As an avid rhythm gamer, I’m always on the lookout for a new title I can sink my teeth into. Unfortunately the number of games I find that fit the standards of what I’m looking for are few and far between. When I heard that they were releasing Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX (henceforth referred to as Mirai) I was excited to get my hands on it, already being a fan of Miku having previously sunk many hours into the Diva series on PS Vita. I had high expectations but also some hesitations as I know that the two series are quite different, but nevertheless I kept my hopes high and jumped into the gameplay with an open mind.
Mirai is a slightly revised edition of Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai 2, a 3DS game that was never released outside of Japan. The Project Mirai series is a spin-off of the Project Diva series, where both are rhythm games based on popular songs by Miku and her other Vocaloid friends, their gameplay, presentation and difficulty levels are quite different. As a point of clarification, ‘Vocaloids,’ as they are referred to here, are commercial programs that are singing voice synthesizers which have been given names, appearances and personalities, the most famous being Hatsune Miku. Due to their nature of being programs, all the songs naturally tend to have an auto-tune like quality to the singing vocals which may bother some.
Upon my initial start-up of Mirai, the first thing that struck me as a little disconcerting was that the game opened with asking me to choose a partner out of the five main Vocaloid and a location for them to live in. It was odd as all of the marketing I had seen up to this point sold it as primarily a rhythm game, which is what I was expecting, yet the scene that was unfolding was setting up a simulation style game perhaps akin to Tomodachi Life, another 3DS title. In fact, the main menu isn’t even the rhythm game section, instead there is a small rectangle icon off in the right corner to tap to go into it, amongst of a field of other larger bright icons encouraging you to play with your chosen partner. Regardless, I shook it off and went straight to the rhythm game section which is what I was here for.
As with the vast majority of rhythm games, there were only five or so songs that were already unlocked, with a new song to be unlocked after each passing grade to a total of 48. There are two input methods; the classic button mode where you press the D-pad and lettered buttons along with the corresponding prompts on the screen, and the new tap mode where you tap one to three coloured zones using the stylus, depending on the difficulty mode, on the touch screen in time with the prompts. There are initially two difficulties available; Easy and Normal, passing Normal unlocks the Hard difficulty, and getting an S rank on Hard for six particular songs reveals the rare Super-Hard Mode. The gameplay has a quite a nice, gradual increase of difficulty between the different modes, from less buttons to keep an eye on or less zones to tap in the easier difficulties, to complicated double lines that require multitasking with both thumbs, and quick switches on the harder modes of button controls. Though if you’re a perfectionist like me, you have the problem of playing every song at least six times as the different modes are tracked separately, which makes sense, but also makes things a little tedious if you’re trying to unlock all of the difficulties for both modes.
All of the characters in Mirai use the chibi design where their heads are huge and their facial features exaggerated while the rest of their bodies look childish and disproportionate which give them a cutesy kind of look. Each song has its own music video featuring the in-game models of the characters, most of which is just the singer dancing along to the song, which, unfortunately, isn’t the most exciting thing to watch, but some songs have unique videos telling a story and those were always exciting to come across. The notes the player follows appear on a rail system, which is easy to follow when compared to the Diva series where the notes fly in from off screen. There are times that following the note chart can be tricky, particularly with fast songs where the notes will fly along the line and falling behind will likely mean failure, or times when they bunch the notes together on a line that twists and turns so you’re not sure which button you’re supposed to press. The note charts match the beats of the songs quite accurately, utilising hold notes when there’s an extended note in the song, and half-beat notes if there are some quick syllables so you really feel like you’re playing along with the song.
There is also a high level of customisation available, from aesthetics like changing a character’s outfit in a song after purchasing a new outfit from the store using MP you’ve earned, and lowering the volume of the sound effects compared to the music itself, to some songs having the option to change the main vocalist which also changes in the companion video. The gameplay itself is even customisable which I was very thankful for; allowing you to reduce screen clutter, change the icon symbols to arrows instead of letters, and changing the colours for button mode both of which I found especially useful as I’m accustomed to playing Diva on the Vita which has a different colour layout than the default colours that Mirai offered.
If you want a break from the rhythm game, there are plenty of other things to do, should they interest you. I wasn’t particularly fascinated but explored them for the sake of this review. The main option you have is interacting with your chosen Vocaloid partner which can be changed at any time; you can buy them snacks, take them out shopping for outfits to dress them up or items to decorate their room, give them an allowance of MP that they will spend on various things which you can see and some of the things they do with the money is quite cute. The main activity I would do with my partner was play Reversi, also known as ‘Mikuversi’ in-game, but even that wasn’t too often. Instead, I rather spent my time having a break with the built in Puyo Puyo 39! minigame.
While I didn’t enjoy the simulation type game, the rhythm game area was fairly enjoyable, though as a veteran of Diva it wasn’t too big of a challenge but I’ll admit that there were times I was stuck. The songs are very catchy, there should be a couple of songs that stick with you straight away, and the rest you don’t think are great, but trust me, they WILL start to grow on you. I was disappointed that they didn’t have an option for translated English lyrics and that quite a few songs weren’t translated into English while others were. I felt like it was a bit of an odd choice, because if you want to find out what the songs mean, you have to go look them up for yourself, and feels like something that should have been taken care of in the localisation process.
Project Mirai DX is a bright and colourful game, with plenty of large icons and cheery characters. I hesitate to recommend it to all who enjoy rhythm games because I understand that the aesthetic isn’t for everyone, it’s incredibly cutesy, and the characters tend to have quite high voices with an auto-tune quality. The songs are catchy, and you’ll probably find yourself humming to a particular tune that’s stuck with you, but if you’re not interested in Japanese pop music, you’re looking in the wrong place. If you’re a fan of the Diva series, I would say give this one a try as you might find some great new songs. If you’re not sure if this is the game for you, I would recommend downloading the demo on the Nintendo eStore and give it a shot or watching some gameplay videos to see how you like it.