By GrantHeaslip 8 Comments
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f (the Vita edition of the 2013 PS3 release) is my current favourite game of 2014. I tried the demo on a whim and was immediately hooked; I went on to put upwards of 25 hours into it, and still come back to it regularly despite earning every gameplay trophy. I’m not going to go into too much detail about my love for Project Diva f except to say that it’s got a mix of solid gameplay, rewarding difficulty, eclectic music, and unabashed Japanese absurdity that really spoke to me.
Since getting into Project Diva f and realizing I’d have to wait a while for Project Diva F 2nd and Persona 4: Dancing All Night, I’d been considering delving back into the three Japan-only PSP releases that preceded it. Last week, I finally bit the bullet: I set up a Japanese PSN account, commandeered my pack-in 4GB Vita memory card, and ordered a ¥5,000 PSN card from Japan Codes. Using a Japanese PSN account on a Vita is a bit of a hassle — you have to swap memory cards and reset the system to factory settings each time you change accounts — but it’s hard to hold that against Sony when it’s such an obscure and legally-questionable thing to do. I figure it’s probably a five-minute process, though I have yet to swap back to my Canadian account.
I had originally planned on starting from the beginning with Project Diva, but decided to skip to Project Diva 2nd when I learned that the ability to use the d-pad and face buttons interchangeably wasn’t added until the sequel. I’d grown very used to alternating inputs — that is, entering [X, X, X, X, O, O, O, O] as [X, ▼, X, ▼, O, ▶, O, ▶] — and it was going to be a very difficult habit to break. Project Diva also seems to be somewhat notorious for its dicey framerate, and considering how questionable 2nd’s framerate can be, it must be pretty ridiculous. Dreamy Theater 2nd — Project Diva 2nd’s PS3 remaster, which costs ¥4,000 and bafflingly requires the PSP game to play — includes all of the songs from the first game, so if I really want to go back to them, I’ve got that option open to me.
Project Diva 2nd is full of Japanese text, but it’s also a rhythm game, so it’s pretty self-explanatory. Most of the the menu items and song titles are written in katakana or English, so it’s reasonably easy to navigate with a katakana chart and a bit of patience. I’m using this game as an opportunity to learn katakana in earnest, and I’ve already picked up enough to recognize a few words without cheating. I figured out that that メルト (me-ru-to) was “melt” on my own, and while that’s not a particularly amazing achievement, it felt pretty good for a few days of practice.
Project Diva 2nd vis-à-vis Project Diva f
Project Diva 2nd isn’t as good as Project Diva f, and in a lot of ways, playing it has increased my appreciation for Project Diva f. I’ve been having a pretty good time with it, but the song selection isn’t as good, the charts aren’t as well-designed, the difficulty ceiling is pretty low, and the framerate is sometimes rough enough to impact gameplay. Project Diva f only has a few songs I don’t care for, while Project Diva 2nd has a fair number that aren’t appealing to me. I don’t hate any of them, but I’ll probably end up avoiding a bunch, which wasn’t my experience with Project Diva f.
I do very much appreciate the lack of star notes in Project Diva 2nd. In Project Diva f, you hit star-shaped notes by swiping your finger on the screen (or tilting the right stick on the PS3 version) — a gameplay mechanic that I learned to deal with, but never really enjoyed. When they’re coming at you slowly, they’re trivial because of their extremely forgiving hit zones; when they’re coming at you in quick succession, they’re seemingly impossible to keep up with without scribbling indiscriminately. The PSP games have nothing of the sort, and I think they’re better for it.
Project Diva 2nd is an easier game than Project Diva f. For the most part, I’ve found that the extreme (hardest) difficulty is the only one that’s putting up a real challenge. In Project Diva 2nd, I’ve found myself getting high ranks in hard mode on my first try, and passing songs on extreme on my first try; in Project Diva f, most of the extreme charts are out of reach, or at best barely achievable.
Graphics and performance
While Project Diva 2nd apparently performs much better than Project Diva, the framerate can still be kind of rough. This is the kind of game in which the performance very much depends on where the camera is pointing, and that inconsistency might actually be more annoying than predictable choppiness. My sense is that the core hit detection runs independently of the graphics rendering, so it’s never game-breaking if you’re taking your cues from the audio, but I would have felt a lot better about it if the interface also ran independently of the background graphics (FFVII-style).
To its credit, Project Diva 2nd looks great for a PSP game — this is the first PSP game I’ve played, and it far exceeded my expectations for the platform. The videos generally aren’t as ambitious as those in Project Diva f, but that’s to be expected given the hardware limitations and lower budget. The Vita emulation also seems flawless, and if there’s any input lag going on, it’s trivial enough that I quickly acclimatized to it. I was a little worried about timing issues, and I’m glad it didn’t turn out to be a problem.
I’ve got my issues with Project Diva 2nd’s song selection as a whole, but there’s some really good tracks in here. Here’s five that stand out. Apologies for the quality of some of them — it’s really hard to find good-quality captures of this game on YouTube:
Kokoro (Heart) / ココロ
This is probably my favourite song in the game. It starts slow, but once it kicks into gear (I cued up the video), it’s super catchy and a bunch of fun to play.
PoPiPo (Vegetable Juice) / ぽっぴっぽー
Be sure to stick around for the second verse, in which Hatsune Miku makes a charmingly Engrish case for vegetarianism. Despite it’s absurdity, this song is actually quite fun to play, and managed to stick itself in my head for half a day.
Some nice rhythmic synthpop. The video is stylish and more ambitious than a lot of the stuff in Project Diva 2nd, though it’s also a great example of how wider shots tend to sink the framerate.
This one’s just plain fun to play. The electropop songs tend to be my favourites, as they’ve got strong beats and predictable note patterns. Also, check out that sweet Space Channel 5: Part 2 costume!
Gigantic Girl / 巨大少女
This is one of the better songs in the game, but even if it wasn’t, I pretty much had to include it for the amazing video. It’s also worth noting how easy it is — it’s an extreme chart that would have been on the lower end of the hard difficulty in Project Diva f.