Hatsune Miku’s games, once an import-only experience, have now become a known quantity in the West. What a world we live in, huh? Four localized releases and no sign of stopping. It has an interesting side effect, though: the conversation changes. Being what it’s always been isn’t quite enough when you start hitting this level of saturation, and each new game needs to bring with it its own merits.
Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X has any problem with that.
Possibly for a change of pace after a run of similar releases — or maybe due to the advent of the Japan-only-for-now Future Tone serving as the traditional arcade option with a ton of songs — Project Diva X has an unprecedented focus on feeling like a game instead of a series of rhythm tracks. There’s a story with dialogue and progression, tying together a scripted sequence of challenges and an unlock structure with strategic equipment power-ups.
Project Diva X has an unprecedented focus on feeling like a game instead of a series of rhythm tracks.
Here’s the setup: the Vocaloids have lost the ability to sing, and you have to help them get their voices back and fill prisms. It makes a point of breaking the fourth wall a bit, with a charming localization getting you through this narrative with a good wink and nod every now and then. It’s an excuse to have the characters interact some, letting you get to know them a bit better.
That’s actually a thing you need to do in this game, by the way. As you complete requests, you’ll unlock various gifts, and you can choose to give them to whoever you’d like. Giving singers things they want will raise their Friendship meter and help you earn more points in songs, so learning which one likes orange juice more is of real benefit. (There are also some easy ones, though, like… um, any gift with someone’s face on it.)
The modules, the accessories, the gifts… all these little bonus items that you could totally ignore if you wanted in previous games become part of the score-chasing experience. It has a bit of the MMO armor effect — to get the most points, you’ll often look silly — but it gives you a reason to care about these unlocks. It also makes Chance Time and Technical Zones feel materially different. While Technical Zones stay a challenge for score, Chance Time becomes the way you unlock modules, a more valuable reward for those times and people that aren’t so record-setting.
You’ll really want a lot of modules, too. Having one for each of the six types is enough to get a decent score, but each variant has a separate special ability. Are you in over your head? Equip one that gives you credit for bad notes. Slumming it in a lower difficulty level? Challenge yourself to get super-long combos and be rewarded handsomely. There are a huge number of these to unlock, which will keep you coming back.
That’s a good thing, because the song list itself is relatively small. Depending on how you count the medleys, there are right around 30 tracks in the game, which isn’t unprecedented but floats a bit below the F releases. Those medleys put together some old favorites as a remixed whole, but generally speaking, the tracks don’t include a lot of well-known tunes. It’s also interesting to see how these songs are introduced. While prevailing game design wisdom dictates that games should mix and pace out different elements for variety, Diva X groups “cute” pop songs, “cool” rock tunes and “quirky” weirdness so you play them all at once. It’s unusual! For better and worse. This story progression keeps you within the lower difficulties, so it can be a cakewalk for experienced players. If you’re one of those, hang on before passing judgment: harder challenges pop up once you’ve been introduced to the full list of songs.
Diva X groups “cute” pop songs, “cool” rock tunes and “quirky” weirdness so you play them all at once. It’s unusual! For better and worse.
Project Diva X runs on the same engine you’ve seen in older games, and that has a few repercussions. Notably, the Vita version runs just fine. There are load times on both versions and they can be a bit long on the handheld, but we’ve seen a few franchises update their engines for PS4, only to shoehorn them back on the Vita to some rough results. This is still a Vita-first game, and the PS4’s advantages come through a hiccup-free experience that runs at a higher resolution and frame rate. The crispness of the PS4 has a bit of a downside, and it’s that the button prompts are just a bit more likely to get lost in the menagerie of colors and shapes that move around while you play. It’d be nice if there were some visual options to make that a bit easier, as we’ve seen in other games.
The biggest frustration isn’t related to technical issues: when you unlock a module through Chance Time, you switch to it, meaning your previously configured one is wiped out. Putting them together takes a bit of work, so you learn quickly to save outfits as favorites to restore them quickly. But generally speaking, you learn that the hard way.
There’s a Free Play mode in Diva X, but what you need to know is this: it’s a sub-mode, right next to the live stage and photo modes. Once you’ve unlocked songs in the story, you can chase scores over here as usual, but this really isn’t your release if that’s your primary aim. It wants to serve up challenges in the main area, and very little development time was spent on making this alternative robust or interesting. Alternatively, there are built-in ways to play the songs you want and get credit in the form of event requests. You get opportunities to assemble festivals of consecutive songs, as well as individual requests, and you can totally revisit your favorites when these roll around.
The best outcome for all is if Future Tone finds its way to the West, because both of these releases shine when you’re given the option. Diva X gives you motivation rather than a deluge of songs and no guidance, and that’s only bad if it’s the only option. It also serves as a nice way for the uninitiated to get into the franchise, with its difficulty cap making the entry ramp a friendly one.
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X isn’t the joyful toy box of Project Mirai or the pure song list of the previous Diva games. It’s somewhere in the middle in some ways and charting new territory in others, making its own way rather than following convention. And in a lot of ways, that’s a very good thing.