Let's start this off with a disclaimer. Your enjoyment of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F will be predicated on your tolerance for all things Japanese. This game is as Japanese as they come, and it's pretty surprising to see that Sega took a chance on releasing it here in the States. This is a game that isn't just for the hardcore music game fan, it's also for fans of Hatsune Miku, the digital idol that represents the Vocaloid software, a voice synthesis program created by Yamaha (which was also featured in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker). Considering how niche this product is, and how narrow the appeal is, it's impressive the amount of effort that has gone in to this game. But like I said, how much you'll enjoy this one, depends on your tolerance levels, for me, I'll admit it was a hard sell for me, and I've been enjoying music games since the first Parappa the Rapper game was teaching me how to crack-crack-crack the eggs in to the bowl.
So, a music game has to have pretty good music or the whole thing falls apart. What's interesting with the Hatsune Miku games is that you're not likely to find many recurring artists, which means each roster is packed with fresh talent and new sounds. A few of the stand-out tracks come from long-time vocaloid composers, kz (aka livetune), and hachioji P, responsible for tracks like the j-pop inspired 'Weekender Girl,' the electro-house tune 'Sweet Devil,' and surprisingly the music used in the Japanese Google Chrome commercial, 'Tell Your World.' Remember the infectious 'nyan-cat' meme? Yeah that song is in here too, with an adorable video to match. There are also tracks that utilize the other Vocaloid voices, with tracks by AVTechNO!, and Ultra-noob using the Megurine Luka voice. The Kagamine Rin/Len, KAITO, and MEIKO voices also have a few tracks dedicated to them as well, and really there isn't a bad track in the bunch. The total track list for the main rhythm game tops out at 38, which is kind of short compared to most music games these days, but each track is a lot longer than your standard Dance Dance Revolution track, but falls a little short of a full fledged song like you'd expect from Rock Band or Guitar Hero, with each song going for three to four minutes. The tracks also cover a wide variety of genres, from j-pop to chiptune, rock to techno, and whatever Sadistic Music Factory is (even though it's one of my favorite tracks).
The rhythm game portion is played similar to most music games, though the presentation is a bit different. Each song has a dedicated note chart that enters the screen from various points, closely resembling Gitaroo Man
. Players have to hit the notes as they fly on to the screen to their designated markers, and songs are cleared based on the gauge at the bottom of the screen which will determine your overall performance, ranging from Lousy (meaning you failed), to Perfect (which is when you full combo a song). Early stages will only use two of the face buttons on the controller, while Hard and Extreme difficulty will use all four face buttons on the PS3 controller. The d-pad can also be used in the same manner, and some notes will require it. There are also hold notes that appear and star notes that are hit by flicking the left and right analog sticks. When this game was released on the Vita, this function was tied to swiping on the screen, and some of the harder songs made it really uncomfortable to do, so this implementation feels like a vast improvement.
The visuals that go along with each song are incredibly impressive and feature some of the best set design and graphical effects I've seen in this generation. The song Freely Tomorrow features a really impressive recreation of a large scale LED screen that projects the concert that Miku is performing in. Each stage has a number of cool elements that are really just too many to list, but the videos themselves complement each song perfectly. The only negative is that the game runs at 30 frames per second, making timing windows a little awkward compared to your standard music game of this generation, there are options though to adjust the timing window so if you find your TV has some lag you can correct it slightly.
If there's one thing this game isn't short on, it's superfluous stuff to do outside of the main game. Case in point, each of the vocaloid characters has a room that you can modify and fill with a number of items that include a number of in-jokes that will be lost on a lot of people, but for series fans they serve as a much appreciated love letter. You can also buy gifts like food and other miscellaneous items and clothes for each character to go along with their music videos and can improve your 'relationship' with each character, which will allow you to buy even more stuff. This is done with the Diva Points that are earned after each song. The harder the difficulty, the greater the reward. Or if you find yourself struggling with some songs you can use the Diva Points to buy items that will help you clear it.
There is also an incredibly robust edit mode that allows you to remake the note patterns of songs in the game, or you can take an mp3 on your PS3 and create a stage around it, this includes stuff like camera placement and cues, and you can even make your own vocals for the song. You can then upload this track for the world to play, but only if they have the same mp3 file as you, which is not uploaded along with your track. The amount of work that needs to go in to just one edit though is absolutely staggering, but looking online, you can see that a lot of people are willing to put in the work. This makes me wonder if DLC is in the cards for this game, though none has appeared in Japan yet for the Vita or PS3 version, so it remains to be seen whether or not the experience will expand.
At this point you already know whether or not Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F is for you. For me it was a given considering how much I enjoy music games. When Vocaloid first showed up I was skeptical and downright contemptuous toward the whole thing but in time I found it to be a gateway to a number of great artists, and getting to play their songs in a video game setting was like a dream come true. There isn't much wrong with Project Diva F, outside of really minor gripes that I have regarding the frame-rate. If you're down with all things Japanese, then give Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F a go, you'll find some great music, fun gameplay, and a whole lot of love for an idol that has captured the hearts of millions the world over.