Vocaloids are amazing. Half international pop phenomena, half musical instruments, Hatsune Miku and her friends/fellow synthesiser applications have taken the world by storm. Crowd-sourced virtual idols who'll sing anything you write for them, so long as you own the software. Despite existing as little more than anime advertising, animated music videos and fan art, these non-existent divas pack out shows, hold conventions and are no less real than any other pop star out there.
We really are living in The Future.
Confused? If so, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd is not the game for you! The original will be more your speed, plus I start our 8/10 review with a deeper explanation of what/who vocaloids are. Project Diva F 2nd, meanwhile, is very much a direct sequel that pushes the intense rhythm gameplay into satisfying new territory while providing a more rounded selection of tracks, providing greater challenge and a wealth of new content for dedicated fans.
The basics remain the same. Forty songs from disparate genres and different artists are ready to test your mettle, displaying their music video while bombarding you with an insane flurry of visual cues. You'll need to hit the corresponding buttons in perfect tempo with the rhythm as they hurtle onto the screen in maddening formations, sometimes holding down a corresponding face button or flicking the Vita's touchscreen depending on the specific symbol. Project Diva F 2nd adds new double scratch stars that challenge you to drag two thumbs across the screen, plus new linked stars that challenge your sense of timing even further.
It's a familiar setup, but the difficulty and challenge has been ramped up the side of a skyscraper. Easy mode is still simpering, but Normal mode has received a welcome dose of extra oomph. Meanwhile the jump from normal to hard and hard to extreme is much more fearsome this time around, adding in extra inputs and turning your brain to . Nailing the harder tracks takes practice, meditation, patience and the thumbs of a veteran hitch-hiker, but feels absolutely fantastic. Responsive inputs and nonexistent A/V lag (since the Vita's screen is constant as opposed to the myriad HDTVs on the market) seal the deal from a gameplay standpoint.
It's great to see a Vita game really pushing graphical boundaries on the handheld. Project Diva F 2nd is one of the prettiest games on the system by a considerable margin; a crisp, colourful and gorgeous fusion of CG with real-time gameplay. There are scenes that you'll swear are pre-rendered... only your chosen vocaloids are wearing the custom gear you picked out for them and earned via completing ever-more-difficult songs. Owners of the original Project Diva can import all of their unlocked modules too, so long as you have a save file on the memory card.
My only concern with Project Diva 2nd was that the setlist wouldn't hold up. Seeing as Project Diva contained big anthems like Rimokon, Black☆Rock Shooter and that damned Nyan Cat song, leaving smaller and less well-known songs to fill up the sequel. I'm delighted to report that the 40-strong track list has defied my expectations, delivering a less mainstream yet much more varied selection of tunes.
There's some great stuff here. J-Pop abounds -- come on, what do you expect -- but there's plenty of gonzo shred-heavy rock, a soupcon of jazz, power ballads and even some traditional Japanese music given the 21st century treatment. It's an eclectic collection that's full of surprises and that holds up to repeat playthroughs, especially since there's a greater emphasis on complex and syncopated rhythms to give your thumbs a workout.
Mind you, the fact that SEGA have provided English subtitles reveals some fairly dark lyrics from time to time. I was aware that Secret Police was fairly sketchy in the first game, but here we have a song about knives that toes the line between tasteful and worrying, plus a song in which Miku-chan turns into a suicide cult leader.
The extras run the gamut from worthwhile distractions to throwaway time sinks. You can still dress up and interact with Hatsune Miku and the other vocaloids (since they're virtual pop stars, this is actually as real is it gets!), while a devastatingly comprehensive editor is on hand if you want to chance your arm at creating your own songs, even using your own MP3s. Importing, exporting and discovering new tracks is still a pain, but hardcore fans will enjoy it regardless.
- Intense rhythm gameplay kicked up a notch
- Eclectic and enjoyable setlist (with English subtitles where possible)
- Deeply impressive graphics, plenty of unlockables/extras
- Difficulty curve will maul newcomers
- Discovering and sharing tracks is still a pain
- Interaction modes are still fairly limited
The Short Version: Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd ups the challenge and delivers a seriously intense rhythm experience. A diverse setlist, exceptional Vita visuals, satisfying gameplay and plenty of unlockables make for a must-play if you enjoyed the original, though newcomers should start there.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.