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.