Rhythm games haven’t been in the mainstream in the west since the early days of Rock Band series. The stagnant nature of the genre doesn’t leave enough room for innovation to keep western audiences invested enough to keep spending money on the very similar jaunt of timed button presses time and time again, and when western games try something new with the established genre, like with Guitar Hero Live, they fail anyway.
And while it seems that the genre will never hit the mainstream in the west again, rhythm games still have a mainstream appeal in the east, specifically with Japan. The bite sized, condensed nature of playing one of these games is perfect for playing for just a few minutes and putting them down in short bursts is perfect for the busy nature of eastern culture. While new games are constantly being developed in Japan for arcades and otherwise, the niche and cult status of rhythm games in the west nowadays has publishers hesitant to bring them stateside.
However, one of the very few localization efforts for these video games is with the SEGA published Project Diva series. The reason for SEGA’s efforts in localizing the video game exploits of the virtual pop idol Miku Hatsune is large in part of the popularity of Vocaloids in themselves rather than the demand for rhythm game play.
It’s apparent that the Diva games aren’t on par with titans like Beatmania or even the freeware PC game Stepmania, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a solid effort put in place to make the Vocaloid games good, rather than glorified dress-up doll cash-ins. It’s a solid enough series to simply bring fans of rhythm games in on the game’s own merits, and that’s reason enough to play them alone.
Recently, SEGA released a three-song demo for the latest entry in the series, Hatsune Miku Project Diva X, and I’ve spent a bit of time exploring it and all the new it brings to the table for the series.
The rhythm game in itself remains largely the same as the previous entry, F 2nd, with the standard added gimmick, this time being “rush notes.” The notes allow you to mash any button to gain as much voltage as possible before they disappear. The notes function similarly to the free jam sections of Rock Band songs with less telegraphing on when they’ll end, which can lead to some infuriating mistakes.
The difficulty seems to be stepped up a bit from the F series too. The demo locks you to normal difficulty, but for the three songs you get (Satisfaction and Lots of Laugh being three star and Raspberry Monster being four star) they seemed much more challenging than previous entries given the star rating, which is a promising sign with how easy F and F 2nd were.
The biggest changes with X seem to be in its outfits and accessories. Instead of going to the store to buy outfits for your Vocaloids, you win them from a skitter box system. Instead of chance times triggering stage flair when passed, passing a chance time event triggers a transformation sequence where your Vocaloid becomes a new “module.” Modules are the equivalent to previous game’s outfits, but with a catch. Instead of just adding visual flair, each one has a theme and a buff. Buffs can include voltage increases and higher chances of getting new modules from chance times. Modules are awarded like random drops, and it has a very RPG-like feel to it to further replayability.
The module’s theme corresponds with the different event clouds. There are six clouds, but only three are featured in the demo; Standard, cute, and cool. Coordinate your module theme with the cloud you preform in and gain aura, which boosts the amount of voltage you gain by a percentage.
There’s a lot of modules too. I’ve unlocked nine in the demo alone, which is three times as many as the F demo offered. It’s yet to be seen if there will really be three times as many outfits as previous entries, but if there are it will really knock customization out of the park.
The score system got a huge makeover as well, ditching grades for voltage. To pass a song you have to reach a certain voltage number, and how much voltage you get determines how many, and how good, your accessory and item drops at the end of the song will be, which are also rewarded randomly like loot drops in an RPG.
The demo doesn’t make it clear whether or not a shop will be included, but I personally am a huge fan of the new system. It encourages replay in a more engaging way than grinding for money to buy everything in a shop.
New loot and score systems aren’t the only thing showcased in the demo, it also flaunts a new “festival” feature. This is by far the coolest thing the demo has to offer. The mode allows you to play a concert in a concert hall, complete with cheering glowstick wielding fans, consisting of three time edited songs that transition nearly seamlessly with three technical zones and one chance time. You can coordinate modules and accessories for each song and earn new modules (seemingly) festival themed.
Taking earlier games and slightly improving upon and tweaking them is the tried and true formula for Diva sequels, and if the demo is any indication, Diva X seems to go above and beyond the call of duty and shows real promise to not just be the best Diva game to date, but to be a fantastic rhythm game in and of itself, and I can’t wait until the 30th to get my hands on the full release.