Vocaloid, according to an enthusiast friend of mine who gave me an extensive rundown, is basically a modern version of the classic Dr. Sbaitso speech recognition program that used to come with DOS computers. You can make it sing. It sounds pretty nice if it’s used properly. With that in mind, some marketing genius decided to associate each Vocaloid voice with its own character, the most famous of which is Hatsune Miku, representing a Japanese version of the program developed by Crypton Future Media. Americans might might remember her from a Toyota Corrola commercial a few years back. She’s the representative Vocaloid character in Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd; plenty of her friends, like Kagamine Len and his twin Rin, are along for the ride as well.
The first thing you need to know about Project DIVA F 2nd is that it’s hard as hell. If you’re not familiar with rhythm games or haven’t played many of them since the fad died out a few years ago, well, it’s going to kick your ass. It’s cute, yes. It’s very Japanese and incredibly moe, yes. It’s also one of the most difficult examples of the genre I’ve played. You’re more likely than not going to have your ass taken to school. This one was clearly made for rhythm game enthusiasts and it shows.
Gameplay is fairly straightforward; icons and arrows pop up and you’ll need to follow along in time. Unlike most rhythm games where the notes show up in orderly fashion, Project Diva flings them all over the god damn place and you’ll have to stay on your toes to keep up with what’s going on. The music video that accompanies each song contributes to the difficulty by being filled with bombastic, flashy lights and other assorted seizure-inducing insanity. The Vita version incorporates the analog sticks, touchpad and touchscreen for hitting certain special notes, which definitely takes some getting used to. There’s certainly no lack of content here; 40 songs are available, which you’ll steadily unlock through good performance.
You’ll also earn Diva Points which can be spent on outfits and presents for Miku that you can use in the Diva Room mode. There’s loads of stuff available, so if you’re into this kind of dress-up experience you’re going to be pretty happy with it. The Diva Points flow like water from just playing the game, so there’s rarely a shortage, and interacting with your Vocaloid buddies can boost your friendship in a virtual pet sort of way. This is completely auxiliary to the main game, so you’re free to ignore it if you’d like, but I’m not one to complain about having more content in a game.
The graphics are pleasant cartoony fare of the sort that does well on handheld consoles, and once you’ve got the hang of it it’s not that hard to keep an eye on the rampaging notes. The music itself is going to be a love-it-or-hate-it situation. Chances are if you’re even considering playing this you’ve heard Miku before and you know what kind of J-poppy silliness you’re getting into with this game. If you’re into that, you’ll love the track list here.
If you consider yourself one of those rhythm game enthusiasts, then the enormous amount of content and unlocks available combined with the solid gameplay makes Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd a no-brainer. If you’re patient and willing to put the time into it then it might still be worth a look. If you think the Vocaloid characters are cute…knock yourself out with the Diva Room, I guess. And if you’re easily frustrated you’re going to want to pass one way or the other.