background videos have red herrings (there's a beachball in one that looks exactly like the Circle button). Additionally, each song has a 'Chance Time' where you get 1000 bonus points for every note you hit while maintaining a combo, but as far as mechanics go, that's your lot. Well, that and Easy and Normal use less face buttons (one and two respectively) than Hard and Extreme, which use all four (and man, some of those Extreme songs are tough).
Overall, it's a pretty solid title, with a slight learning curve- initially I was ready to give up because the opening songs are quite difficult, and every now and then certain songs (Marginal and Saihate) will impede your progress, but I eventually got the hang of the rhythm and stormed through Hard and Extreme (except for the last song which is aaaahhhh). It works well enough, and, the first time through at least, has a 'just one more song' element to it. The problem with this basic approach is that it never really feels like you're doing anything, a feeling that's exacerbated by some of the other elements in the game. It's little things, honestly, like the fact that whether you hit a note right or not, button presses make the exact same noise (unlike Guitar Hero which tells you when you've got it right) and the 'promotional video' (PV) for the song- some of which, to be fair, are quite amusing- plays in the background and never changes, no matter how well you're doing. In fact, the PVs can sometimes be a hindrance, because as well as the odd visual red herring, some are so elaborate they cause the game to slow down (Melt is a good example) and in a rhythm game, whoa, that's not right! Little things like this mean you don't really get any immediate feedback aside from the combo meter, if you've even got one going.
More free-form rhythm games like Parappa the Rapper and Space Channel 5 offer instant feedback when you screw up, and even though Dance Dance Revolution has videos playing in the background like this game, that's different because you are actually dancing so it feels like you're accomplishing something when you hit those notes. All Project DIVA has is pressin' buttons while watchin' Miku (or, if you're like me and want to stick it to the man, Haku, official Vocaloid of Gaming Hell), and while it is fun to an extent- for the first week I was playing the game like it was my job, and certain songs on Extreme like Colorful x Melody make you really work to survive- you will eventually reach a point where you're just playing out of habit (or, rather, you're just playing to grind for DIVA Points to unlock the intimidating amount of costumes) and the feeling of satisfaction is gone.
(Well, unless you're a real Vocaloid fan, then you get a little extra thrill-power from unlocking your favourite songs.)
(And then you start to cry because you've just unlocked a song you hate and Sega is laughing at you.)
Indeed, getting a feel for how well you're doing in a particular song is never that clear, mostly because the life meter (which is a bit out-of-the-way, screen-wise) has nothing to do with whether you'll receive a passing grade (Standard, Great, Excellent or Perfect) or fail (Cheap and MissXTake)- you can get to the end of a song without dying and still fail miserably, as succeeding a song is based on how many Cool and Fair notes you hit rather than whether you survive. The minimum amount of notes you have to hit are quite high too, and the bar that tells you what rank you're going to get is teeny-tiny and barely moves until near the end of a song! This is a big contrast to Dance Dance Revolution, which still lets you play as long as you survive, and has the life-bar clear as crystal at the top of the screen. When you first start playing the game, this is maddening as you have to unlock each song by beating previous ones, and it doesn't help that two of the starting songs (Romeo and Cinderella and Magnet) are among the most difficult in the game.
In fact, one of my Twitter followers, Matchi_chan (who checked this article to make sure I didn't fluff it up) got the game shortly after me and in their tweets about it, they summed up this problem- several times they reached the end of Romeo and Cinderella and still didn't pass, which hampered their enjoyment somewhat. It was particularly disheartening because they're a real fan of Vocaloid, and yet the wonky structure meant they weren't able to unlock the songs they wanted. It sounds silly, but a few changes in the basic mechanics would've rectified this- in particular, it baffles me why the life meter is divorced from whether you 'pass' the song or not and yet there's also a grading system. A better system, perhaps, would've been keeping the ranks but to allow players to progress to the next song as long as they made it through the song alive on Normal/Easy difficulty, with higher difficulties keeping the stricter passing grades- that way you can still make progress and it offers a better, more sensible challenge for those who want the higher difficulties.
It's a shame Sega/Dimps/Dingo/whoever worked on this thing didn't get the basic mechanics down solid, because in every other area Project DIVA 2nd hits all the right notes (Arf! Arf!). The presentation is top-class- I'm almost prepared to call it a Blue Skies Game because holy hell is this aggressively bright and happy, and pretty impressive for a PSP game. The character models in particular are very expressive and detailed (some of the costumes are so over the top), and while they aren't as polished as the models in Project DIVA Arcade or Dreamy Theatre (we'll see DT later), I think the slightly lower-poly count models here add a certain charm to the game. Additionally, each song has a completely different 'stage' for the PV, offering lots of visual variety. Naturally, the aesthetic definitely won't appeal to some players, especially since there are unlockable swimsuit costumes guaranteed to make you uncomfortable when playing in public, but it's mostly safe (unless you read the translated lyrics for some of the songs, oh my) and it's actually a nice contrast to some of the miserably grey video games out there (Blue Skies forever!).
The game is also packed to the rafters with content, mostly in the form of songs (over 40 in all), DIVA Room stuff (if that's your bag, it's like a mini version of The Sims) and costumes (most of which belong to Miku) although you might get a little tired of it before unlocking all the costumes, as after you've beaten every song on every difficulty, all that's left is the grind. Unless you can nail a Perfect on an Extreme song which nets you 30000 DIVA points and will get you all those costumes fairly quickly. Assuming you are some kind of rhythm gaming robot. Those with a Japanese PSN account (we refuse to call it SEN) can also grab a few extra songs and costumes (including crossover content with The Idolm@ster, a series which ahem no thank you I'll pass ta, he says after this nonsense).
What I was most interested in, however, was the music itself. Before this, my experience with Vocaloid songs was limited mostly to this screechingly awful remix of Daddy Mulk from The Ninja Warriors (please note, Daddy Mulk is one of my favourite vid-con songs) and the remix of Quartet Theme from Project: DIVA Arcade so it was nice to find that 90% of the songs on here are really good, with a wider genre range than I was expecting (I was steeling myself for lots and lots of techno, but dude there's a ragtime song on here oh my god i am not even kidding aw yeah). More importantly, unlike the aforementioned Daddy Mulk remix, these songs have the benefit of coming from some of the most prolific Vocaloid producers (OSTER project, ryo, iroha, DECO*27, etc.), which means they sound professional, well-produced and catchy as all hell- it would take too long to list all my favourites, but some include World is Mine, Ai Kotoba and Just Be Friends.
Not all of them were my cup of tea (Melt is almost alright but hits notes only dogs can hear, and Butterfly On Your Right Shoulder, nooooo) and Vocaloid music isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but at the very least there's plenty of variety (the three opening songs range from cutesy pop to aggressive piano), it doesn't sound cheap like some synthesised music, and I promise you the English lyrics in PoPiPo are incredibly amusing (actually, any English in the songs sounds funny). You've got that, at least. Seriously though, this is some very well-produced music that should hopefully cater to your musical tastes in some way, and with all the attention given to every little detail, this would be an ideal fan service game... If the game mechanics were tweaked a bit, of course.
As I said at the start, this was a learning experience for me, and I definitely learnt something. For a start, it pretty much destroyed all of my misconceptions about Vocaloids (I wouldn't call myself a proper fan just yet, but, uh, I'm still looking for Luka songs) and, in particular, showed me that a good Vocaloid song has to have effort put into it in order to really sound good. It's like when people make chiptune versions of 32-bit songs but just shove it in a program that does it automatically- no, that ain't right! You gotta work at it! More importantly, it taught me a few things about rhythm games, and why titles like Guitar Hero and Parappa the Rapper work- it's all about the feedback, the feeling that you're doing something to contribute to the song. Project DIVA 2nd is kinda missing that. It doesn't make it a bad game, of course- the content alone will be enough to make you go back to it for at least a week or so, and the mechanics are satisfying to begin with. It's just that lack of feedback, and the initial frustration when you can't unlock songs because you've got little indication of how you're doing, that really brings it down. If you're looking for something different on the PSP, though, this is your best bet. It's bright, it's colourful, and I guarantee you won't play anything quite like it anywhere else. Just try not to throw your PSP at the wall in despair, alright?
It also has that amazing scene of your chosen Vocaloid hugging Godzilla, so what more do you want?
For proving that sometimes you need a little feedback in your music, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA 2nd is awarded...
In a sentence, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA 2nd is...
The video game equivalent of popping bubblewrap- fun, but lacking somewhat.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Let's start with an exercise for the readers. Consider it homework, if you will.
Matchi_chan made a guide to ripping the sounds/music/voiceclips from 2nd.
It's all there, including the files you'll need (minus an ISO of the game and foobar, a music player).
Beyond serving as a little bit of computerin', just in case you ever get rusty with good old command line (it's required for one step of the process), there's some interesting stuff unearthed when you do this. For a start, it'll give you the songs in the game as they appear therein, i.e. truncated in some cases, and I swear in at least one case slightly altered- Ai Kotoba has a weird backing 'voice' in 2nd that, as well as sounding slightly ghostly, can't be found in any other version of the song (unless I'm just going completely insane). There's also some unused voice clips of Miku, Rin and Len- from the demo version, maybe? Was there a demo?
Anyway, get crackin', sport, so that you too can set Haku's voiceclips as your incoming text message alert noise!
Something important to note is that there's actually two slightly different versions of this game!
Obviously, there's the original, titled Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA 2nd, which was released on the 29th of July 2010, but there's a second, cheaper version, released a year and a half later on the 15th of December 2011, just after the third and final PSP game in the series, Extend. This version sometimes has Low Price Version added to the title, but the box and title screen give its full title as Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA 2nd#. Note that hash at the end. As well as being a cheaper version of the game, there's a few differences. The minor ones are that the game takes less time to load, you can install downloadable content so you don't have to wait for it to load each time, and the Edit Mode menu has been restructured slightly.
Most importantly, there's a download-code printed in the box that allows you to use costumes/modules from Extend. You don't quite get all of the modules from Extend, mind you (any that were DLC for 2nd, like Luka Majokko Style, aren't available this way) but there's still a lot to play with. To get them, you need to use a Japanese PSN account to redeem the code (on the Playstation Store menu, it's the button that has the number 12 on it in the right-hand corner)- once it's downloaded go to the last-but-one item on the Options menu, then on the new menu that appears click the second option and wait until you see the list of costumes. From there you just need to select the very last item on the costume/module select menu to access them (or press R in PV View Mode)- they're all free of charge so you don't even need to buy them with your precious DIVA Points!
This cheaper version is the one reviewed here, but since the differences are minor, I've just been referring to the game without the #.
Simplicity, you know? It's probably best you get the # version, especially if you have a Japanese PSN account.
Next, those who'd rather play Project Diva 2nd on a TV screen have the option with Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Dreamy Theater 2nd for the PS3.
... Although having said that, if you're expecting to just grab a copy off eBay and get to work, then don't head there just yet, this is quite a strange release. Released only on PSN for ¥3900 (until JP PSN content was taxed, so it's more like ¥4011 now- joke ruined), the game is almost like a companion app for the real Project DIVA 2nd, as a save file of the game is required to play. Not just any save file- your save file, as it checks to see if it matches with your copy of the game, and if it doesn't- say, you copied it from the internet- it's a no-go. You link the game up using a small app downloaded to your PSP, and using it you can transferring over your unlocks data, DLC (although the Idolm@ster content, Kasane Teto and the Extend costume DLC cannot be used) and Edit Mode stuff to the PS3 for use in Dreamy Theater 2nd. You can't unlock anything in Dreamy Theater 2nd itself, so it's best you completely destroy 2nd before getting this game, but unlike the original Dreamy Theater, you only need to do the transfer once to start playing.
... So, anyway, what's the deal with this version, then? You'd imagine it's just Project Diva 2nd HD Edition, but it's slightly more and slightly less than that. For a start, this is purely a rhythm game, so the DIVA Room is gone, and as mentioned you can't unlock anything, so you're playing for the game rather than to grind DIVA Points. However, as compensation you also get to play almost all the songs from the original Project DIVA with their original note patterns! While many of these songs were in 2nd, several weren't including the famous levan Polka, but the Rin and Len variants of Song of Wastelands, Forest and Magic and Song of Life, plus Sakura Rain, are missing. To the game itself, it plays pretty much the same as 2nd, and that includes all its baggage (no real sense of how well you're doing, mostly) but one extra from the first DIVA is back- dropped notes remove the vocals from the song. There are some nice alterations to the bits outside the rhythm game, though- you can assign specific modules to songs rather than having to change module every time, and you can view PVs straight from the song select menu rather than through the DIVA Room. Still manual saving though, so watch out.
The most apparent alterations are graphical, however. The visuals have all been redone, and while I can't say for sure, it would seem most of the new graphics- especially the character models, which are shinier and lack the gigantic eyes of their PSP counterparts- come from Project DIVA Arcade (the one developed by AM2) which was released earlier in the same year. While they do lack a bit of the charm the PSP models had, and they are perhaps a little too shiny, they still look pretty great and go well with the new lighting work in the game. The most surprising change, however, is that the game now runs at 60 frames per second (same as Arcade, as I understand it). Every other DIVA game runs at 30FPS, and this includes the F series, but I heavily suspect the reason this is so is because the PVs are a lot less intense here- many of them are simply a stage for Vocaloids to dance on, and while this does mean there's no slowdown at all, the animations and general look can be a bit jarring to go back to after some of the stuff in F. That said, it's certainly a change to see the PVs run so smooth!
Really though, Dreamy Theater 2nd is one really for the true Vocamaniacs out there, seeing as it requires a completed 2nd save (you're hardly going to half-ass it, right?) and you might feel there's just not enough here to warrant the hassle of getting Japanese PSN points. It's probably a better thing if you never played the first DIVA, seeing as you can get the songs from that too, but just make sure you know what you're going in for, OK?
Oh, but don't worry, we made sure to get the most important shot for you. In HD.
One tip that will help, by the way- X is confirm and O is confirm in this game, unlike every other Japanese PS game ever!
(At a guess, maybe it checks your console's language setting and alters their function accordingly?)
Since this is a Sega game, it wouldn't be complete without some cameos, and these come in the form of four unlockable costumes.
Miku has a Funky Space Reporter Ulala costume (from Space Channel 5).
Beat Miku Miku ni Shite Ageru♪/I'll MikuMiku You (For Reals) on Hard to get it in the shop, then buy it for 10000 DIVA Points.
(This outfit is also in the first Project DIVA game.)
Miku also has a Alicia Melchiott costume (from Valkyria Chronicles).
Rather than refernce the character's name, though, the game calls the outfit 'Gallia Squad 7'.
Beat Kouya to Mori to Mahou no Uta/Song of Wastelands, Forests, and Magic on Normak to get it in the shop, then buy it for 10000 DIVA Points.
(This outfit is also in the first Project DIVA game.)
Luka has a Sarah Bryant costume (from Virtua Fighter).
Beat Double Lariat on Hard to get it in the shop, then buy it for 20000 DIVA Points.
Finally, Rin has a Leanne/Reanbell costume (from Resonance of Fate/End of Eternity).
Beat Meltdown on Hard to get it in the shop, then buy it for 20000 DIVA Points.
Kinda weird to see this outfit here, as Resonance of Fate was only published by Sega and developed by tri-Ace. Guess they have the rights.
Additionally, with 2nd# you can use the code in the box to download the costumes from Extend.
There's seven (technically nine) more Sega cameo costumes hidden amongst them.
Miku has a Sonic costume that, honestly, looks like she's wearing his skin. This is disturbing.
It's just a costume, thankfully... One that has the Sonic 20th Anniversary logo at the bottom of the leg, and the word SONIC across the rear.
In Extend, beat Nekomimi Switch/Cat Ears Switch on Normal to get it in the shop, then buy it for 20000 DIVA Points.
Miku also has a Virtual On-inspired costume with a design based on Fei-Yen.
This is actually canon, as it was originally a figure and also appears in Super Robot Taisen UX.
In Extend, beat melody... on Normal to get it in the shop, then buy it for 20000 DIVA Points.
Luka has two Nagisa costumes (from Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity).
One has the eye-patch, the other (labelled AS) doesn't.
In Extend, beat Hoshikuzu Utopia/Stardust Utopia on Normal to get them in the shop, then buy them for 20000 DIVA Points each.
Rin has a Imca/Nameless No. 1 costume (from Valkyria Chronicles III).
In Extend, beat Meltdown on Hard to get it in the shop, then buy it for 20000 DIVA Points.
Len has a Kurt Irving/Nameless No. 7 costume (from Valkyria Chronicles III).
In Extend, beat Paradichlorobenzene on Hard to get it in the shop, then buy it for 20000 DIVA Points.
KAITO has two Kage-Maru costumes (from Virtua Fighter).
One has the mask, the other (labelled AS) doesn't.
In Extend, beat Hatsune Miku no Shoushitsu/The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku on Normal to get them in the shop, then buy them for 20000 DIVA Points each.
Finally, MEIKO has a Xiao-Mei costume (from Shining Hearts).
The costume's name is Phantom Thief Black Tail, which is an alias Xiao-Mei uses.
In Extend, beat Nekomimi Switch/Cat Ears Switch on Hard to get it in the shop, then buy it for 20000 DIVA Points.
The question remains, though- where the hell is Miku's Honey costume? You know it makes sense!
As Gaming Hell is nothing but incompetent, we've glossed over some of the finer details regarding both the game and Vocaloids in general.
For more detailed intel on the Project Diva series, point your eyes at The Project DIVA Wiki which catalogues... Everything.
For more information on Vocaloid itself, go forth to The Vocaloid Wiki although be warned, you're best searching for producers rather than individual songs.
I'm not responsible for what you do with this knowledge. Stay dangerous, everybody!
[This is Ed the Editor speaking.]
[I was so horrified when my lackwit writer submitted this article to me- without a hint of irony- that there was only one course of action.]
[I decided to play the game myself and provide my own review.]
[ED'S REVIEW OF HATSUNE MIKU: PROJECT DIVA 2ND:]
[That is all.]
Oh, really, Ed. Do grow up.
Once again, I'd like to thank Matchi_chan from Twitter Land for helping with this. Much appreciated, ta!
Now, when we wrote this, we figured it'd be the last time we'd ever mention Vocaloids...
But Vocaloids are eternal, and as long as they exist, it can happen again.
It was either this article or Splatterhouse this month. I MADE THE RIGHT DECISION