For those who are familiar with the PSP's Project Diva series, the core of those games still exists in Project Mirai – a varied song list, a wealth of unlockable content and a huge dose of the iconic star herself, Hatsune Miku. The main change, aside from new 3D visuals, is that Miku and her Vocaloid friends are presented in super-deformed, Chibi style. Whilst it's true that the hardcore Otaku that will snap up any and all Miku related merchandise and even go to see her "live" in concert will likely buy the game regardless, it feels like it is being targetted towards a different audience, perhaps the younger female demograhic so important to Nintendo. It's no exaggeration to say that the game should probably come with an oral health warning – there is so much cuteness and sweetness on show that you may feel your teeth start to rot as you play.
It's not just the third dimension and dentist-bothering visuals that have changed from the PSP games though; the core gameplay mechanics are also different. Whereas the Project Diva series saw notes fly in from the edges of the screen, matching up with on-screen Playstation face-button icons, Project Mirai revolves around a clock interface. Circles appear with 7 icons on the outside that must be pressed correctly (some also need to be held) as a hand passes over them in a clockwise manner. Chaining together a series of well-timed inputs causes a meter to build and as it does, the players level will rise too, from one to four and then maximum. Once maxed-out, additional star icons will appear around the circles and hitting these will keep the level at its highest, increasing multiplier and increasing the overall score (although missing inputs also causes the level to drop) which in turn will lead to a higher grade being awarded at the end of each song, ranging from C to S. Successfully passing a song on the default difficulty (which requires only the A and B buttons to be used) will unlock a higher one, with another after that. As well as being more challenging in terms of amount of inputs, (the hardest difficulty flies in the face of the cute visuals, which is sure to please those who set out to master their rhythm action games) these higher difficulties also bring the X and Y buttons into play. The face buttons is where the input options end though as the touch screen is not used for the core gameplay.
It will vary from person to person, but the timing of the clock hand as it passes over the icons can sometimes feel a little off, something that was evident in the pre-release demo as well. It's not an issue that will make a huge impact on the overall enjoyment of the game as it becomes more natural feeling once the flow has been settled in to, but it is worth pointing out as something we experienced during gameplay. On the whole though, the clock interface works well, the flow from one to another - particularly as the difficulty level increases – feeling natural and satisfying. Having only twenty one songs available is another negative, even if the songs are lengthy when compared with similar examples of the genre – there are no minute long bite sized songs here, with three to four minutes being the norm.
The presentation is excellent. Whilst it is true that some may be put off by the cute stylings, the amount of time and effort that has gone into each song is something that must be praised. Each song will have a different style, (not all use the Chibi style either, some feature a more realistic, Project Diva style Miku) tempo and creative staff in charge of visuals, lyrics and so on. It makes each song feel unique and goes some way to making Miku herself feel like a genuine pop-star, with no two releases being the same. The 3D effect is subtle, but the layering effect allows each video to make some creative uses of text and items appearing in front and behind of others and, in a similar manner to that seen in Theatrhythm, lets the button icons stand out from the actual video, lessening the amount of clutter and potential for error. In another nod to Square Enix's Final Fantasy themed rhythm game, a separate mode is available from the main menu that allows videos to be watched independently, without having to 'play' along to them.
This PV mode leads us into the unlockable content. Fans of Miku will know that both she and her fellow Vocaloids appear in a wide variety of costumes from song to song and whilst that is no different in this title, there is also the ability to customise the outfits once they have been unlocked. However, whereas new songs are made available simply by passing those already on offer, the rest is a bit more complicated. Costumes, for example, are made available to buy (using credit built up by playing through the game) once certain videos have been watched in the standalone player. Whilst the dedicated fan will be drawn to these videos where the songs and their sometimes very professional-looking dance routines can be enjoyed, for the more casual player (or those without a walkthrough) the delight in dressing their Vocaloid idol in all manner of outfits may be frustratingly confusing.
One more aspect of the overall presentation is a feature that has appeared in more and more 3DS releases of late – AR mode. A handful of AR cards are included in the box which, once scanned, allow a recreation of Miku to appear in the real world that can be altered in size and pose. It'll come as no surprise to reveal that the poses are definitely of the adorable kind. Fans of all things cute will appreciate the fact that borders can be added to the scene and a picture snapped and saved to the SD card for future viewing. It's not likely to be a feature that sells the game to those on the fence, but it is encouraging to see another title take advantage of this impressive technology.
Whether it is targetted towards the Otaku or younger, more casual, demographic, it is undeniable that Hatsune Miku and the Future Stars: Project Diva will have it's followers in Japan. It will be more appealing to those in the West, but anyone who has gone to the trouble of importing a Japanese 3DS likely did so for games like this and will come away happy. When compared with the Project Diva series on PSP, it's true there are less songs and costumes available, but there is still a solid rhythm action game as the core here that adds some impressive 3D visuals and AR mode. It may not have the appeal of Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, but importers with a love of Japanese Pop-Culture and/or all things sickeningly cute, will enjoy what's on offer here.
- Colourful, upbeat, cute presentation.
- Great 3D and AR use.
- New gameplay mechanic after the Project Diva series on PSP.
- Not one for the cute averse.
- Song list lacking.
- Unlocking content more confusing than it should be.
Other Versions: N/A
Version Reviewed: Japanese