So what is Hatsune Miku?
Well Hatsune Miku is a virtual Idol, but she is more than that. She is what is called a Vocaloid, a program where people recorded sounds of people speaking monotone, and added the ability to manipulate these sounds into coherent musical notes.
Long story short, a software program has given rise to an array of colorful characters, personalities, and the world of Hatsune Miku and her friends is the result.
What this translates to is a rhythm game where the music is selected from artists from around the world, in which these characters enact some of the most famous vocaloid songs.
Most surprising is the quality of the directing, and creativity given to the music videos. If I were to describe the soundtrack as fun, exciting, diverse, energetic, and addicting, then the videos themselves are on par giving each song a completely different feel and while there subtitles are in Japanese, I feel I understand the narrative going on in each song. Needless to say, one particular video actually made me cry.
For the meat and potatoes, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F, is a rhythm game. You have a menu of options but will be spending most of your time in the rhythm game section. In there is a simple tutorial that will teach you the basics of the game. When a song starts prompts will appear on the screen followed by the proper face button moving towards the prompt. Your job is to press the correct button and or direction arrow in time.
There are several types of hits you can get on a note, Cool (correct timing), good, safe (which will restart your combo or end a technical zone combo), bad, and awful (meaning you missed.)
If your not pressing a button, the star prompt tells you to strum one of the joysticks. This is actually my favorite type of prompt not because it is the easiest to work with due to the strum being very forgiving, but also because when working a guitar solo, it feels the most interactive.
Each song features two technical zones, which is a challenge for you to hit a combo for an extra bonus. They start off easy but in the latter songs they seem to intentionally get harder. The other type of zone is the Chance Time. Chance Time adds a cinematic flair to the song and you try to build up a star meter in hopes of not just unlocking a great set of bonus points, but also nailing the star adds a different element to the video you see. A Chance Star can be the difference of singers ending the song on stage, or soaring with dragons, to being trapped in a cage. It changes from song to song and mostly, and tragicly, it doesn't have a big impact on the scene, but it can be the difference between clearing a song, or falling just short.
There are 38 songs, most of them are a lot of fun. We are first introduced to Miku through the song Cat Food, silly title, but seeing her emerge from the shadows as a silloouette figure, than rocking down the house (circus) with lots of imagery bringing on Moulin Rouge serves as a welcome to the world we are about to enter.
No two songs are the same, Secret Police being a punk rock song with Hatsune Miku perfoming in a prison, to my favorite silly song, Rin-Chan Now which features two Miku and Luka (another vocaloid) singing about just how adorable Rin (another) is to the point of them expressing their need to torture her in the most random ways possible.
There is call back to beach rock and roll, two songs (atleast) that feature heavily with dark and almost gothic themes, and a hot zoot suit club song featuring Len on stage complete with cane.
The songs, and videos really showcase the characters to the point that despite being not real, they seem to feel almost live. Whether its the strange duality of Rin and Len, to Luka and Miku seemingly playing off one another on Acute, Worlds End Dance, and Rin-chan Now!. Each Character is given atleast two songs to be the center of attention and thus they begin to have tme to develop into something more as a simple set of animation to a voice. They become iconic.
This is all important because even though there are 38 songs, you will be playing a lot of these songs over and over. What you get as a reward are diva points which you can spend on many things. The most obvious and beneficial things to spend diva points are, on costumes.
No, this is not simple dress up. Each song a vocaloid does, is in their regular costume, but with the extra costumes, you can fundamentally change the appearance of the singers. This allows you to make the characters actually look like characters in the song, or even sillier, like something completely different.
You can watch a sad romance song about loss, featuring a Keito (male) singing in Miku's voice with cat ears (for no reason other than you felt like doing so).This adds a lot of replay not just to the songs, but to what you feel like, moment to moment, and the transition and animation still works spot on, that except for the obvious, you would be none the wiser.
Other things you can do is go to the Diva Room which is kinda voyeuristic in nature. You get to hang out in a Vocaloids room and watch them do what they want. You can interact with them, give them gifts, rub their hair (you get points towards maxing out your friendship level with them) and you can accessorize the room.
The faults of Diva room really is not just the obvious, but if they were going to do it, why not go all the way. Don't get me wrong, there are some good qualities to Diva Room, for instance, when you get a vocaloid a gift, you may find an amusing event follow, such as a friend coming over, pose for a sketch only for the sketch to be revealed to be a horrendous face crayon drawing. I think the developers should have taken a cue from The Sims or Tamagachi. As crazy as a mode as it sounds, there is room for potential where it could be fun.
The good of Diva Room though is that you can buy a juke box (which can allow you to listen to the music uninterrupted, or a television can give you the videos, semi interrupted.
Another Mode is Live mode which features the ability to Upload photos and have your favorite Vocaloid pose and be in it. The other half to this mode is having Hatsune Miku do an actual song on a virtual stage concert (filled with ravers and glowsticks.) While I like this mode, there is not a lot to do with it, there customization options are non existent except controlling camera angles, and rather than doing a concert, she just does the one song you selected. It is also just Miku in these songs, so don't expect anything elaborate.
This game has a lot of fun little nick nacks to unlock and playing around with these things, the customizations and such, and just cause you have a song stuck in your head will be some of the reasons that you may keep coming back to this game. Its fun. The rhythm elements work, except when they don't. Some songs just feel nigh impossible not because I'm failing to it the buttons, but because I can't calibrate the lag properly. Fortunately there are fou difficulty modes, which allows any gamer, given the time and patience to try and master it, or clear the stage with a good challenge and move to the next song.
This game is also best enjoyed with friends who also are into rhythm games and Japanese culture. Trying to outdo each other and press on past a barrier that you can't seem to clear may have you playing the same songs over and over again, but that is not a bad thing.
If you want a rhythm game, with good music, fun memories, and something you can veg out to with some of your quirky friends, doused in Japanese culture, this game is for you. If your the kind of guy that wants a good game, of the action adventure variety and aren't sure whether to jump on something so niche and foreign, $50 is a steep price tag. The demo really nails the essence of this game, but for the otaku in all of us, or the person that just really likes things that are cute, or fun music, this game might be your type.