Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f (stylized ƒ) is the Vita version of the recently localized Project Diva F (or Ƒ) on PS3. Referred to as “Vocaloid rhythm games,” they make use of Vocaloids, synthetic software that simulates a human singer to surprising success. The titular Hatsune Miku, meanwhile, is known for her success as a virtual diva in Japan, with numerous concerts and charted songs to her artificial name. The SEGA games that feature Hatsune Miku are equally renowned overseas, known for hardcore rhythm gameplay and extremely catchy music. The renown is well-earned.
The base gameplay of Hatsune Miku is simple. Button inputs go on screen and you time your button hits as the song progresses. Sometimes you have to hold a note, and sometimes you need to hit two buttons at once. If you’ve played Dance Dance Revolution, you have a basic idea of what I’m getting at here. These inputs rely on the face buttons, but certain star notes require swiping the touch screen, and certain commands require you to simultaneously hit the D-Pad and a face button. It’s extremely accessible to anyone who has a rhythm game or two under their belts, and the gameplay’s intuitive timing does a good job of emulating the actual rhythm of the song (which not many games do so well). It’s cookie-cutter, but it’s a fun cookie-cutter done right.
And yet, there are some things that the game does uniquely. While most rhythm games allow you to simply beat the song to move on to the next one, Project Diva requires that you do well enough to “clear” the song, which means earning a Standard rank (probably equivalent to a C-rank in similar games). Outside of this, there are items you can buy to assist (at a cost) or hinder (at a potential gain) your score potential, and special zones that require either pulling off a combo on a certain number of notes or building up a meter – both successfully resulting in a big score boost. I also appreciate the difficulty progression; the last song on Normal difficulty smoothly transitions to the easiest songs on Hard, and the same goes for the Hard to Extreme transition.
Across its 33 base playable songs, J-Pop represents most of the set list. While there is some fun weird stuff like a rockabilly track and some off-metal, bubblegum pop is most of what there is to see here. Thankfully, the songs are extremely catchy and have their own individual personality, and I appreciate the game’s inclusion of a jukebox and the ability to watch music videos without having to play over them. Speaking of which, the music videos accompanying the songs are a similar occurrence of cutesy Japanese Vocaloid teenagers doing fluffy Japanese teenager things. If you take pride in your masculinity and still want to play a game with a lot of silly, girly anime imagery, this portable version might be your best bet.
Rhythm gameplay isn’t the only thing Project Diva f has to offer. The game allows you to edit songs, make music videos using the in-game stuff (or even your own), and upload it via the surprisingly robust editor. It’s completely over my head, but it’s easy to some people getting really into arranging their own button rhythms and Hatsune Miku videos. There’s also a lot of customization. You can dress up the various virtual divas (which you can use in the songs and music videos), buy furniture and gadgets for their individual rooms, and interact with them in a barebones Nintendogs-style fashion. Lastly, you can print out AR cards and use the AR feature of the Vita to make Hatsune Miku dance for you or pose her in pictures. As someone in it for the rhythm game, I won’t personally get much use out of this, but it’s hard to complain about more content.
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f is a rhythm game that does just about everything right. It’s fun, the songs are great, and it wears its endlessly weird and charming personality on its sleeve. Regardless of whether you have a Vita or 3DS, this is the best handheld rhythm game your money can buy.
Vita review code provided by SEGA. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f is now available on PlayStation Vita in North America. If you own a PlayStation 3, you can get the slightly expanded Project Diva F, which drops the AR stuff, controls slightly differently, and has a few more songs.