With Hatsune Miku's rise in popularity in the west over the last few years, it may come as no surprise that SEGA has localised the 8th installment of the Project Diva series, which also sees its debut for PlayStation 4 in the main line series. Again it is accompanied by a PS Vita release with Cross-Save functionality which is great for those wanting to play on the big screen and then continue on the go.
There are notable changes this time around. Immediately (ignoring the staple "Ievan Polka" Tutorial) you are greeted to your main menu, which takes the form of a room in which you can interact with Miku. This is in place of the Diva Room feature of earlier games, where you could buy gifts and play games with the Vocaloids (or Digital Singers as they have been named in PDX). The reason for this change is because of a new story mode, a first for the series.
Miku's friends have found themselves unable to sing and it is up to Miku to power up "Cloud Prisms" with "Voltage" and bring life back to their world. With every song you complete, you power up one of five Cloud Prisms, each having their own style; Classic, Cute, Cool, Elegant and Quirky. These have five songs each to total 30 tracks, not to mention they are mainly shorter versions of them, which is disappointing.
It's less than we have become used to seeing in the series, though this isn't all bad, while there are fewer songs the choice is incredible. Only one song is returning from earlier titles which has been slightly remixed to give it a striking new sound. Well... I say only one returns, but in reality the most fun is in the five Medleys (one each per Cloud) which mega-mix both old and new tracks into lively stage shows.
Because of the use of a story, other changes have been made to fit the feeling of the game, which is focused more on performance and production. This means all of the songs are performed as if in a concert on stage, removing the music video style videos of previous titles. Emphasis on dancing and outfits has been chosen which gives this a fun twist.
There is no longer a Shop to buy your new Modules (costumes), instead they are earned at random during a fun transformation sequence when pulling off a successful Chance Time (a section of song where failing is switched off that used to alter videos in Project Diva F/F 2ND). This means you have to mix and match your outfits and accessories to fashionable or hilarious degrees. Every module now has their own attribute based on the five Cloud Prisms styles and also a built-in skill, such as raising your chances of collecting a rare Module or allowing missed notes to still accrue points.
This sounds and is quite fun in the beginning, but there is a down side. As each Module is random you can find yourself grinding to unlock the ones you are after, but worse is that even if you have already collected a certain Module it can still drop. I myself have seen Kagamine Rin change into her Swimsuit Tan Module more times than I wish to count and with around 300 Modules to unlock this can be especially infuriating. Another related issue is that each of the Vocaloids (excluding Miku) only have one song each that they star in. Once again alternate voice tracks aren't included, despite being a fun feature in the Nintendo 3DS exclusive title Project Mirai DX on select songs. Which means you'll be grinding for these costumes on songs with Miku's voice but in Kaito's or Meiko's body. This is funny at first but a real lost opportunity to strengthen and lengthen the shorter track list.
Coupled with this issue is an extension of the story called "Event Quests". This is where another Vocaloid will talk with you and express their wish to sing a specific style. Doing so often unlocks a rarer specific Module just for them. For instance, Luka can approach you to be in a Quirky song. You can only take part if you have been lucky enough to already have a Quirky costume unlocked for her, but she has no songs of her own in the Quirky set so she has to take the place of the lead Vocaloid, typically Miku (it's her game after all). Unless of course you wish to hear a tenor tone escape her throat by picking "Underhanded Rangers, Urotander" by Kaito. It is a real shame there isn't one song per style for each Vocaloid or the ability to swap in the correct vocals for them on the few available.
This can also cause an issue in the Concert Editor. Originally in the series you were able to upload your own custom songs and edit dances and scenes freely and then upload the sequence you created for others to try if they had also downloaded the relevant song. This has now been watered down to a simple camera and special effects production and removes the ability to add your own songs to play around with as well. It's not a feature I ever really played with deeply, but super-fans will find this disappointing. That said, what you CAN do in PDX is very intuitive and easy to use.
If you are looking for a more traditional style of play with high scores and no distractions there is also a Free Play mode that is just like the other games. Just pure gameplay and Module setup with the possibility of failing mid tune, which isn't possible in the story mode. Good for practicing those harder songs over and over if you aren't fussed about collecting any more Modules, Accessories and Gifts. It also removes the need for the transformations, though you can pick one still if you like them. This gives you an untainted full view of the whole backing video which you can also just watch and enjoy from the Free Play menu as well. Visually this is where the PS4 version particularly stands out. It is the most colorful and enticing of the games thus far, the Vocaloid models are gorgeously rendered and animations are perfectly smooth during all dance sequences. The inclusion of flawless 60fps is also incredibly welcome as delay has been an issue in the past. I sadly haven't had the opportunity to play the PS Vita version first hand, but I hear reports that it plays just fine and still looks just as lovely as PD F 2ND.
Altogether there's a lot to keep you coming back to the game; the track list is possibly one of the best, the story spaces out sessions just right, newcomers will find a smoother ride in the story due to lack of mid song fails and the RNG drops and mix-matching of the Modules and Accessories is fun and rewarding. Currently there are also two DLC songs available and Modules/Vocaloids to purchase (though the Vocaloids have no voices or songs in-game for them and are only selectable in Free Play), not to mention instant Unlock Keys for individual Clouds, Modules and Accessories or a single pack for those that just want everything right away. Right now the game feels ALMOST finished, but with some fine tuning the new features and layout could bring a new style and much-needed fresh feel to the series. I look forward to seeing it progress in the future as I try my damnedest to get good at the final Medley on Extreme difficulty.