I've been hearing a lot about a Japan-only PSP game recently, and apparently its one of the most sought-after import games in recent years. This game turned out to be a rhythm game called Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA. Hatsune Miku is a virtual idol originally from the Vocaloid software. If you don't know what Vocaloid is, look it up. She is basically a character with her own unique synthesized voice and appearance, and she got her own game this time around. It looked interesting, so I got to playing quite a bit of it.
Project DIVA is basically a rhythm game, with original songs sung by Hatsune Miku and some impressive music videos to go along with them. It's unlike DDR in that the notes can appear anywhere on the screen, and come in from any direction. I'm a total virtuoso at DDR, but it came to a surprise to me when I had trouble playing the easy songs. The main mode of play is Freeplay, which is basically where you play the songs. You unlock more songs as you play and get a decent grade on each song. The gameplay is actually really fun and doesn't get stale like DDR because of the free-form way the steps move in and the great music videos playing in the background.
The feature that appealed to me the most was the custom song editor, which allows you to get any mp3 from your computer and make steps for it. The editor is pretty complicated to use at first, but you'll definitely get the hang of it. The customization doesn't just end with BPM and the steps, however. You get to make your own music video, and you have hundreds of options to choose from. You can select the stage, the camera panning, what Miku does, etc. It's almost overwhelming, but the possibilities are limitless.
The features don't end there. You can customize your virtual idol with items you unlock as you play the game. Hatsune Miku is not the only idol; you can unlock more later on. You can change their costume and colors, and each idol has a distinct synthetic singing voice. This is definitely some very desirable unlockable content, as you can basically customize your own singer. On that note, graphics are very well done. Hatsune Miku is cute as a button and animated very well as she dances around. She is probably the main reason why so many gamers are raving over this game.
Last but not least is a little bonus feature, Miku's Room. Choosing this feature takes you to a room, the theme of which you can change into anything you want. You can place all kinds of furniture and dolls that you unlock through regular play, and you basically just watch your idol lounge around. You can take pictures and save them to your memory stick, and that's about it. It's not a very useful feature, but it's there nonetheless.
As great as the game is, there are some minor issues rendering it imperfect. The main problem most people have complained about is lag. When the graphics on the screen overload during a song, the frame-rate will actually drop. This may throw your timing off and make it difficult to detect exactly when the beats are. While it is quite a bother, it is very rare and doesn't make anything unplayable. Another issue is the unfair scoring system. There are short portions of the songs called Chance Time, where you get bonus points for stringing combos. The thing about this is that the bonus points rise as you further your combo, so if you mess up one or two steps near the end of the Chance Time, you can not get a Great rating because there is no possible way you are recovering those points.
The scoring is difficult, but certainly not a reason to quit. The lag is also quite neglectable, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Despite some minor flaws, a lot of the original songs are quite catchy, and the synthetic voices of Hatsune Miku and other virtual idols are shockingly impressive. The custom song feature is deep and rewarding, and allows for so many creative possibilities. Overall, Project DIVA is tons of fun and probably one of the best games on the PSP thus far. The game is in Japanese, but there is not much to read and there is a patch out that translates most of what you need to know so there are no problems there. I highly recommend an import or download, you won't regret it.
[C.Jin's Overall Score: 8/10]