We live in a strange and quickly evolving era, but when you see something like Hatsune Miku, you begin to question what’s going on in the world. While America no doubt idolizes various individuals, whether in the film or games industry, Japan has gone one step further by creating a group of artificial beings, made up of synthesized voices and CG imagery, for people to go crazy over. That’s exactly what Hatsune Miku is: a sixteen-year-old 3D Japanese anime character that has a complete monopoly on the virtual idol business.
The digital idol received a number of releases, ranging from her PlayStation Portable debut in 2009 to a chibi touch-based Nintendo 3DS game last year, but everything outside Miku Flick has been exclusive to Japan. Gaining some popularity in western territories, Sega has finally decided to bring the rhythm game sensation to other parts of the world. Unlike western-based rhythm games, there’s a strong sense of disorientation as button prompts will fly around screen at a designated pace, flowing with the song in the background. The goal is to time as many of these buttons presses as you can to get the best grade at the end of the musical track, ultimately unlocking various items and additional stages not available from the get-go.
Whether or not you enjoy Project DIVA F is dependent on two very distinct aspects: the brand and the culture. You don’t necessarily need to know what Hatsune Miku is, but you will need to enjoy J-pop to have fun here. The soundtrack is filled with thirty-eight Japanese-pop songs, many of which are strong additions. Depending on the speed of the musical track, shortened to BPM, it may be more difficult to perform actions, and this game certainly isn’t going to give you any breaks. This requires a lot of skill and memorization to master everything as there are four different difficulties that will give you a run for your money. This is par for the course for the rhythm game genre as it feeds off of challenge, but the difference between even easy and normal is staggering. Hopping right in, most people should start off on easy to get a handle of the concepts, even though it only focuses on one of the buttons and the analog stick. The rhythm mode is by far the shining light of Project DIVA F as the entire game is personalized around the player, both aesthetically and play style.
Most of the music videos are bright and cutesy, but if you thought that was embarrassing to play it in front of your friends and family, wait until you try Diva mode. This is where the game turns a little weird as you can interact with the idols by playing games with them, giving them presents and even touching their faces. That’s right, the ultimate form of communication isn’t actually talking to a girl, but putting the palm of your hand on the face and head of an idol. The idea is to customize your divas as you see fit, going into their rooms, dressing them up and buying them furniture. This mode is unsettling to say the least as I felt like some perverted creep the entire time.
After finishing up the varied thirty-eight songs Project DIVA F has to offer, there’s a video editor which players can use to make their very own music videos. It’s an intimidating feature, but those who put enough time into it could make some really amazing stages. The system they have in place is easy enough to learn, it’s just the amount of time and effort that has to go into creating something that’s even remotely considered good is mind-boggling. Here you can save and upload your own playable video segments that people across the world can have access to. It’s an admirable feature that should keep gamers playing even after they’ve master every song.
One thing that bothers me, though, is the number of menus you have to go back and forth through. Almost every section has its own menu system that must bring up a loading screen to access. So if you want to go from the rhythm mode to the options menu, it’ll take some time. Even modifying your character and going into the shop requires additional transition time. There’s enough loading for each section that it becomes troublesome to navigate, as well organized it may be. For a product that’s all about the flow of music, it certainly doesn’t flow as well outside gameplay.
Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F isn’t a game for most people. It’s earnestly dedicated towards its existing fanbase and doesn’t try to expand past that, making it even more astonishing that it made its way across the ocean. It’s a rhythm game of the highest caliber, not necessarily revolutionizing the genre, but bringing us an experience we rarely get in North America. Things become a little weird when you get into the Diva mode, but if you happen to have a sweet spot for J-pop, you’ll no doubt get a kick out of what Sega has to offer. Otherwise, this will be a confusing and frightening thing for most people.
Version Reviewed: PS3