Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX Review

Hatsune Miku Project Mirai DX Review

You’ve probably heard of Hatsune Miku, Japan’s bigger-than-life vocaloid. While she’s a cultural phenomenon in her homeland where she routinely crushes the music charts and her concerts sell out entire stadiums, Miku has become pretty big deal in the west, too. How big? Like, big enough to make Letterman blush in front of a live studio audience (go ahead, pinch yourself) and have three of her own video games localized.

The trend continues with Project Mirai DX, a 3DS spin-off of the popular Project Diva series. Even though they’re part of the same lineage and share a lot in common, Mirai breaks from the pack to do its own thing that’s fairly separate from the Diva games. Rather than shoehorn the gameplay of its predecessors onto 3DS, Mirai borrows from Theatrhythm’s example by having players tap regions of the 3DS’ touch screen, swiping up, down, and all around in beat with the music. If you prefer the precision and physical feedback that only actual buttons can offer, you can easily swap schemes between songs for the best of both worlds. While your method of input might vary, visually both modes look about the same, though continue to march to the beat of their own Mirai-styled drum. While in a very basic sense Project Mirai plays like the Project Diva games, in that you match up colored notes as they approach a marker, but instead of flying in from all directions, Mirai’s notes follow a clear, easy to interpret path, which is a breath of fresh air.

Another way in which Mirai differentiates itself from its Diva cousins is how difficulty is curved. Rather than slog through repetitive quarter-note beats, songs typically follow more colorful patterns with more variation, even on easier difficulties. Make no mistake, Mirai isn’t a hard game per se, but it prepares you for harder difficulties much earlier on than the Diva games. AM2, the developer behind Mirai, found a way to make the difficulty curve more organic by throwing complex patterns at players in a more readable manner early on before really ratcheting it up later on in hard mode. By then players have developed a muscle memory for certain combinations of patterns and thus difficult songs comes across as much easier than they actually are.

In a sense, the seemingly lower difficulty may turn away long-time Diva fans, but frankly I believe this is the game’s core strength. Even as someone who’s purportedly good at rhythm games, the Diva games can be obscenely difficult because they rely on filling the screen with excessive amounts of notes to trip up the player’s ability to read incoming beats, as well as physically exhaust them. Not only is that an artificial way of increasing difficulty, but it’s also not very fun. Even though I’m capable of frantically mashing the same two buttons in time with a song, I’d much rather have some variety in my button presses. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Diva a great deal, but the higher difficulties do a poor job of accommodating players who have mastered the lower ranks. Project Mirai instead tackles difficulty without relying on the idea that songs need to be fast to be difficult. By utilizing the previously mentioned complicated patterns between the face buttons and d-pad as well as some precise note placement, some of Mirai’s slower songs, like the 95 BPM “Hello/How are you?” are actually more difficult than faster songs like the 154 BPM “Senbonzakura”.

While Project Mirai can be difficult at times, it’s rarely punishing. However, the game’s emphasis on song mastery over simple completion ensures that the game still provides a hefty challenge. It’s actually fairly difficult to fail out of songs in Project Mirai, though this leniency is much preferred to having to repeat the games many nearly 5-minute songs after missing a small section of notes. Rather than needing to simply get to the end of a song, the game challenges players to reach an S or S+ rank, as well as collecting all of a song’s SP markers. SP markers are strewn about each song in the form of short sections of notes. By clearing a short set of notes without missing a single beat, you obtain the associated SP marker. By the time you’re able to consistently get every SP marker in a song, you’re very likely only a few notes away from being able to full combo said song. The emphasis on working toward perfection of a song is one of several ways Project Mirai feels more like you’re working with it to achieve a goal than it trying to stop you in your tracks with absurd jumps in difficulty.

Additionally, Mirai lets your customize the game to an absurd degree. Nearly every qualm I initially had with the game’s UI was easily solved by simply checking out the options menu. Here you can adjust nearly every facet, from the amount of clutter on the screen to the individual colors/icons used by notes. On top of modifying the look of the game itself, you can adjust each song’s performers to a similar extent. In nearly every song you can change the outfits worn by the vocaloid performing, even giving them outfits belonging to other characters in the game. In certain cases you can even change the performer, which not only affects the background video but the song itself, replacing the default vocals with that of the selected character. It’s a really nice touch, effectively extending the game’s song count over its already massive list of nearly 50 tracks.

Beyond the rhythm game, Mirai boasts a surprisingly robust amount of content, including a bizarre life-sim that attempts to unite the other facets of the game together. When players start the game for the first time, they’re asked to select an idol to hang out with and subject to menial activities. All in all, this mode feels shallow or at least not nearly as engaging as the rhythm portion. There just aren’t a lot of ways to interact with your Miku outside of gorging it with food or throwing money at it (honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds). I suppose there’s also “Mikuversi,” which is just Reversi, or “Hang out mode”, which is a weird mode where you spout words through 3DS’ microphone to “talk” to your Miku, which works about as well as playing Nintendogs with a DS that’s gone through the wash a few times. Conversations are just boring and one-sided and if I wanted boring and one-sided, I would just go play Seaman for Dreamcast because at least those interactions are aquatic, boring, and one-sided.

Thankfully, there’s an upside of awkwardly conversing in Project Mirai. Doing so will improve your friendship between you and your vocaloid, which then grants you access to all sorts of weird collectible items to decorate your Miku house with. Interior decorating, much like in real life, isn’t terribly stimulating, though it can be fairly amusing with the right accent pieces. There are some tasteful choices like a Hang-On cabinet, monoliths, and even steam rollers, and I guess there’s Miku-related stuff, too. Again, the whole life-sim mode sort of just exists and doesn’t really enhance or detract from Mirai as an overall game.

Speaking of games, there’s another game mode tucked away within Project Mirai’s menus that’s worth talking about. It’s been 10 long years since the last Puyo game released in North America, but thanks to Miku, Puyo lives on…as a weird game mode in a rhythm game spin-off. But never mind that, Puyo is great and this Puyo mode more is more or less what you might expect from a series installment. Match up four blobs of the same color to clear them then chain your combos to send blocks to your opponent’s field. In other words, it’s Puyo, so I won’t bore you with the finer points of carbuncles and garbage management, but it’s great to have Puyo back in some form. Even still, for a bonus mode, it’s got a surprising amount of options and difficulties ranging from laughably easy to soul-crushingly hard. There’s even a two-player mode, though sadly there’s no 3DS Download Play, so tell all your friends to go buy Puy—er, Project Mirai when it comes out.

Even after all this talk of extra modes, I still feels like there’s a lot I’m not adequately covering, like the Monster Hunter-esque profile cards you can streetpass or spotpass to others which not only contain a short message from you, but also send others one of your custom dances, a Niconico-style comment you’ve placed on a video, and a short song you created using an editor that easily puts Animal Crossing‘s town tunes to shame. If anything, this just speaks to just how much content is packed into the game’s little cartridge (or very large download, if you go that route). Even without the extra bells and whistles, Project Mirai would likely be one of the best rhythm games on the 3DS. With them, Mirai is easily a must-buy for anyone who enjoys a well-made music game.

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX Review
Gameplay9
Presentation10
Lasting Appeal10
Inclusion of Puyo Pop10
Pros
  • Intuitive interface
  • Well-designed difficulty curve
Cons
  • Dull Life Sim mode
9.5Overall Score
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About The Author

News Reporter/Game Reviewer

Jacob Rifenbery is a content writer for Always Nintendo. While first and foremost a fan of strange rhythm games, he enjoys playing and writing about a wide variety of titles.