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Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X (PlayStation 4) artwork

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X (PlayStation 4) review

"Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X brings back all the bright lights, rocking music, costumes, and charm you'd expect."

When I started playing Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X, I did so after taking a break from the series for a few years. My previous exposure came in the form of 2013's Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F, which released on the PlayStation 3. I was anxious to see how the series fared as it made the trip to the PlayStation 4 a few years later. Mostly, it did just fine.

In case you don't know what Hatsune Miku video games are even about, allow me to provide a clumsy overview...

The games feature digital characters called "vocaloids" who sing songs in robotic voices that sound about like an American pop star getting a little assistance from autotune. The vocaloids are represented in almost-physical form by digital avatars that look like something out of anime, and a company called Crypton Future Media owns the IP and manages public appearances throughout the world. Hatsune Miku, the star character, even visited Dave Letterman's show, shortly before he retired. Her late night debut and his exit from show business were probably unrelated.

Appropriately, the games take the dancing and singing personas and attach them to fan-made songs of varying quality. Your task as the engaged gamer is to play a rhythm game. This means tapping buttons in time to musical beats, as directed by the on-screen prompts. Throughout a performance, nodes with button prompts appear in various positions on the screen. A clock hand winds toward the 12 o'clock point as notes swoop or dive in from all sides of the screen. You must tap the corresponding button on your controller when the clock hand is in the right position on each node.

There are complications, naturally. Sometimes, you have to hold the button indicated, then release it when the timing is right. Or you must press a button at the same time you press its corresponding direction on the d-pad. Or you should mash the button several times before time expires, for more points. Also, stars sometimes appear. You can nudge the left or right analog stick in any direction you like, when the timing is right. I hate the stars. Sometimes, I'll nudge an analog stick as indicated. Ten times out of eleven, it works just fine. But then there's that one time that doesn't register properly, and my combo breaks. It vexes me. Thankfully (sort of), there's another option: I can instead swipe in a direction on the track pad and that works as an alternate input method. It just feels really awkward, so overall I would say that stars are bad news for clumsy old me.

As you play through a song, you also encounter "Chance" and "Technical" sessions. In the case of the first, you run through a limited routine, tapping notes to fill up a special star meter. If you do so before the end of the routine, you can then swipe at the right time to connect with a star that appears (assuming your analog stick doesn't go rogue). That will award you a huge bonus. The technical sessions are even more demanding. You have to hit every note in a complex string, and you benefit mightily if you pull it off. Here's what usually happens for me: I miss the first or second note as the session begins, then nail 15 or 20 more complex notes immediately thereafter. But of course, that doesn't give me any sort of bonus at all.

Don't take that as a major gripe, though, and don't get the impression that I am absolutely terrible at Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X. I get by. A player can miss a few notes throughout a performance and it won't affect much, even on the harder difficulties. I had no real trouble clearing every song in the game on Normal and Easy modes, but the other settings are a bit beyond me unless I'm ready to practice more than I feel like practicing. The difficulty curve is quite fair on the whole, and also you have something called "modules" to help you along.

So, what are modules? They're your compensation for doing really well in songs. Most often, it seems to me that they find their way to my digital collection when I complete technical sessions, which sometimes happens despite my self-sabotage. A module is a costume that falls into one of five categories: cool, classic, elegant, cute, and quirky. Songs are divided into these same categories, and are placed within "cloud" regions that you explore when clearing the ruthlessly inane story campaign. So if you are attempting a "cute" song, you can equip a corresponding module--along with accessories, which also are tossed your way after song performances--and you will get a score boost to make songs easier to complete, or to make it easier to obtain prizes.

I don't remember the module system being present (at least not to this extent) in the previous game, but my memory on that count is a bit fuzzy. I do know that modules are a major element this time around, impossible to miss. I spent a lot of time finding my favorite accessory combinations, and I saved a few outfits for convenient access. I also got a lot of gifts, which I passed along to Miku so that our bond would grow stronger and she would perform better. However, "gifts" are every bit as silly this time as they were in the past. It's difficult to tell what a given vocaloid might like and what she might despise, so you have to fumble your way through the process unless you're ready to take notes. And sometimes, giving a gift triggers a silly skit. The culinary ones are as bad as ever. A character eats food by holding it up to its mouth like a chipmunk, and then it suddenly disappears in a flash. I feel like I'm watching preschoolers pretend to eat toy blocks.

Thankfully, the presentation is much better almost everywhere else in the game. Available backgrounds are quite detailed, and the characters look terrific as they dance around in their costumes of your choosing. My wife would sometimes stop and watch me play, enchanted by the gorgeous stages and even some fairly impressive choreography. As much as I liked some of the beautiful sights, though, they definitely did hurt my performance. Notes could disappear into background animations or bright lights, especially on my enormous television screen. If you play this game, you might want to stick to a smaller screen. That's the moral here. Also, consider the whole game off-limits if you're prone to epileptic seizures. There is flashing to go with the pretty. So, so much flashing.

One final point I should address is the song quality. I was immediately drawn to several of the songs when I played the previous PlayStation 3 title. I didn't fall in love as quickly in this case, however. There are somewhere around 30 songs (with additional ones offered as DLC), not counting medleys, and at first they all blurred together for me. However, the campaign forces you to play through them multiple times if you want to unlock everything, especially the ridiculous last song. Dutifully, I put in the time and I grew to like a number of the selections. Clearly, it's all a matter of taste. I would say to give the songs time, though, if they don't immediately set your world on fire.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X is a strong next installment in a series that has managed to find surprising success here in North America. It's still a niche title, and certainly a bit rough around the edges, but there aren't a lot of other games quite like it in North America and I suspect that its audience will only continue to grow. If you're into rhythm games and you like Japanese rock and general quirkiness, I'd say definitely give this one a chance.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 01, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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