As I’m sure some of you already know, we’re pretty big fans of Project Diva here at Level-Clear. So when Miku’s latest rhythm-action adventure released in Japan last month, we just had to import ourselves a copy of Project Diva X.
For the most part, it’s business as usual for Diva’s cutesy troupe of synthesized songsters. But there are some significant differences between X and its predecessors that should give prospective importers pause for thought.
Ultimately, the core mechanics of PDX have remained largely untouched.
Static notes appear on-screen followed by moving counterparts that fly in after them, and players have to tap the corresponding button as the two overlap. Double-notes require simultaneous presses of a face button and d-pad direction. Star notes are activated with a swipe of the touchscreen, and hold notes need, well, holding.
The double-star notes and link-star notes introduced in F 2nd have been replaced with ‘rush notes’ which require rapid button spamming to activate, and work particularly well with the game’s high-tempo tunes. But while mechanically there’s very little that’s different here, there are plenty of notable changes to be found in the game’s new default mode, ‘Live Quest.’
Playing out like visual novella, Live Quest follows Miku’s exploration of five musical genre-themed worlds, dubbed: Neutral, Cool, Cute, Beautiful, and Chaos. Each world features six tunes to tap through, with the last track playing out as a three-song medley featuring remixed Diva classics.
In this mode, the performance meter of previous titles has been scrapped and instead, players are tasked with reaching a specified level of ‘voltage’ by successfully hitting notes. To increase the rate at which you accrue voltage, you can deck out your chosen Vocaloid in costumes and accessories that match the theme of the song. However, this usually means having to adorn them with a bizarre selection of masks, horns, cat tails and backpacks, in order to really maximize your bonus.
Character costumes (of which there are now over 300 in total) are no longer purchased with in-game currency, and are instead earned as random drops for completing ‘chance times.’ Accessories are also doled out randomly after each performance; with the number of them you receive based on your chosen difficulty mode and how much you exceeded the track’s voltage by.
The biggest issue to emerge from X’s novella-style story mode however, is that in order to understand most of what’s going on, you’ll obviously need to be pretty hot on your written Japanese. Between songs, Miku and her colorful counterparts will discuss the overarching narrative and the musically-themed crystals they’re attempting to charge up. They’ll even regularly break the fourth wall and ask the player for their two cents on the situation. Which in itself is a great idea, but if you’re not sure of what your on-screen response options are, can result in a rather ‘hit and hope’ approach to conversation.
We’re certainly not criticizing Crypton and SEGA for exploring a new gameplay style. But the lack of dialogue in previous Project Divas made them perfectly viable import choices for fans of the franchise. Here though, narrative is more important than ever, and poses the question ‘how much are you going to enjoy a story you might barely understand?’
In short, this latest incarnation of Diva is something of a mixed bag, and a difficult one to recommend importing.
The gameplay at the core of X is still some of the most enjoyable we’ve experienced in a rhythm action game. The new voltage system actually makes harder difficulties the most accessible they’ve ever been. And despite resulting in some questionable fashion choices, the sheer volume of customisation items is truly impressive. Free-play is still an option after unlocking each song through story mode, and the chance to create your own stage performances by handpicking tracks is a fun one.
But the tunes all feel quite homogeneous, with little variety even across the five different worlds. And of the 30 songs available, 25 feature Miku in the starring role, with the rest of the gang usually confined to singing backup. Notably, the new emphasis on ‘live performances’ means that the brilliantly animated music videos from the older games have been replaced by some pretty uninspiring dance routines, all with little discernable variety.
Depending on your grasp of written Japanese and your love of Vocaloid, it might well by worth holding off on importing a copy of Project Diva X. Assuming there aren’t any hold-ups, we should have a fully localised version out for PlayStation 4 and Vita in the West this autumn.