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I'll never forget the day I bought the original Project Diva f for my Vita. A lone foreigner wandering into a Japanese movie rental place, picking up a vocaloid game and taking it sheepishly to the counter. One of the most embarrassing video game purchase moments of my lifetime - there's a certain stigma attached to these games in Japan, namely that they are only played by friendless nerds (or so my ex-girlfriend told me!). I guess I have to hold my hands up on that one...
Anyway, after getting it back to my apartment and taking a moment to overcome the shame of what I'd just purchased, I popped the game into my Vita and fired it up. My embarrassment was quickly forgotten as I became engulfed in the simple but addictive world of my first Hatsune Miku rhythm game. I spent hours on that version, despite it being in Japanese and my not being fluent in that tongue, and as soon as I heard of a sequel I grew excited and knew I'd have to have it. Luckily I was able to order this one from the safety of my own home - and in English too!
This game is a rhythm title. It involves you pressing the Vita's face buttons in time with the music. The appropriate button prompts can appear anywhere on the Vita screen and the timing prompts (which must be pressed when the two fully overlap) can float in from off-screen at unusual angles in order to increase difficulty. Further curve balls are thrown at the player including prompts that require the button to be held and released precisely and double button presses (for example, O and the right d-pad button). Also returning from the first Vita release are the much maligned touch-screen scratches only this time a few new additions have been included to expand this dubious design choice including double finger swipes and chained swipes. Luckily in this version you are offered the chance to use the analogue sticks as an alternative input method.
All the songs in-game are performed by a number of computer programmed singers called vocaloids. There are a total of six characters each with their own unique vocal effects. They sing to a variety of genres including rock and roll, ballads, J-Pop and electronic dance. For the most part, the quality of the songs is high, but there are one or two stinkers included. There are a number of really catchy songs that will implant themselves in your head and have you humming the tune long after you quit playing.
The mechanics of the game, just like the original, are extremely tight. making this one of the most polished rhythm titles out there. Buttons presses are registered instantly and I have encountered no evidence of lag affecting performance on the Vita. Sound quality is good from the Vita speakers and much better when a decent set of headphones are used (the game recommends you use earphones for the best possible experience). Graphically the game looks very good although you will be so focused on catching the button prompts that you will barely notice what is going on in the background! You do have the option of watching the videos in a theatre mode and they are produced to a very high standard, each with its own theme, set of characters and dance routines. You even have an AR option which allows you to watch Hatsune Miku perform in your very own front room/bedroom/kitchen!
Difficulty is balanced but much more intense than the first Vita version. Some rhythm games can be brutally punishing, but Project Diva f has a rather more forgiving learning curve. As usual with this type of game, practice makes perfect and with dedication and effort you should be banging out PERFECT stage ratings in no time - if your fingers can keep up with your brain that is!
As you play through the game you will begin to unlock a myriad of hidden items. Gaining high ranks will unlock new tracks that can be played as well as rewarding the player with Diva points which can be used to unlock new costumes for the characters, living pods that can be personalised for each character and specialised tags that can be applied to your online profile. There is a sizeable and challenging trophy list, too, that won't isolate less able players (some rhythm games require players to PERFECT all songs across all difficulties, but thankfully this is not so in this title). These two factors ensure that you will get a massive amount of play time from the game, something that should fall under your consideration if you are considering the RRP in your purchase decision. DLC already released in Japan will also make its way to these shores, adding more songs and outfits to the game should you buy them.
There is also an option for you to create your own patterns for any of the songs in the game and upload them for others to download and play online. This is a great feature, but the edit mode (which is available as a separate 900mb download from the Playstation Store) can be quite complex to navigate around and will take some getting used to. Luckily there is an in-depth guide on how to use it included in the digital manual of the game (this can be accessed on the screen that pops up when you tap the game icon bubble from the Vita home screen). This version also allows the user to import their own MP3 tracks which should allow for extreme creative types to knock out some amazing custom tracks to their favourite songs. Downloading these user made tracks should also add quite a bit of longevity to the game.
I'm really enjoying this game but there are one or two things I must talk about in a less positive light. One of the things that the developers have done to increase the difficulty of this title is to programme in much more complex button patterns and this can cause problems. The prompts that appear sometimes pop up rapidly and in unusual shapes making it difficult (without memorising a song) to figure out which prompt follows another. Another decision I'm not fond of is that occasionally the prompts will appear in the exact same spot, right on top of each other, which never fails to catch me out (it is difficult to decipher how many prompts are hidden beneath each other) and can feel a little cheap and frustrating.
My major gripe is with the touch-screen prompts. They can be very bothersome, forcing you to move your hand from the face buttons at inopportune times to enable you to reach a scratch prompt. Often the Vita touch-screen, which is usually pretty responsive, infuriatingly won't register your finger. This is especially frustrating when you are on your way to a perfect and you miss a beat through no fault of your own. While this was also a noticeable problem in the first game it is much more prominent now due to a heavier reliance on touch-screen interaction. The double swipe that has been added will catch you out at first as you forget to swipe with both fingers but eventually you'll get the hang of it. The chained swipes, however, are terribly annoying. Often they commit the rhythm game sin of changing speed in song. They will approach the prompt location and then speed up or slow down without notice, catching you off guard and completely destroying the rhythm/beat you've been keeping throughout the rest of the tune. Additionally, sometimes when you think you've reached the end of a chain the prompt will shoot back on itself to the previous prompt and you'll miss it, which again feels quite cheap and will anger you at times. I can understand why they were added, to enable bigger and more varied high scores, but their varying speed can be frustrating and they take a lot of memorisation to master. You can switch over to the analogue sticks but I found this didn't really improve things as some of my flicks went unregistered too. Perhaps, just like the game, more practice with this control method will pay dividends.
Despite the aforementioned quibbles this remains an absolutely fantastic title. The Vita is becoming a hotbed for music/rhythm titles and this, coupled with the original Vita Hatsune Miku, DJMAX Technika Tune and digital download Cytus Lambda, should be enough to convince any rhythm game aficionado to take the plunge and get the handheld console. Project Diva F 2nd will keep you busy for weeks and is definitely worth a purchase.
Theatrhythm is back with Curtain Call, a bigger and better version of its previous release in 2012. This time, instead of a measly 60+ songs and a handful of characters, we have a whopping 220+ songs and a plethora of your favourite Square Enix stars with future DLC promised if you are partial to paying for additional content.
The gameplay remains largely untouched from the previous version of the game with the player being required to tap, swipe or hold particular notes as they appear in time with music from the fabled Final Fantasy series. Songs are again separated into Field, Battle and Emotional categories which, although remaining very similar to one another in gameplay mechanics, change the way the notes approach the player. In Battle (in my opinion the most difficult category) we have four lanes of notes that rush towards the target zones, in Field we have only one line of notes and the mode is more reliant on hold based moves, and in Emotional we have the target zone moving around the screen instead on being fixed to one location. Anyone who found the first edition of the game too easy will be pleased to know that Curtain Call is much more difficult than its predecessor ; some of the Ultimate songs (which in the last version I found myself confident of beating) offer a stern challenge indeed.
While gampelay remains largely untouched, the presentation of the game has improved tenfold over the previous iteration. Songs are more easily accessible from the get go, displayed in scrollable lists that can be favourited allowing the player to access their most beloved tunes at the press of a button. Menu screens and graphics are more artistic than before and there are a large number of additional enemies and noticeable faces to go up against in game that were missing from the initial version. Playable character designs are as cute and recognisable as ever, only this time round there are far more to choose from and discover. Things also zip along a lot faster now; the EXP screen is much more user friendly and levelling calculations happen in one go instead of tediously counting down over a number of seconds. The same can be said of the rhythmia screen which is much more efficient this time round.
Upon firing up the game you will find all but one option on the menu screen blanked out. To begin with you must create a team of characters from a limited list – if you would like to add an additional 10 choice options to the list, then download and install the demo from the eShop before starting up your cart. When you choose your characters you will then unlock the tracks that correspond to their relevant Final Fantasy title; for example, choosing Cloud will unlock all songs from FFVII and choosing Tidus will unlock all FFX content. The game then tasks the player with clearing songs in order to unlock all the additional content associated with the game. Impatient players need not worry, as you'll unlock all available options within the first fifteen to twenty successfully completed songs. The reasoning behind this is essentially a cleverly disguised tutorial mode to help familiarise the player to the game before they rush head first into online battles which, let me warn you, can be rather punishing (especially if you run into any Japanese players!).
As the player plays through songs they earn EXP for levelling up characters. Levelling up is important; as character stats increase, the player earn benefits such as higher HP allowing for more missed notes, higher strength for defeating more enemies in Battle mode, and higher stamina for covering more distance in Field battles. Abilities are also unlocked, which allow characters, among other things, to hit additional damage in game or heal each other. Items can be equipped in a similar fashion, but once used they disappear from your inventory. Upon successful completion of a song, you also earn rhythmia, the total of which varies based upon the player completing a number of preset challenges during any song; for example, having an all male team, completing with all critical hits, playing on consecutive days, and so on. For every 250 rhythmia the player collects, a new unlock is achieved. These unlocks vary from hidden tracks to additional characters and new chime sound effects for your taps, swipes and holds.
One problem with the old version of the game was longevity. Unless the player purchased DLC content, the game quickly grew stale – you'd be required to grind the same songs over and over again in order to max out characters and, even if you are a huge fan of the Final Fantasy tracks available, things grew tiresome. The developers have addressed this situation by upping the song count by a staggering amount (all previous DLC from the old game is included and many of the bonus songs from the original now have three difficulties instead of just the one) and introducing a number of additional modes.
Quest Medley involves the players moving across a map and completing random tracks from the game. Upon completing all the songs successfully the player must face a boss battle. If the boss is beaten, then rewards can be earned including items for your inventory and crystal shards to unlock new characters. To make this mode even more difficult, all songs must be completed using only one health bar that doesn't regenerate between songs. If you are struggling, you will need to use your stocked items, but you are limited in how many of them you can use per medley. This adds some much needed challenge to the game and will help wring a good few extra few hours out of the game for the completionists among us. Completed maps can then be attached to your profile card and shared with other players you meet online (you can also earn theirs, too).
In addition to Quest Medleys, this time round we also get online battles. In this mode you can go online and face off against other players from around the world. I find this to be a fantastic addition, lengthening the time spent with the game a great deal. When playing other human players, you activate EX bursts for successfully hitting targets during songs. These bursts effect your opponent in a number of negative ways from spinning their arrowed swipe notes to speeding up targets to hiding them from view until the very last moment. One of the only negatives I can find in the game thus far is the discrepancies between burst effects. Some make hitting notes successfully almost impossible, while others (HP swap) can go barely noticed. Either way, playing online is easily the most challenging mode in the game and memorisation of songs is required in order to perform competently against real-life opponents. I class myself as a highly skilled rhythm player, yet I have come across opponents who have put me to shame. Even people put off by the tests awaiting them against almost savant-like human challengers are covered, however, by an AI versus mode in which you can take on the computer instead although the early difficulty levels are insultingly easy.
There is a multitude of content awaiting anyone who chooses to pick up the game. In the museum section you can check how many in game trophy conditions you have bested (the requirements of which vary from easy-as-pie to mind-bendingly difficult), see how many of the collector cards you have found thus far, listen to a number of the games songs in a jukebox section, and watch a number of movies related to each FF title. Unlocking all of these goodies will take you an absolute age; you can be sure your initial outlay will not be wasted. I have seen some online players who have racked up over 400 hours of game time already!
I rate this game highly indeed. Any fan of rhythm games or the music of Final Fantasy will not be disappointed with this purchase. A great number of improvements have been implemented from the last version of the game making the title much more enjoyable and far better value for money. Anyone who found the last version too easy will find a far greater challenge here and will have to dedicate a large amount of time to besting the game in Ultimate mode. Newcomers, however, are also catered for by the Basic and Expert score settings, which can ease a player into the game with far less stress and frustration. Indies 0 have done a fine job of ensuring all levels of skill are catered for here and have lovingly created a game that is better in almost every way from its predecessor.
Overall, if you are undecided, I would say give Curtain Call a go. You're getting so much content, challenge, and game time for your not considerable outlay of money here that I doubt you'll regret it.