I don't think I need to tell you just how massive the Vocaloids are, so it's absolutely no surprise that the popular Project DIVA series would see a fourth portable release. However, Project DIVA F isn't on the PSP like the three games before it, as the virtual idols have stepped up to Sony's newest handheld system.
However, Sega has offered a few new features to accompany Hatsune Miku in her console transition, aside from the expected graphical upgrade and new songs. Is it worth your time? Well, if the professionally taken photograph in the header hasn't sold you already (it was done in-game with the not-so-great Vita camera), see me after the jump for all the hot details.
Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F (PS Vita)
Developer: Sega, Crypton Future Media
Release Date: August 30, 2012
MSRP: 6600 yen ($85)
Project DIVA F, as well as the other games in the series, are rhythm games set to the tunes of songs created with the Vocaloid software. This includes many songs that have found fame on both Nico Douga and Youtube, as well as a few other less-known tracks. There are also songs made specifically for the games themselves, so there is plenty of music for fans to enjoy.
Gameplay is relatively simple, too. Shapes matching those found on Sony controllers fly onto the screen in time with the music. These shapes will fly to a set location, indicated by a 'hole' of sorts, which also has a spinner to show when the shape is perfectly aligned. When this happens, you push the corresponding shape button. The game also mixes it up a bit, with some notes needing the equivalent direction on the d-pad to be pushed simultaneously (so you would push up and triangle, or right and circle).
Project DIVA F adds a new type of note to be hit during songs; the star note. To hit these, you need to swipe a finger across the touch screen, as if you were strumming a guitar string. I'm not at all surprised that the game would make use of the new PS Vita features, but this really isn't the way to do it. When you are concentrating on hitting notes using the buttons, the last thing you need is to have to move your hand off the console and start using the touch screen. It's cumbersome, frustrating and completely unnecessary. However, this is by far my biggest gripe with the game.
There are also new 'Technical Zone' segments, which award you with bonus points should you successfully hit every note in a particular section. Each song has at least two of these, and completing them successfully is key to hitting those higher scores and ratings. 'Chance Time' also returns, but with a few minor changes. Hitting notes in this period not only gives you the incremental point bonus, but also slowly fills up a star in the bottom left of the screen. Filling this up before Chance Time ends causes a large star note to appear, and hitting this will trigger an alternate ending to the song. With all of the work that has gone into the accompanying song videos, it's really nice to see variations and bonus content. It's just a shame that seeing them comes down to an awkward touch screen note.
Project DIVA F comes with 32 playable songs (not counting the return of Ievan Polkka that can only be heard during the tutorial), with an extra 4 songs exclusive to the AR portion of the game. It's a pretty decent number of tunes to play with, but you have to remember that Sega said that all of the songs in this game (besides Ievan Polkka) will be new to the series. A lot of the big Vocaloid hits are thus missing, and while you do get to play songs like Black Rock Shooter and Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya!, it is worth bearing in mind. If you've played the other games, this won't really be an issue (and will likely be solved via DLC in the future), but if you want to pick up a Project DIVA game as a first-time player, one of the PSP titles might be a better option simply because of the soundtrack.
Playing just one song will reward you with a whopping three pages of newly unlocked items. This seems to happen fairly frequently, as the game is absolutely loaded with things to unlock and purchase with the 'Diva' points you earn by completing songs. The shop interface is a lot neater this time around, with everything separated into categories and type. There are also 81 different modules (costumes) to unlock and purchase. I've finished every song on normal, and many of them on hard and extreme, yet I've only had the money to buy about 10 modules. You'll certainly have your work cut out for you if you want them all! You can also purchase items for the Vocaloid rooms (more on that in a bit), as well as 'module accessories', which are items you can use in conjunction with the costumes. These include cat ears, tails and glasses, so the customisation options are certainly there. All of the modules are brand new as well (not counting the default costumes), but don't worry, you can just give everyone school swimsuits if you don't fancy being adventurous.
Of course, nothing screams 'next generation handheld' like a nice bit of AR, and Project DIVA F certainly has a good crack at it. Inside the game case you will find a paper AR marker, which the game will use to have Miku parade around your house to one of four different songs. It seemed to be pretty good at noticing and keeping track of the marker, so while Miku was dancing to World Is Mine I was able to scoot around the marker to watch her from the side or behind without issue. I know what you're thinking, but you'll have to try it out for yourself if you fancy testing lower viewing angles.
There is also a feature that allows you to take photos with the PS Vita while placing your favourite Vocaloid into the shot. You can also change their module, pose and facial expressions (amongst other things) before tinkering with where you want to place them. Unfortunately, it seems you can only do this before taking the photo, rather than afterwards. The PS Vita camera isn't too great either, so don't expect to be taking any breathtaking pictures. Still, this is a rhythm game and not a photo-editing suite, so I can't say it's much of a problem.
The playable character list has been cut down to six from the eight in Project DIVA: Extend (I'm bundling Sakine Meiko and MEIKO together), although you can reacquire Akita Neru, Yowane Haku and Kasane Teto via DLC if you really want them. It's a shame that they aren't included, but at the end of the day they are only cosmetic differences, and there are still none of their songs included in the song list. It would have been nice to hear some music from other Vocaloids (specifically Lily and old favourite Gakupo), but unfortunately it wasn't to happen for this game. Perhaps there are license issues with some of the many other characters, but it's a shame nonetheless.
But what do you do if you don't enjoy rhythm games and find this in your possession? Project DIVA F has got your back, as there's also a Vocaloid friendship simulator thrown in. Perhaps Konami's Love Plus has been rubbing off on more games than we first thought, as you can use the touch screen to 'make friends' with your favourite virtual idol. I'll be honest, I didn't really get far into this mode as there's only so much I can stroke Megurine Luka's head before the overwhelming feeling of creep means I have to take a shower. You can play a mean game of Rock-Paper-Scissors with them, though.
Project DIVA F is another great game to add to the series, with just a few problems holding it back from being perfect. The visuals are fantastic on the Vita, the interface looks great and the song selection is solid for returning players. The addition of star notes is really the biggest issue the game has, as it really doesn't add any positives to the gameplay. I suggest if the thought of them puts you off buying this, you wait for the PS3 version. No touch screen to ruin the fun! The price is also quite substantial, so I'd lean towards waiting for that version if you have to pick between the two. Still, portable DIVA is definitely a good enough reason to pick this up, and hey, nothing wrong with earning a few more trophies either. Just remember that you'll need another memory card if you don't have a Japanese PSN account and want the DLC.
8.0 - Great: 8s are very impressive efforts in their genre, with just a few noticeable problems holding them back. They won't astound the most discerning players, but they are worth everyone's time and cash.
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