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Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F Review

Miku's U.S. debut brings the creep factor overseas.

Review by Dustin Quillen, .

We all have our guilty pleasures.

Way back in 2010, for example, I stumbled upon a bit of Starz original programming called Spartacus: Blood and Sand. The series was crude, gratuitous -- trashy, even. More than anything else, though, Spartacus was effective at what it set out to do: Tell the story of a broken man in a barbaric age.

So, despite repeatedly having to explain to my wife why I was watching the squirmy British guy from The Mummy sexing up a room full of slaves, I stuck with Blood and Sand. Once I got over the show's obsession with pre-imperial Roman excess, I found myself captivated by its fearless writing and performances. And, eventually, the guilt began to fade.

Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F inspires a similar sense of ambivalence, though I'm not sure the pleasure justifies the guilt in this case. Scrub away Miku's creepy, voyeuristic elements and all that remains are some nice production values and an otherwise unremarkable rhythm game.

hatsunemike-spot1.png
You won't get much out of Miku's lyrics unless you're fluent in Japanese, unfortunately.

They've ticked all the usual boxes for Miku: Press the correct buttons in time with the music while characters in the background prance about, look generically badass, or party with astronauts who also happen to be cats. Sometimes you have to hold a button down or press two of them at the same time, but it never get more complicated than that. Nothing too mind-blowing here.

It gets weirder, though. This long-running Japanese franchise takes its namesake from Hatsune Miku, a virtual pop star (or "vocaloid") who performs onstage via projectors at actual concert venues all over the world. The closest Western equivalent would likely be the British band Gorillaz, although their cartoon avatars all correspond to human musicians working behind the scenes. Miku, on the other hand, is one-hundred percent synthetic -- from her dance moves to her singing voice.

Given her origins, it makes perfect sense for Hatsune Miku to star in her own rhythm game. In practice, however, Miku comes off as weirdly hollow and disjointed. That's probably because, unlike, say, Parappa or Ulala, Miku isn't so much a character as she is a programmable musical tool. Since nearly all of the game's 40-plus songs each have different composers and visual themes, Miku's personality hinges entirely on the whims of her puppet masters -- and they're not a consistent bunch. One level casts her as a menacing factory manager. Another dresses her up as a school girl. Yet another elevates her to some kind of benevolent demigod sent to look after post-apocalyptic Earth. To say that Hatsune Miku "stars" in anything is like saying cotton is the star of my T-shirt collection.

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Yes, that's a Dreamcast controller in a PlayStation 3 game. And yes, that's pretty rad.

You'll find a few unique systems at play in Project DIVA F. Perform well enough during specific sections of a stage, for instance, and you might score bonus points or even unlock an alternate ending to the track. I also appreciate the way you can tinker with a song's difficulty by purchasing items before the level begins. Some of these power-ups allow for more mistakes during a song at the cost of a reduced ranking, while others make things more challenging in addition to boosting the end-of-level rewards. All of this stuff helps keep the game's rudimentary rhythm action interesting past its shelf date.

Project DIVA F also deserves credit for looking awesome, even if its extravagant background animations are somewhat wasted on players who dare not glance at anything but the next button prompt. A lot of care clearly went into the dance choreography for Miku and the other vocaloids, and the same goes for the huge variety of backdrops in the game. I particularly enjoyed the levels that overtly reference other Sega properties, like Phantasy Star Online (and made me wonder why PSO2 isn't out in the U.S. yet).

Sure, the game's animations can sometimes make it difficult to follow button cues as they zip around the screen, but a.) that's kind of an issue with most rhythm games, and b.) it's the least of Project DIVA F's problems.

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Thanks to the game's Photo Studio mode, no historic moment can escape the power of Hatsune Miku's sassy frolicking. Conga line!

Smart rhythm game design ties player input to a single, distinct element of the soundtrack. Hatsune Miku doesn't always follow this logic. Most of the time, button presses in Project DIVA F match up with a song's vocal track -- miss a note, and the vocaloid will stop singing for a moment. But there are also sections where your actions represent guitars, drums, pianos, or some other nebulous piece of the puzzle, so it can be tricky gauging which parts to focus on from moment to moment.

Worse yet, the way the game handles its note charts is often inconsistent between songs. One track might assign every rapid-fire syllable to a button while another skips over entire words in favor of more uniform button patterns. This causes trouble when your reflexes start filling in gaps based on what you hear rather than what you see.

The uneven soundtrack doesn't help, either. The technology behind vocaloids like Hatsune Miku is impressive in many respects, but it never quite sounds human to me. Every sung phoneme has this stitched-together, robotic quality to it, which I guess must be a draw for some people? Certain songs mask the effect better than others, though, and some of them are, admittedly, pretty catchy.

Catchy enough that I'd listen to them outside of the game, though? Nope.

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I don't know about you, but I met some of my best friends by smearing my palm all over their faces.

And then there's the general air of perviness that saturates Project DIVA F. I could disregard the fact that the bulk of the game features scantily clad characters who, according to their creators, range between 14 and 20 years old. I could even ignore the suggestive poses, camera angles, and gross outfits -- one of which, an open jacket with nothing but a belt holding back enormous breasts, landed a special shout out in the game's ESRB description. Anyway, I'm no prude, and I've certainly enjoyed games with fashion sense more vulgar than this.

The game's secondary modes aren't as easy for me to dismiss. Specifically, I'm not so keen on the part where the game lets you observe Miku and friends while they do jumping jacks in their futuristic apartments. Oh, and you're also supposed to rub them down with a digital hand in order to "build affinity" or something? What? Honestly, I don't know who this is for, but it's not for me.

It's the sort of design choice that causes me call into question every other aspect of the game. Like the Photo Studio, which allows you to pose the game's cast in any image saved to your hard drive -- regardless of the motivation behind including this mode, it automatically seems suspicious in light of the creep factor found elsewhere in Project DIVA F. And someone at Sega must have thought so, too, because the Photo Studio goes out of its way to ensure that upskirt shots are (almost) impossible.

I wouldn't fault someone for enjoying Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F. Like I said before: We all have our guilty pleasures. But for me, personally, Project DIVA F isn't worth the baggage.

The Details

  • Visuals: Easily the game's biggest strength. From the backdrops to the choreography and camerawork, each stage is put together with all the craftsmanship of a real music video. Remember those?
  • Music: At its best, Hatsune Miku's soundtrack evokes the sort of high-energy J-pop that might precede your favorite anime. At worst, the game sounds like K.K. Slider rapping over "Sports!" from Tim & Eric's Awesome Show.
  • Interface: Pretty simple and straightforward. Some of the note charts feel a bit off, however.
  • Lasting Appeal: With multiple levels of difficulty, additional modes, and robust editing tools, there's plenty to do in Project DIVA F even after you've cleared all the songs.

A merely adequate rhythm game swaddled in yuck, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F can't hang with the best the genre has to offer.

2 /5

Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F Review Dustin Quillen Miku's U.S. debut brings the creep factor overseas. 2013-09-13T22:58:00-04:00 2 5

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Comments 16

  • Avatar for Daedalus207 #1 Daedalus207 3 years ago
    Thanks for the review. I thought your description of the "vocaloid sound" was pretty apt; it's not my cup of tea either. Combined with the "creeper" elements, I think this will be a "skip" for me.
    Are there other rhythm games you'd recommend? I had a great deal of fun with Elite Beat Agents. I picked up Rhythm Thief a while back but haven't made the time to play it much.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #2 Shinta 3 years ago
    Man, what a terrible review. If you're a fan of pop/electronic music and rhythm games, you can't go wrong with this.

    How you arrived at 2 out of 5 I will never know. Remind me to never listen to your reviews again.
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  • Avatar for xDQx #3 xDQx 3 years ago
    @Daedalus207 Rhythm Heaven Fever is a recent favorite of mine. Also quite fond of Bit. Trip Runner, Rock Band Blitz, and the woefully overlooked DJ Hero 2.
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  • Avatar for xDQx #4 xDQx 3 years ago
    Deleted September 2013 by xDQx
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  • Avatar for chaosyoshimage #5 chaosyoshimage 3 years ago
    @Shinta Sort of agree here, I'm kind of biased cause I'm a big fan of Miku and the Vita version of this game and I obviously can't speak for the reviewer's tastes, but his insistence on how "creepy" the whole thing is adnauseum is really alienating especially considering the site has been very otaku game friendly in the past.

    I don't know it feels like I'm being insulted for liking this sort of thing and I feel the site is better than that. I've always hated "nerds talking down to other nerds". Like there are sorts of nerdum that are more "acceptable" than others and the opening bit about Spartacus drives that home. The whole thing just feels unprofessional and mean-spirited. I expect better from the site than that. I too am coming out of this wary of Quillen's future reviews. Not because he disliked a game I liked, but because of the way he presented himself and his work in this piece.Edited 2 times. Last edited September 2013 by chaosyoshimage
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  • Avatar for shogunknight #6 shogunknight 3 years ago
    Brings the creep factor overseas....everyone is entitled to the game that suits their taste but categorizing this game as Guilty Pleasure? Im disappointed to be honest. Truth is the game is never for everyone, thats why it was released in japan only in the first place. And they ask why yakuza and other awesome titles arent being localized
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  • Avatar for limbeckd #7 limbeckd 3 years ago
    The stuff in the game does sound incredibly creepy. I think that's important information for anyone who isn't a Miku fanboy.
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  • Avatar for Rosewood #8 Rosewood 3 years ago
    I love rhythm games almost unreservedly, and have enjoyed this one even though I'm not a fan of the digitized voices. A changeable image for the character would be a given with a broad range of composers (fans? pros? no idea how these songs were chosen), I'd think.

    On the creep factor, maybe it's a sad thing to say but after some recent JRPGs I've tried, and not gotten through BECAUSE of the creepiness, Project Diva didn't hit that strong of a creepy note for me (so to speak).

    Except for the Diva Room. The tutorial says something like "you can touch the characters to get closer to them. but watch your hands! they'll get mad if you touch them inappropriately" and my gut response was "are you kidding me? I'm not touching them!" and I fled the Diva Room for good.
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  • Avatar for xDQx #9 xDQx 3 years ago
    @chaosyoshimage The Spartacus comparison wasn't intended to shame some subset of nerd culture. I only sought to illustrate my point that objectionable content can be justified if a.) it serves a purpose, and b.) the underlying material is worthwhile on its own. For me, personally, Hatsune Miku meets neither of these qualifications.

    If you took the review as a personal attack, I really don't know what to tell you. I'm honestly not the kind of guy who would judge a person based solely on a thing they like.
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  • Avatar for chaosyoshimage #10 chaosyoshimage 3 years ago
    @xDQx This is a part of the problem, by calling something as tame as Hatsune Miku as "objectionable content" it makes light of all the content that could be called objectionable. The way you outline in your review just seems to say "I don't get this therefore it's creepy." It comes off like a middle school's bully viewpoint of what's acceptable and what isn't. None of it comes off as something written by a professional, but instead someone that liking things idols and vocaloids are something people should feel ashamed of. If it wasn't meant to be written as an attack on those different than you, then maybe you should've left all those gross attacks out of the review.

    This isn't about how I like the thing in question. I don't care for the new My Little Pony cartoon, but I get in a huff when a reviewer calls all of its fans "creepy" like this review does. It's bullying plain and simple. I don't like bullies. I've been bullied my whole life for things as simple as liking Pokemon to things as important as my sexuality. Video game sites are somewhere that celebrates something I love and I come to them for well-reasoned analysis not insults. There's been lots of the former on this site for games that could be considered far "creepier" than this one. That's the sort of discourse I expect from this site.
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  • Avatar for GrantHeaslip #11 GrantHeaslip 3 years ago
    @xDQx Not sure if you're even the one responsible for the subtitle, but leading with the words "brings the creep factor overseas" set a negative and derogatory tone right off the bat. Sure, you didn't explicitly call people creeps (and later, pervs and degenerates) for liking the game, but I don't think people are entirely off-base for reading it that way.

    I've got zero investment in Project Diva F, I just found parts of this review (as@chaosyoshimage touched on) overly judgemental and mean-spirited. You leaned really heavily on stuff that by all accounts is a fairly small part of the overall experience, and for the majority of the audience, not the reason they're buying the game.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #12 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    Judgmental much? If you're seriously using the word "degenerate," something is wrong. I think you should appreciate the difference between "this is not my cup of tea," and "anyone who enjoys this tea is a bad person."
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  • Avatar for stevenbailey01 #13 stevenbailey01 3 years ago
    I am seriously questioning how useful a review of a music game is, when the reviewer doesn't like the artist.

    I mean, if I hated Beatles Rock Band because I'm not a fan of the Beatles, does that info really help anyone? I would assume only those that actually like the artist would have interest in the game for the most part.

    But if this is meant to be more like a LiveJournal post just for the reviewer's sake than to help anyone with their buying decisions, than I suppose he succeeded.
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  • Avatar for lilierobica08 #14 lilierobica08 3 years ago
    Deleted January 4000 by Unknown
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  • Avatar for blazecrespo97 #15 blazecrespo97 3 years ago
    Wow. Probably the worst review of a game I have ever seen. It more babbles inaccurately on about the fanbase than the actual game, they barely even did their research on the subject matter.

    I bet the bronies these guys have back there are no better.
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  • Avatar for bellboa45 #16 bellboa45 2 years ago
    Up yours!

    I like Miku
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  • Avatar for Lol96 #17 Lol96 2 years ago
    At first I love other review you made like kingdom heart as it's reflected some of my point towards it, but now this review really annoyed me. Idk you are complaining or reviewing, but this game's graphic is polished and music is flawless, and for rhythm-based game it's really excellent that should have 4/5. Other than music i really don't know what is the thing that you still want from this genre of game. If this game didn't fit for you and you don't like it, just stop playing and please stop making this kind of stupid review. It's a simplest logic that even a kid know.

    2/5 <<< Seriously? A worst joke i heard before. Totally loss my respect for you now, and hope i never read your mindless junk again.Edited 2 times. Last edited March 2014 by Lol96
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  • Avatar for halo44327 #18 halo44327 2 years ago
    This review is just utterly pitiful. I have never seen judgmental person. You are the kind of people I personally dislike because of how really aggressive it is. First off, the game is not for everyone obviously. But aside from that, if you enjoyed games like Rock Band, then you can easily see how it can still work equally or even better. It does somethings that actually worked OVER Rock Band (despite I still enjoy Rock Band and Guitar Hero). Such as not having to configure your timing on the sensitivity of the controller. Its pretty timed nicely. There is tons of content and replay. The songs never get old. You are a fool. Literally. You should go out and check out the history. Hatsune Miku is a Vocaloid which is a singing voice synthesizer. The voices are samples of actresses. There, you can basically change around the words to make a song. That is first off, utter genius. If you didn't do simple homework your statement means nothing and is weak and pathetic. You should also look up its past games. They are all similar. Check them out then come back. If you want to review the game, based it upon its previous titles. Not some other rhythm game that is not really similar to it at all aside it from being a rhythm game. Its like a CoD vs BF scenario all over again. You also have to understand Japanese culture. If you do not and you misunderstand the situation, then you will have a hate towards there culture. THEN you have to understand the outfits. The outfits are key to the song. They match it upon either the atmosphere, lyrics, etc. You also need to understand the backstory of each character. Vocaloids are basically a robot to begin with. They humanoid robots. If you even tried the song Odds and Ends, you'll notice that she is part of the computer. She is inside the computer. Meaning a part of her is a computer/robot. And I'm not fluent or even Japanese. I'm actually Korean. Even if I don't understand the lyrics and have to read it up on the internet, its fine. Its like reading a book. The songs tell a tale. Which is honestly not that hugely common in Western songs. I mean Western songs tend to have a slight story to its song but not that deep. For example Acute, another song in the game, tells about a tragic story of a love triangle and a broken heart. If you check out its "sequel" to the song, then you learn how actually really sad and tragic. So much that Miku tries to commit suicide. That is really deep and emotional. I'm not a professional reviewer but I would do a damn much better job than you. Much better. As a reviewer you should reflect on its gameplay, NOT its culture. I feel insulted. This is NOT a guilty pleasure. I watch ecchi anime yet I'm not sexually active around it. Its not a guilty pleasure. I think that is where it K/Os the review. Telling people that playing this game is "guilty pleasure" is insulting. You insulted mostly every anime fan out there. Anime fans might not always be actively enjoying Miku Hatsune but she is one of the mascots reflecting or relating it. Let alone its not creepy. If you here to suggest that the game has fanservice I won't deny it. ALL games have fanservice. Let it be sexually, violence, comedy, etc. Movies as well. Its just the way to appeal to audience. Live with it. If you didn't like the game, don't play it. Like I said, its obviously not a game for everyone. Hell. You might even criticize that the Tales series has bikini or that Fire Emblem Awakening allows you to marry a girl who is a dragon yet has an appearance of a child. Look to the fact that it isn't real. Its not something that plunders around in real life. Its entertainment. Its a bloody game!

    Man people like this guy really ticks me off. Not that the game is being review as a game but that it is being slandered with terrible words are just mean. Mean to its culture, to people's entertainment, and to people themselves. You called all of us "creeps", you have not researched the game's history nor its characters. You reflected against Western culture (like its games and other things). They will not match. The worst you could have put on a review score would be a 7. But giving a 2 is like saying the game is purely broken and unplayable. THAT is a 2. This game would at least deserve a 7 or 8 if done fairly. For me, its a 10/10. Why? Because it works, it does what all fans had wanted which is a large crowd than you actually expected. Its growing rapidly in America. And I like that. To able to accept another culture and outside products is something that we all should obtain. You are a terrible review. A terrible person.

    This guy makes me sick. I think I'll go play some Project Diva F now! And I accept the game for its culture. I understood the characters. The music. The history. The game works and functions great. And its fun to play. Especially doing hot potato with another person who accepts the same thing. Even I had one of my buddies who isn't really well-known to Vocaloids have fun.
    Wish me luck people. I'm hitting up Extreme now!
    (NOTE: I stopped down to that guy's level back to him to know how that feels; I'm not actually a terrible person and am happy to see anyone's hobbies or entertainment even if its not my type).

    Remember people, everyone likes something. Others might not. But that does not mean they are terrible people. Its like bronies. They do their thing but they aren't terrible people. Only a few select are known to be bashful towards others that its utterly mean spirited o begin with. Happpens everywhere.Edited 3 times. Last edited March 2014 by halo44327
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