Most musicians will agree that the moment you move from being able to play a song to being able to perform it is that magical feeling when pure, primal rhythmic and melodic instinct takes over.
Your hands and fingers start to move by themselves; your foot starts to tap; your whole body gets involved. You can feel the music flowing through you; your instrument becomes an extension of yourself. You no longer have to think about the technicalities of what finger to put where or reading the music; you just instinctively know what to do next. And your performance goes from being a flat, technical interpretation of notes on a page to something that evokes genuine feelings in both performer and listener. It can be exhausting and thrilling.
Project Diva f understands this feeling arguably better than any other rhythm game I've played in recent memory -- including those that made use of plastic instruments back when they were in vogue. Through its simple, accessible controls -- four buttons and the Vita's touchscreen -- the game encourages you into this state of musical euphoria quickly and often, allowing you to truly feel like you're part of the music; it's not long before you realize that you're barely reading the button prompts that are appearing on screen at all, and instead are relying purely on instinct and your knowledge of the song. The PlayStation 3 version of the game was good for this; the way the Vita version confines everything to one device, however, makes for an extremely immersive experience for the musically-minded -- just be sure to plug a good pair of headphones in before you play.
If you're not inherently musical, it can take a little longer to get into that state of immersion, but a broad range of difficulty levels caters to all levels of ability, ranging from basic "tapping to the beat" on a single button in Easy mode to intricate counter-rhythms and button combinations on Hard and Extreme. Normal, meanwhile, strikes a good balance; accessible but challenging, with the pursuit of the elusive "Perfect" rating on each of the game's tracks proving to be an enormously addictive experience.
Unlike the more mainstream music games from a few years back, Project Diva f's tracks will probably initially prove to be unfamiliar to all but the most committed Vocaloid enthusiasts, but, pleasingly, they run the gamut from '60s-style rock and roll to modern industrial beats and everything in between. The various Vocaloid modules -- including Miku herself, Kagamine Rin and Len, Megurine Luka, Meiko and Kaito -- demonstrate their considerable versatility as you work your way through the track list, with the creators of the tracks taking every opportunity to show off their skills with the modules' voice synthesis.
Some tracks are more successful than others -- Kaito's male vocals on "ACUTE" sound particularly robotic, for example; conversely, Meiko's vocals on Stay With Me are very convincing (at least until she goes for the really high notes, that is) -- but they are all very distinct from one another, and memorable in their own way. In other words, even if you're largely unfamiliar with the work of Vocaloid musicians to date, it won't take long for at least a few of the tracks in Project Diva f's selection to worm their way into your brain, and you'll be singing them for weeks.
Each song is also accompanied by a beautifully presented virtual video featuring Miku and her friends, and as you earn Diva Points through progress in the rhythm game, you're able to unlock various new costumes and accessories for the Vocaloids, allowing you to tailor each video to your own custom specification -- including replacing the default performer with another if you so desire. Once you've beaten a song, you can also just watch your customized video any time you want, and it's worth doing so for songs you particularly like, since the unfortunate side-effect of getting well and truly into "the zone" while playing is that you can't pay that much attention to what's going on in the background.
Customization is a huge part of Project Diva f; the game thrives on providing the ultimate fan experience for Vocaloid fans -- and perhaps creating a few new ones in the process. Aside from the aforementioned costume changes, you can also spend your Diva Points on gifts for the cast in order to build your Affinity with each of them; doing so, in turn, unlocks further items to purchase, many of which either trigger fun little cutscenes or actually have a practical function. Buy Miku an alarm clock and you can then actually use it as an alarm clock, for example; purchase a photo album, meanwhile and you can choose which of the many, many included pieces of Vocaloid fanart will grace the (unfortunately frequent) loading screens and the walls of the various Vocaloids' rooms.
The jewel in the crown of Project Diva f's customizable experience is undoubtedly Edit Mode. Here, you're able to construct not only your own note patterns for either any of the included songs or MP3 files you've transferred onto your Vita, but also shoot your own virtual video, too. And this isn't some half-hearted effort where you can choose from a few presets; you have complete control over your whole video, including camera positioning and keyframing, special effects, character animations, facial expressions and even lip movements. It's possible to produce some extremely impressive results given a bit of time and effort, but be prepared to spend some time learning how the software works; its capabilities mean it has more in common with professional-level video editing software like Adobe Premiere or Apple's Final Cut Pro than your average video game's edit function. The only disappointing thing is that there's no export to video file or YouTube option; a real shame, since it's possible to create some amazing footage if you put your mind to it and it would be nice to share it with non-players a bit more easily.
The really nice thing about the Project Diva f experience, though, is that many different types of player can all have an immensely satisfying time with the game. Music game enthusiasts will enjoy the rhythm game's variety of songs, simple mechanics, demanding note patterns and focus on practice and perfection; Vocaloid fans will appreciate the opportunity to interact with their favorite characters (though it would be nice to be able to communicate with them in more ways; patting them on the head until they invite you to play Made You Look! is fun for a while but ultimately tiresome); creative types will have a delightful time with Edit Mode; social types will enjoy sharing their Edit Mode masterpieces with the community in the hope of getting positive feedback.
You'll obviously have the most rewarding experience with the game if you take a pinch of everything, but both the rhythm game and Edit Mode in particular are more than strong enough to stand by themselves even if you have no interest in the other aspect. And even if you're not a Vocaloid fan per se, the wide selection of tracks on offer may just make for a few converts -- particularly when combined with the wonderful, dripping-with-personality character animation seen in the videos.
In short, then, if you're a Vita owner that derives even the slightest bit of satisfaction from either rhythmically tapping on things or creatively complementing music with visuals of your own creation, Project Diva f is a game you're going to want to add to your collection. It's a rewarding, enjoyable and wonderfully complete-feeling package that is friendly to both casual play and multi-hour deep-dive sessions -- and Sega should be applauded for taking a risk and bringing it to our shores.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Project Diva f is a beautiful-looking game with the sole exception of the inside of each Vocaloid's mouth, which is, bizarrely, a yawning, texture-free abyss.
- Music and Sound: Unsurprisingly for a game whose raison d'être is music, the soundtrack is both excellent and diverse. Sound effects, meanwhile, give some helpful, meaty feedback on the notes you're playing.
- Interface: Loading breaks between menus are a little too frequent, but at least it's an opportunity to admire the zillion fanart images that adorn the load screens.
- Lasting Appeal: Most players will "clear" the rhythm game on Normal difficulty fairly quickly, but then the real challenge begins: perfect everything on Normal? Clear Hard or Extreme mode? Make a masterpiece in Edit Mode? The choice is yours, and it could potentially keep you busy for months.