Wednesday, 24 September 2014

[Review] Hatsune Miku Project Diva [F] 2nd

There's an old saying. "If it ain't broke then don't fix it." Developers Crypton Media certainly took that saying to heart with Hatsune Miku Project Diva [F] 2nd. The latest instalment in the popular rhythm vocaloid franchise for Sony's fledgling PlayStation Vita.

While America and Europe will have to wait until November to get their hands on a translated version, we have ourselves an imported copy of the Japanese release for review. Project Diva [F] 2nd is pretty much more of the same, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Much like previous instalments in this franchise the core rhythm mechanics remain in-tact. Notes fly in from every direction of the screen with the goal being for the player to hit the Vita's face buttons in conjunction with the on-screen beats. The game offers four different modes of difficulties ranging from Easy to Extreme allowing a somewhat reasonable learning curve.

Although the biggest change from 2012's Project Diva [F] is the drastic difficulty spike. By comparison, Project Diva [F] was far more forgiving to newcomers, whereas Project Diva [F] 2nd's difficulty spike will most likely leave newcomers alienated. The composition of note layouts for many of the songs are devious to say the least and are far more in line with the notorious difficulty spikes seen in earlier PSP instalments. Experienced Miku fans will cheer at the difficulty spike whilst newcomers will more than likely find themselves overwhelmed.

The difficulty spike is certainly not helped by the unwelcome return of touch screen enabled Star Notes. Crypton Media has upped the ante by introducing two new variations of these already obnoxious notes. Including the likes of 'Double Scratch' -- where the player has to double swipe the touch screen. Or the equally annoying 'Slide Notes' that also rely on the touch screen. Thankfully Crypton Media has allowed for the optional use of the Vita's dual analog sticks to substitute the touch screen. Allowing for a more efficient means of switching back and forward between control methods.

If the core rhythm game gets to be too much than players can always retreat to the Diva Room. The somewhat weird Tamagotchi-like side distraction returns yet again. Here you can shower your selected Diva with attention by buying her/him presents, furniture and such with your awarded Diva Points earned from the main game. As always though, it's all a bit pointless and only serves to be an occasionally amusing side distraction from the main game.

It should go without saying that the track list is still J-Pop influenced. If you're the black-hearted type who has zero, and I mean zero love for infectiously catchy if not terrible J-Pop than turn away right now. This track list will do nothing for you. The track list still consists of that high pitched artificial digitised sound for which this series (and Hatsune Miku herself) became famous for.

Now, with that said, even for the diehard fans among us the track list is still a tad underwhelming. It is just a "Best Of" Miku compilation as the old outweighs the new. With a track list comprised of 40 songs, only 20 of which are new. The new tracks don't have the same infectious charm as the older songs, an indicative sign of the problem that plagues this franchise as a whole. The creative energy feels a bit tired, and as such it all feels a little too familiar for its own good.

Despite being a game that is so entirely focused on the rhythm game aspect, Crypton Media managed also to pack in a vibrant anime-inspired visual flavour. Each song accompanied by a lovingly animated music video playing in the background. Each of which tells a story in accordance to the song's lyrics. Despite the importance being on the core rhythm mechanics, the visuals pop with life on the Vita's OLED display.

With the bump to native resolution, the character models are far less jaggy than they have been previously. The music videos are abundant with charming little moments and details throughout that sometimes it's easy to get sidetracked and find yourself watching the videos instead of button cues.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with Hatsune Miku Project Diva [F] 2nd, there also happens to be nothing fresh about it either. Crypton Media have adhered to a well-worn template and outside of a few tweaks here and there its all just a little too familiar for its own good. None the less, the core rhythm game itself is still fantastic with a deep level of nuanced challenge to master. That feeling of nailing the tougher difficulties is still incredibly rewarding.

Hatsune Miku Project Diva [F] 2nd fits perfectly at home on the Vita allowing for quick pickup-and-play sessions of score chasing. Even if Crypton Media has done very little to reinvent the wheel, Hatsune Miku Project Diva [F] 2nd is still a fantastic addition to the Vita's small yet robust library.

(out of five)

-Daniel M



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