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EGM Review:
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F

Posted on August 27, 2013 AT 11:35am

The world is now hers

Somewhere in San Francisco, a Sega of America employee has become an ex–Sega of America employee. You see, at some point earlier this year, he (or she) thought it’d be funny to fake the paperwork responsible for getting Project Diva F brought to the United States. It was done simply as a joke, and our poor employee expected that someone would realize the silliness of such an idea and call their bluff.

But, no—the paperwork never got stopped. It continued up the chain of command, its contents merely glossed over as one executive signed off on it and passed it on to the next. With all of the proper signatures in place, the paper was dropped into a manila folder and sent to the localization department, where—against their better judgement—the translation team started work on bringing Miku to us in English.

That, dear readers, is the only way I can understand how Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F got released in the West.

For those of you who know all about the Project Diva series, you know exactly why I say that. For those of you who don’t, you have to understand: This game isn’t niche, it’s the game that niche games think about when they want to feel mainstream. While the Vocaloid movement has caught on to some degree here in the States, it’s still a genre of music—and an overall concept—that is utterly baffling to most of our populace. So, I give Sega all the credit in the world for bringing us Project Diva F, even thought I think they were insane to do so.

Their insanity is our gain. I’ve been a fan of the Project Diva series since its inception, and it has gone on to become one of my all-time favorite music rhythm franchises. The concept, like all good games in the genre, is simple: PlayStation controller button–styled notes appear onscreen, their matching markers make an entrance, and when the two join up, you press the corresponding button. For regular notes, it’s just a tap. Extended notes, you hold the button down until the note is done. For combo notes, you hold the matching direction on the D-pad when you hit the button. (So, for example, since X is the button in the down position, you’d press Down + X.)

And—also like all good games in the genre—the beauty of that gameplay comes in once you’re on higher difficulty levels, when the notes are coming fast and furious, and you get into a mental zone where it’s just you, the music, and your ability to keep up with the pressure.

Of course, a music game is only as good as its music, and that’s one of the biggest lines of separation between those who will enjoy Project Diva and those who won’t. When you’ve got projects like Rock Band or Guitar Hero or even Dance Dance Revolution, you’re talking about games with a wide assortment of popular hits from both current rotation and recent decades. Here, the entire point of the series is to specifically focus on songs that Vocaloid fans have crafted, from budding musicians working out of their living rooms to the big time producers who make Miku and company come to life in their spare time. Think of it like, say, The Beatles: Rock Band—you’re either into the narrow focus of music the game was built around or you’re not, with not a lot of people falling into the middle ground.

So much about Project Diva F is top-notch: the track selection, the high-resolution character models and backgrounds powered by the PlayStation 3, the series’ tried-and-true gameplay, and the overall charm and sense of fun that permeates so much of what Project Diva and Vocaloids are about.

That’s why it pains me to then have to mention that this game, Project Diva F, is actually my least favorite release in the series. For each subsequent release, the developers at Sega felt as if they needed to add something new to keep the games feeling fresh, and this time around, by far the biggest addition are Star notes. For these new “scratch” markers, instead of using either the d-pad or the DualShock 3’s face buttons, you flick one of the analog sticks in any direction when note and marker meet. (On the Vita version, which hasn’t been announced for American release as of this point, it’s a slide of your finger on the touchscreen.)

While I’d estimate these Star notes never account for more than 10% of a particular track’s notes, I detest them every time they show up. I play Project Diva because I love the fast-paced pressure of having to perfectly hit a sequence of beats that jump back and forth from one button to another, and because of the totally different nature of how you hit the Star notes, they can never be combined in a sequence with any other note type. The result, unsurprisingly, is that the portion of the song they populate feels dumbed down and lacking in challenge compared to the rest of the track.

[Update: To clarify, the game offers you the option to move the means of input for hitting Star notes from the analog sticks to another button on the controller. As my issue with the Star notes is how they impact overall song difficulty and the normal flow of gameplay, making that change didn't affect my opinion of them. Strictly in terms of accuracy, I never had any real problems hitting the Star notes using the analog stick, so I did not take that means of input into account as a negative when doing this review.]

That complaint—and the fact that there exists no option to offer up English translations for the song lyrics, which is a crazy omission in my eyes—lead me to feel some tinge of disappointment in Project Diva F. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that we got the game, and I’m happy that Vocaloid fans will finally be able to experience a Project Diva title without having to go the costlier import route that some of us have. It’s just, knowing how good some of the previous Project Diva games have been, I wish America’s introduction to the series had come via one of those better chapters.

Still, I won’t rain of the parade of all of the Miku (and Luka and Rin and Len and Meiko and Kaito) fans out there. Project Diva F is an addictive and enjoyable game, and it’s filled with enough songs, unlockables, and bonus features to keep any Vocaloid fan busy for week.

Just, please, Sega—nix the Star notes. (Offer me DLC to remove them from Project Diva F 2nd, Sega, and I swear I’ll buy it.) And, while you’re at it, stay crazy enough to continue to give Miku a chance in the West. Because, as the diva herself once sang, “I’m the world’s number one princess/You should know, hey, hey/Making me wait is not allowed/Who do you think you’re dealing with?”

Developer: Sega • Publisher: Sega • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 08.27.2013
If I could have waved a magic wand and brought any of the Project Diva games to the West, Project Diva F wouldn’t have been my choice. (That would have been Project Diva Extend.) Still, despite my dislike for the Star notes that have been sprinkled into its gameplay, Project Diva F remains a fantastically fun music rhythm games for those hardcore fans of computers singing about being a cat.
The Good A super addictive music rhythm game set to a great selection of Vocaloid tunes
The Bad Star notes break up the flow of songs, and are too easy in terms of challenge
The Ugly Re-writing your Project Diva F review five times as you try to figure out how deep into the Vocaloid rabbit hole to go
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F is available exclusively on PS3. 
Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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