The Idolmaster series have always been music games in the loosest sense. You are raising idols in the hopes of making them stars. There is an assortment of tracks to use as their possible singles. Auditions and lives would have you pressing the circle, cross, square and triangle buttons in time with the beat, rather than the music, to draw on your character’s dance, visual and vocal stats. Spin-offs have been more straightforward rhythm games, but the main series has eschewed such practices until The Idolmaster: Platinum Stars. This installment makes the music matter.
The first suggestion that music is more important in The Idolmaster: Platinum Stars comes the moment you pick an idol to train. Instead of going through the motions and introducing you to classes and interviews, you immediately send her out to perform a concert. While other installments did have you take the singers to auditions rather early in the process, it was typically just that – an audition. Here, you’re going for an actual concert, which will guarantee you more money and fans. Lessons and promotions are on the back burner.
Heading into this first concert shows you how much The Idolmaster has grown. The Idolmaster: Platinum Stars’ performances are actual rhythm games, much like Hatsune Miku: Project Diva. Gone are the days of generically mashing along with the beat, pressing circle, square and triangle as needed. There is an actual pattern, tied to the vocal track and notable beats. There are hold notes. You might need to rub or press the touch pad to hit special notes. You can trigger bursts, which offer more points. It’s actually challenging and enjoyable. You can’t autopilot your way through it.
Well, I mean, eventually you could. Play any rhythm game enough times and muscle memory could take over. Especially since previous The Idolmaster entries locked you into one single for a set duration. You had to keep performing that song ad-nauseum, until your 765 Productions boss said you could pick a new track. Again, your boss doles out songs, but it happens at a more frequent rate. After two hours of play, I’d accumulated four songs that I could play at any time. When a concert came up, I could choose what I wanted my group to perform for it. It’s freeing and allowed for greater engagement. Is it realistic? No, but neither is the series. Giving people a choice makes this a better game.
As did the new difficulty levels. Yes, The Idolmaster: Platinum Stars has difficulty levels. When you pick a song to perform during a concert, you can choose from different difficulty levels. I’ve only gone through the Regular and Pro versions of my songs, the only two currently available to me. The more you play, the better you get. The better you get, the more challenging it can be. The training wheels are absolutely off, because now your influence over your group’s success is even more evident.
The Idolmaster main installments were always simulation games with a musical theme. You’d be working with singers and required to have some sense of rhythm, but you weren’t going to outright fail if you couldn’t keep time. The Idolmaster: Platinum Stars is all about the music. It is absolutely a simulation game with rhythmic elements. You need to put forth genuine effort when playing through the song catalog; your performances have a greater impact on the singers’ success than the training does. While this does require a little extra work on the part of the player, I think it enhances the overall experience. The game is much more entertaining when you need to work for your success, rather than blindly push a few buttons in time and hope for the best.