Developer: Sega, Crypton Future Media
Platform: PS4, PS Vita
Release Date: August 30th, 2016
After diving in last generation, I’ve taken a step back from the rhythm game genre. It wasn’t until Persona 4: Dancing All Night that I decided to take another swing. After seeing the Project Diva games in my peripheral for years, my renewed interest in the genre and the release of the latest title was enough motivation. Is Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X a good jumping-in point? For first-time players on the PlayStation 4, I would say yes.
As established in the opening cutscene, Miku’s world has lost its spark, and she needs your help to bring light to the world. With the help of her friendsx, you seek to restore the Five Clouds; Classic, Cute, Cool, Elegant, and Quirky.
While barebones, Diva X does a better job fitting its story into the game than Dancing All Night. It does have a similar visual novel presentation, but one thing makes a huge difference; the ability to choose your path. This ends up playing out much better than an unrelenting slog of one song for every 30 minutes of cutscenes.
Diva X’s story isn’t intrusive, which is fine because the in-between dialogue isn’t very good. When I got to my third Cloud, I finally just skipped through. Nothing they say is important. It all boils down to vocaloids that love singing and thanking you for being their friend.
The presentation in Diva X is very strong in spite of the nonexistent story. It’s hard to describe how good the visual design is, but everything just works. The UI is simple and clear, character designs and stages have a ton of variety and detail, and the choreography fits the different genres well.
That said, motion capture can look a bit wonky especially in the unlockable scenes with character interaction. I think a disclaimer is also necessary in that if you’re not a fan of Japanese pop culture, you may have a hard time enjoying the presentation. While the music is easily recommendable, describing the game as quirky would be putting it lightly.
As expected of a Vita port, Diva X on PlayStation 4 runs impeccably at 1080p/60fps. It isn’t just a straight port either. Lighting, shadows, and texture reflection have all been added and it shows. For $10 more, it’s well worth the extra cost and lack of portability. For Vita owners it may be a harder sell as other Project Diva games are readily available, but it’s a great first entry for the PS4.
With my only non-Guitar Hero rhythm game being Dancing All Night, I frankly didn’t know good rhythm game design. Having played Diva X, I feel like my praise of Dancing All Night was misguided.
If you’ve never played a Project Diva game before, I recommend the tutorial for learning this game’s specific controls (but still check it out regardless for the most adorable tutorial I’ve seen in a game). Single Notes, Combo Notes, and Scratches are all here.
Where Dancing All Night had static points that notes flew into, Diva X favors points that move along the screen. This may seem disorienting on paper, but the trajectory is always trackable. This also means that you’ll always have your eyes on what’s coming next, not on the whole screen as notes slide in from your peripheral.
The game does change these sequences up on higher difficulties, but the path still feels natural and on beat, neither of which can be said about Dancing All Night. It also helps that input lag is virtually nonexistent, and audio can still be calibrated for different setups. It’s hard to explain in text, so feel free to check out some gameplay here. It may seem chaotic, but the amazing thing about the game is that it feels much better in person.
The meat of the gameplay is the songs, but the main story does throw some interesting modifications into the mix. With the main Cloud Requests, each song and difficulty has a threshold of Voltage (or points) you have to meet to clear the song. Points are awarded at a set rate, but your Voltage Rate can increase by playing well. It can also be increased by wearing matching modules and accessories.
Each Cloud has a corresponding Aura, and by equipping certain combinations of modules/accessories you can increase the Voltage Rate you start with. Modules also have different abilities like increasing the chance of finding new modules, raising your Voltage Rate with successful combos, or awarding points by completing Technical Zones.
Matching accessories can also spike up your Voltage Rate significantly. You can only have one active accessory combo at a time, so it’s best to try and find a full set of 4 as soon as possible. The main flaw of this is that in the meantime, mismatched accessories can ruin an excellent Module design. Those with the Quirky Aura tend to suffer the most due to how random they are, and you can’t max out your potential score without them.
After completing certain tasks, you can unlock Event Requests. These offer up either preset or chooseable songs, performers, and modules/accessories. These are where special events called Festivals come into play. For these you pick three songs and three performers in order, doing your best to maximize your potential Voltage. The only real downside to Festivals is that the songs are shortened versions, so they tend to come and go.
Speaking of multiple songs, as you progress through each Cloud, unlockable Medleys appear. These are special performances for each Cloud that arranges multiple unique songs together into an extended song. These really highlight the complexity that Diva X’s gameplay can get to and are a ton of fun to play.
The variety of songs and gameplay modes makes for some entertaining rhythm game fun. However, Project Diva X only has 30 or so songs. The pool may be limited, but replaying songs for the challenges and unlocks is a great time sink.
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X is an impeccably well-designed rhythm game with some of the best music and gameplay I’ve experienced in the genre. While the story elements and tertiary features don’t really add much, the gameplay and unlockable structure is addictive. For returning players, the song pool is admittedly outclassed by the behemoth Project Diva Future Tone released in Japan a few months ago. Nevertheless, this game is worth coming back to.