What I’m Obsessed With – Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone

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Hello there, everyone! I hope that you’re doing well.

I had an idea for a recurring entry series that would focus on things – be they games, books, bands, TV shows, or other media – that I’ve been spending a lot of time with. For my inaugural entry in this series, I thought I would focus on Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone! I think the timing for this is just perfect, as Persona 5 finally releases tomorrow.. and knowing me, I’m not going to be talking about any other video game for the next few months once I have that.

For those not in the know, Hatsune Miku is what is known as a Vocaloid, which is essentially a virtual vocalist. Users install the Vocaloid client on their operating system and then install a voice bank (like Miku) that the client can use to provide vocals to music. Miku is undoubtedly the most popular Vocaloid avatar worldwide, to the tune of 100,000 officially licensed songs as of October 2015, an annual concert that has taken place at famous venues such as the Nippon Budoukan, a regular presence at Sapporo’s annual Snow Festival, and a recurring concert series known as Miku Expo that has taken her from the United States and Mexico to China, Taiwan, and Indonesia. She has appeared in commercials for anything from convenience stores to Toyota Corollas and opened for Lady Gaga in 2014. Merchandising for her also includes a trading card game, a series of PVC figures, and last, but not least, a video game franchise.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva is a series of rhythm games that debuted on the PSP in 2009. The series has proved successful enough to warrant entries on the PS3, PlayStation Vita, and PS4, plus a spin-off series for the Nintendo 3DS called Project MiraiProject Diva Future Tone debuted as an arcade cabinet in 2013, boasting over 100 songs upon its release, and updates to the cabinet over the years added more even more songs to the roster. Last June, SEGA opted to port the then-latest version as a digital-only title to the PS4 in Japan, and SEGA of America released the game Stateside this past January.

Future Tone‘s library of songs is massive, with about 230 in the base package, not including the DLC packs that have been released since. The content is broken up into three packages – Prelude, Future Sound, and Colorful Tone. Prelude, which is free on the PlayStation Store, is essentially a demo of the game, with two songs and a handful of “modules” (this game’s word for costumes) available for use. Future Sound is an expansion that includes songs which previously appeared in past entires in the Project Diva console games; Colorful Tone includes songs from the Project Diva arcade games (Future Tone is actually the second arcade release in the series, following Project Diva Arcade from 2010) and the Project Mirai spin-offs. For all the time that I’ve spent playing the game, I’ve found no discernible difference in the kind of content you get from each expansion; each one grants you songs in a variety of genres, from rock, to pop, to electronic music, and even some jazz and R&B. For all intents and purposes, the source of content is the only signifying difference. Each expansion is $30, but buying them together nets you a 10% discount; in effect, buying both expansions amounts to slightly less than a full-price retail game. And certainly, Future Tone definitely gives you your money’s worth based on the amount of content.

I latched on to Future Tone, my first foray into the Hatsune Miku line of rhythm games, due to its welcoming, pick-up-and-play style of gameplay. As a rhythm game, you pretty much just press buttons in time with the music. Each of the face buttons acts as an input for the game, and the directional inputs on the front of the PS4 controller also correspond to the face buttons – so down on the D-pad is the same as “X,” up is the same as “O,” and so on. Future Tone, from what I understand, is the first to introduce slide notes, which can be performed either by pressing right or left on the right analog stick or by pressing the appropriate triggers. The game features five difficulties: easy, normal, hard, extreme, and in some cases, extra extreme. The higher the difficulty, the greater the variety of button inputs you’ll be expected to work with. From what I’ve experienced thus far, a vast majority of the songs in the game are playable at more than one difficulty setting, so you can play on a more forgiving mode and work your way up over time. Here’s an example of Techno Plasma Magician playing “Weekender Girl,” from Prelude, on Normal Mode:

As previously mentioned, Future Tone doesn’t feature any genre in particular – you have plenty of rock songs from producers like ryo or wowaka, but then you have plenty of electro-flavored dance songs from livetune and HachiojiP in equal measure. One of my personal favorite tracks is “Tricolore Airline,” a bossa nova-lite jazz tune, complete with color-coordinated outfits and a cute airplane set for the music video.

In my experience playing the game, each difficulty setting is an organic step up from lower settings. Normal boards are more likely to have notes on an offbeat and in relatively quick succession (at a 1/8 clip, for those familiar with music notation), hard boards are more likely to have note holds and multi-note hits (pressing more than one button at once), and extreme boards mix up the various kinds of button inputs for seemingly more random patterns than previously encountered. As someone who generally isn’t that skilled at games, I found that the move from normal to hard, and to extreme for songs I’ve grown comfortable with, was natural. Every time I played a song on hard, I felt prepared to handle it. Any mistakes or switches in patterns seemed like a logical extension of previously-mastered skills, and all it took was a bit of practice before I was able to hold my own. In short, it was harder without being frustrating, which is the most welcoming kind of difficulty spike in my opinion.

The graphics are also pretty great. They’re not show stopping, by any means, but they are clean and inoffensive. Most of the game’s songs have a video playing in real time underneath the game board, which runs at a smooth 60 frames per second throughout. Some have commented that Future Tone‘s art style is a little bit jarring compared to the previous console outings. While I admit I do prefer the character renders from past games, I still think Future Tone more than adequately captures Miku’s charm.

One thing I particularly enjoy about the graphics in Future Tone is that the background videos for many songs aren’t rote shots of Miku performing the songs, but are instead fully-realized music videos with clever imagery. One features Miku as a girl wandering the seafloor alone; another features her as a lonely schoolgirl, navigating a negative headspace that grows darker and darker as the song progresses. There’s even an option to watch these music videos without the strain of having to worry about button inputs. You might think that such videos may distract players from the main attraction, but in my experience, it’s never been an issue. I’ve actually been able to focus on the video during lighter moments of each song’s board, without breaking my chain.

Future Tone does have a few shortcomings as a game, though. Primarily, there are no other game modes besides the main rhythm game. Whereas in other Project Diva games there are side attractions that keep your attention, all you do in Future Tone is earn points from clearing the various songs, then unlock modules and accessories using those points. Alternatively, you can watch the many music videos contained in the game. If you’re not interested in rhythm games or don’t find much enjoyment in the style of gameplay that Future Tone offers, there’s pretty much nothing else to do. Although Future Tone is very generous by unlocking all of the songs upfront, that may take a lot of incentive to play away from some achievement-oriented players. These are not significant downsides for me, but they may be for you.

All in all, I love Future Tone. I’ve been playing the game regularly for the last month or two and have only played about a third of the songs available. Though it is limited in variety of play styles, the core rhythm game has hit the spot. It looks great, it sounds great, it feels great to play. If you’re at all interested in the Vocaloid phenomenon, Future Tone provides a pretty comprehensive look at it. I would recommend just giving Prelude a look if you’re conflicted on the lack of variety, but otherwise, it is well worth the $54 for the complete package.

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