Those of you out there who’ve managed to miss the ‘Vocaloid’ sensation that’s swept across East Asia, might well be wondering what on earth Project Diva is and why exactly should you care?
The short answer? Well, for what started as a franchise with a very niche, western fanbase, Project Diva’s popularity has exploded over the last year and frankly, the series is now far too big to ignore. And regardless of whether dancing, auto-tuned, Japanese teenagers sound like your kind of thing, these games have revolutionised the rhythm-action genre in Japan; to the point where they’re now beginning to make waves in the West.
So to start, let’s get you caught-up, with a very brief history of Diva.
The whole thing kicked-off in 2007 when a piece of Japanese voice-synthesizing software known as ‘Vocaloid’ began using an adorable, blue-haired teenager as the poster-girl for their product. The popularity and accessibility of the program meant that every aspiring musician with a PC was soon composing Vocaloid music, and blue-haired ‘Miku’ became a national Idol.
It wasn’t long before Sega picked up the licence to produce Vocaloid rhythm-action games, the twelfth of which, is this one: Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd.
Diva gameplay really isn’t as tricky as it first looks.
Stationary notes appear on-screen, and a moving counterpart for each soon follows it. As the two overlap, that’s your cue to hit the corresponding button on your Vita, which plays the note. There’s also double notes, which (as well as using X, square, circle and triangle) require use of the d-pad, and star notes which are triggered by swipes of the touch-screen. Diva F 2nd also debuts ‘double star’ notes, as well as ‘linked’ star notes. Successfully completing songs will award you with a score, a rank, and ‘Diva Points’, which act as your in-game currency.
It sounds complicated, but after a few tracks, the apparently incomprehensible mass of stars, shapes, and colourful inputs, begin to make perfect sense as you familiarise yourself with the songs’ rhythms. Still, it’s hard to appreciate the tunes when you’re busy mashing buttons and struggling to keep up with a 200bmp tempo; so if you are finding things tricky, there’s four different difficulty levels to choose between, from Easy to Expert.
Now, Vocaloid music definitely isn’t for everyone. But it’s nothing if not diverse, and the genre incorporates everything from bubble-pop to hardcore death metal. However, the Diva games do have a tendency to lean more towards the former, and ‘F 2nd’ does feel a little unadventurous in it’s set-list, especially compared to it’s predecessor.
There’s still plenty of tracks to play through though (40 in total), and comprise of a solid mix of old and new across three categories: New, Classic, and ‘Re: Create’ (new arrangements of older tunes.) You’re given four to start with, and successfully completing each song unlocks the next one on the list.
As well as all its catchy, playable tunes, the Diva series is well known for its extras. From the main menu you can access the ‘Diva Room’. This allows you to interact with each of the characters using the touchscreen, and features a huge selection of buyable props and gifts for them to play around with. As with the previous game, you can play jan-ken-pon (rock-paper-scissors) with Miku and co. as well as a new clapping-game, which plays much like a high-speed, Japanese ‘pattycake’. All the furniture, and the room itself are now more customisable than ever, and are likely to be one of the biggest drains on your hard earned diva-points.
Chances are, you’ll also be spending a sizable amount on ‘Modules’ (costumes) too. There are 160 in total, not including accessories, 80 of which reappear from Diva F. Fortunately, save data carries across games (so long as they’re the same region) and any costumes bought in the previous Diva are made immediately accessible in F 2nd without the hassle of having to save up and buy them.
The AR mode is also back, making use of the Vita’s cameras to cleverly generate a 3D Vocaloid dancing around your chosen play area. Which this time round, boasts an increased number of viewable performances by a greater variety of characters, and it’s no longer reliant on a positioned ‘AR card’. Edit mode also makes a welcome reappearance (for those feeling both brave and creative) and includes a much greater number of themes and scenes to work with as you create your very own Vocaloid masterpiece. Bear in mind though (due to it’s increased size) Edit mode must be downloaded separately from the PSN using a Japanese account. A potentially frustrating change for us Western network users, but one that illustrates just how much more has been added to the mode since Diva F.
In short, this latest Project Diva has expanded on its predecessor in almost every possible way, and is a great example of what all rhythm-actions should aspire to be.
The two new star notes add some extra depth to the already challenging gameplay, character models have been refined and polished from ‘F’ and are now more customisable than ever. The variety of Diva room and AR activities has been greatly increased, and you can even customise your HUD with a generous selection of new skins. Most importantly though, the set list (whilst less diverse than previous titles) is addictively catchy, featuring plenty of tracks designed with both newbies and veteran players in mind.
For now, ‘F 2nd’ is only available in Japan. But with the Vita being region free, there’s nothing to stop you importing a copy, short of some slightly expensive postage. For those of you that fancy getting hold of the game from overseas, remember that there is no English language option. That said, the menus are easy enough to navigate thanks to some pretty self-explanatory icons, and there are already translations available online.
The original ‘Project Diva F’ is out now on the UK and US PSN store along with a free playable demo, which we recommend downloading for a taste of the action. ‘F 2nd’ has been confirmed for a Q3 release in the West later this year, in both physical and digital formats.