Hatsune Miku was created to shatter the cynical will of the world’s hardest curmudgeon. Her latest videogame interpretation, Project DIVA Future Tone, is a curated assemblage of songs and content spanning entries in arcades, on the 3DS, and across PlayStation platforms. Absent are the lifestyle options that highlighted Project Mirai and the drive for adaptation that powered successive Project Diva titles. Instead, Project DIVA Future Tone is positioned as a pair of virtual Hatsune Miku bookends, neatly collecting over 200 songs and arranging them on a durable and extremely cute shelf.
For the uninitiated, Hatsune Miku is Japan’s beloved hologram “Vocaloid” pop star and her enthusiasm, no matter how objectively synthetic, infects every witness to one of her concerts. I don’t speak Japanese and I have no idea what any of her songs actually mean, but I feel enraptured by the performance of virtual idol with a synthesized voice as she entertains thousands of live human beings. We’re living in anime, and if Hatsune Miku can crack a smile out of a visibly bewildered David Letterman, there’s some kind of spark worth examining.
Project DIVA Future Tone presents two opportunities to explore this phenomenon. It’s actually two different packs of songs housed under one title. The Colorful Tone pack contains selections from “cute, upbeat” tracks, while the Future Sound pack is labeled as being more “dance-y, rock-y.” Sega is asking either $30 for each or $54 as a bundle.
While Future Sound and Colorful Tone are distinctly labeled inside Project DIVA Future Tone’s interface, I was not invested (or competent, you pick) enough actually see and/or hear the difference between each selection. Every single one impelled an infectious melody and coupled it with frenzied button pressing. Occasionally there were there were different vocaloids belting lyrics, should you choose not to fiddle with some customization options. As a longtime Sega fan, the most startling and immediately engaging pieces of information were the tracks from Out Run and Afterburner that were given vocal treatments and, in the case of Afterburner, an amazing music video.
Gameplay follows a typical rhythm game model with a few notable flourishes. Notes appear on screen and correspond with either directions or face buttons on the controller. Interestingly, either the face buttons or the directional buttons work as input. Up doubles as triangle, X is the same as down, and vice versa. By default, Project DIVA Future Tone establishes up and right as directions and square and X as buttons, but the interface display is customizable to suit your tastes.
You’re intended to hit these notes in sequence and add a percussive flash to the corresponding music. Visually, this is accomplished by hitting the note at the moment it flashes across a target. This process is aided by a clock’s hand reaching 12 at the exact time you’re supposed to push a button and hampered by the realities of modern LCD televisions. Thankfully, Project DIVA Future Tone has a built-in lag calculator tool that helps correct any disadvantage provided by your television. After I figured this out I was slightly less terrible at the game, indicating it actually made a significant difference.
There are a few instances of Project DIVA Future Tone pushing past the basic mechanics of a rhythm game. The slide touch panel from the arcade cabinet has been assigned to either the L1 or R1 button, or by pushing the analog stick in the appropriate direction. For a more direct application this can also be assigned to the DualShock 4’s touchpad, even though almost any attempted practical use of that thing is a nightmare. Sometimes Project DIVA Future Tone demands multiple buttons are pressed and/or held down at the exact same time, and for whatever reason the game relays this information by creating a shrinking box made of electricity that quickly encapsulates the required buttons. As an amateur this was baffling but after a while, as expected, I got used to it.
After a week of playing Project DIVA Future Tone I was able to reliably pass songs on normal difficulty without much of a fuss. This was a step up from my first day, where I was basically cheating through everything with the aforementioned no fail mode enabled. In any case Project DIVA Future Tone is smart not to lock content behind a skill wall, as every song in the game can be played on easy, normal, or hard with no fail mode on or off (along with extreme and extra extreme difficulties if you’re able to qualify). Sega probably had to do this—you’re explicitly paying for song packs and it would be insane to seal those tracks off—but it’s a good move all the same.
Playing Project DIVA Future Tone as a tourist scouring through Hatsune Miku’s catalog has value, but embracing the game part of the game transitioned to a better hook. Like, obviously games are literally games, but this wasn’t a return I was expecting out of Project DIVA Future Tone. Every time I nailed a command and it literally said “good” next to it I felt slightly rewarded, and stringing 72 of those off in a row is an accomplishment I’m going to go ahead and lump in with my 100% run through Super Meat Boy. Whether you’re here for the first time or already versed in Hatsune Miku’s work, Project DIVA Future Tone comes equipped with a sliding scale challenge.
At this point it really comes down to the songs, doesn’t it? I am partial to anything with cats, which immediately sold me on NekoMimi Switch, Cat Food, and Envy Cat Walk (which has almost nothing to do with cats). Sakura No Ame’s titular cherry blossom petal rain was gorgeous, while Melt seemed to encompass every dance move at her disposal. Ashes to Ashes was the song I swore I was going to play until I beat it on hard because I didn’t think its melodramatic hook would ever get tiring. Again, I don’t think you can go wrong with either Colorful Tone or Future Sound, but I would go with the latter simply because dance-ready songs are easier to repeatedly listen to.
On the customization end, Project DIVA Future Tone comes loaded with options. Finishing songs rewards the player with points, VP, and two different cumulative ranks (one for both Colorful Tone and Future Sound). VP can be used as currency to customize everything about each vocaloid’s appearance. Visually, I have Hatsune Miku in a luchador mask, angel wings, cat ears, and even crazier hair. You can also change the tone of your button prompts, though once I was used to the default swish noise it was hard to adjust to anything else.
Project DIVA Future Tone’s is positioned for diverse audience. Existing Hatsune Miku fans may appreciate having everything in one place and the added benefit of myriad difficulty options and leaderboards galore. New players or rhythm game fanatics will be greeted with an (almost) intimidating amount of content. Project DIVA Future Tone doesn’t tap into nostalgia like Theatrhythm, project the reinforced lunacy of Rhythm Heaven, or break the kind of ground PaRappa and Lammy did almost twenty years ago. It also doesn’t have to. Hatsune Miku, as a performance and through her games, is her own thing. Project DIVA Future Tone functions as a collection and, ideally, a signal to the end of a chapter. It’s a summary of her past before an anticipated revolution.
As a collection, Project DIVA Future Tone is inundated with a level of fan service Sega usually reserves for in-house properties like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and Fighters Megamix. Much like the latter, the only limitation is the drive to assemble and assimilate extant content also supersedes forward progress. As an archive celebrating everything Hatsune Miku, however, it’s hard to make the argument against Project DIVA Future Tone’s avalanche of songs and customization options.