With all of our talk about The Idolmaster series, thanks to our comprehensive coverage of The Idolmaster Must Songs, you may have a fever. And we all know the only possible cure is more Idolmaster. Well, we’re happy to oblige. We could talk more about the games. (Trust me, I could absolutely go on and on about the series.) But, if you tell people how they can play them on their own, you save yourself the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are a lot of The Idolmaster games out there. They span different genres. Some are strategic simulations, while others are more familiar rhythm games. This guide isn’t going to cover all of them. I’m only going over and recommending games I’ve actually played. Trust me, it’s better this way.
Before deciding on a The Idolmaster game, we have to take a look at who you are and what you know. These are text heavy titles. How much Japanese do you know? There are entries that apply to people of all skill levels, so I’m sorting them by how much you do or don’t need to know.
You don’t know any Japanese.
Don’t worry. This fact isn’t going to keep you from playing The Idolmaster. It is, however, going to severely limit your options. You have two titles to choose from, in this scenario. One I don’t really recommend. The other I do, but you’ll have to jump through some hoops to play it.
The easy option is The Idolmaster Shiny Festa. It’s a straightforward rhythm game with visual novel elements. Three variations have been released in English on iTunes, Harmonic Score, Melodic Disc, and Rhythmic Record. Each one has different idols in it. Harmonic stars Haruka, Azusa, Chihaya, and Ritsuko. Melodic Disc has Miki, Takane, Makoto, and Yukiho. Finally, Rhythmic Record, the version I like to pretend doesn’t exist, includes Iori, Ami, Mami, Hibiki, and Yayoi. As a result, each game has specific solo-songs, tied to particular girls, as well as 765Pro All Stars songs available in each version.
Each version is $24.99, but don’t pay that. Price drops happen rather frequently. Pick one version with characters you like and run with it.
The difficult option is The Idolmaster SP. Fan translations have been released for this trio of PlayStation Portable games. Again, this was an entry split into three parts. Perfect Sun has Haruka, Makoto, and Yayoi as playable idols and Hibiki as the Project Fairy rival. Wandering Star stars Yukiho, Iori, Ami and Mami as one idol, and Takane. Missing Moon features Chihaya, Azusa, and Ritsuko, who face off against Miki.
The Idolmaster SP plays along the lines of a traditional The Idolmaster game, with a few exceptions. You’re only able to work with one idol, who you pick at the beginning of the game. The goal is to make her the most popular, while also defeating the Project Fairy counterpart. To play this in English, you need to buy a copy of the game you want, rip the iso from the UMD, and then patch it with the IMAS-Patching program. Using the scripts from that wiki, you’ll be able to prepare an English version of the game for yourself. (I warned you; it’s a lot of work.)
This entry could be difficult to find, but a ¥2,800 PSP the Best version was released in 2010.
If you aren’t a total beginner, then your The Idolmaster options open up.
You recognize some hiragana and katakana characters, but don’t know any words.
Pick up The Idolmaster Must Songs for the PlayStation Vita. It’s a great Taiko no Tatsujin/Taiko Drum Master game. We’ve been over this already, but it’s a straightforward rhythm game available in Red and Blue Album versions. (Each one has 40 songs from the series.) You go through, playing a drum in time to each track. There are four difficulty levels to choose from, unlockable costumes and drum sounds, and a Live mode that lets you put together Performances where you have to complete between two and five songs in a row.
This is a new game and will probably cost around $50.
People who have been importing games for a while or know more Japanese are in the best place when it comes to The Idolmaster. When you know more about the language, you can really start making some stars.
You’re either fluent in Japanese or recognize hiragana, katakana and some kanji.
Congratulations! You know just enough to play the real The Idolmaster console games. I’m not going to sugar coat this. Some of the minigames may be beyond you. In particular, The Idolmaster Dearly Stars’ Vocal Lesson requires you to fill in missing lyrics, while The Idolmaster: One for All’s Visual Lesson involves recognizing expressions. Plus, there are always the pressure question sections. Still, you can rather easily “win” these games without mastering the language.
The Idolmaster Dearly Stars is my least favorite of these three. It doesn’t feel as rich as the regular installments. Plus, you can only play it on a regular DS, as it’s one of the few region-locked DSi games. In this entry, you play as an idol, attempting to become famous by taking Lessons, participating in Promotion events, and participate in Auditions during their day to day life. It’s more about managing the images of Ai, Eri, and Ryo, three idols unique to this story.
It gets a little complicated, since you have to organize choreography and camera work for performances to improve the character’s look for fans. Also, you have to wait for story events or build up characters’ Dance, Visual, and Vocal skills through Lessons before getting to participate in auditions. Having original characters as stars doesn’t help its appeal much either. Though, Haruka acts as Ai’s mentor and Ritsuko appears, due to her being Ryo’s cousin.
The Idolmaster Dearly Stars isn’t a bad game, but it doesn’t offer the real The Idolmaster experience. It’s actually rather difficult to find now. I wouldn’t recommend spending over $30 on it.
The Idolmaster 2 is good for people who want a classic The Idolmaster game on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. People choose from 9 idols from 765 Productions and put together a unit of three girls to (hopefully) take to the top. Since Ritsuko, Iori, Azusa, and Ami are part of their own unit, called Ryuuguu Komachi, players must select from Haruka, Chihaya, Miki, Yukiho, Takane, Makoto, Hibiki, Yayoi, and Mami as potential party members. People have to mention their group’s tension, build successful memories, engage in Promotion events, send them to Lesson minigames to improve the group’s Dance, Visual, and Vocal stats, take them to Auditions to get them gigs, and do well in Festivals.
The game follows a weekly schedule, with each activity taking up an entire week. Certain hallmark events appear automatically, leaving a player to hope their decisions have been wise enough to ensure their idol group is adept enough to handle any challenge. It’s great.
Like The Idolmaster SP, the PlayStation 3 version received a The Best release, so you’ll hopefully find a copy for around $35.
The Idolmaster: One for All, for the PlayStation 3, is my favorite. It’s the entry I’d recommend to any newcomer. Think of it as The Idolmaster 2, but better. All 13 idols are available to produce, and you’ll eventually be able to manage them all as your Producer Level grows. You start with one, and quickly are allowed to add another two to your group. You can then send them out solo, as a duo, or in a trio. Lessons minigames offer a temporary Dance, Visual, or Vocal boost of up to two stars for a few weeks, if you spend 1,000 on one. Each idol earns experience from participating in Promotions and Performances, which allows her to earn skill points. These can be doled out on a grid, permanently boosting her Dance, Visual, and Vocal skills or providing her other abilities or bonuses. Rank up Festivals are offered for each idol, allowing access to new areas and skills on her grid.
Instead of strict deadlines, you’re offered a task each season. This can be as simple as making sure three Skills are earned via leveling up characters or winning Festivals. You can choose who’s in or out of your group at any time, even switching between leaders. There’s no need to worry about resting, and the ability to bond and create memories is simpler. It’s a more streamlined, stress-free and enjoyable experience, overall.
Again, a The Best version is available, so this should cost around $30.
The Idolmaster is a great and engaging series. I wholeheartedly recommend it to people who love simulations, rhythm games and all things adorable. Really, it has some of the cutest characters ever. Get out there and make some singers the best in Japan!