A few years ago, Sega released one of the best rhythm games ever. Unfortunately for those of us living in the wastelands, said game was arcade-only, so the chances of seeing it outside Japan were basically nil. Now that Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone is available globally on PS4, the West’s dearth of arcades can’t stop fans around the world from checking it out.
And it really is worth checking out – Future Tone is arcade rhythm game bliss. The basic idea is simple: press buttons in time to music, according to on-screen prompts. Sometimes you need to press a couple of buttons at once, sometimes you need to hold them down, but the game ultimately comes down to rhythmically pressing buttons. Simple design doesn’t mean an easy or shallow game, though; note patterns and different musical styles bring plenty of depth.
That’s all true of any rhythm game, but Future Tone takes that to unmatched extremes, largely thanks to the sheer number of tracks. Between the free base game and two major content packs, there are 224 songs in all, spanning a decade’s worth of Hatsune Miku music. For context, it’s rare to see a music game with more than 50 songs unless you spend a fortune on DLC. I’m not normally one to to put a lot of stock on the size of a game, but this is one genre where more is better. More songs means more variety, more challenge, and more opportunity to enjoy the engrossing simplicity of pressing buttons to a beat.
Of course, quantity is nothing without quality, but Future Tone delivers on that front as well. There are always going to be songs you like more than others, but the track list covers a wide range of styles and there isn’t a dud among them. There’s obviously a lot of pop and electronic, but almost everything from metal to folk music gets a showing.
This variety stems from the community-driven nature of Hatsune Miku. Crypton makes and distributes the vocaloid software that powers the virtual pop star, and Sega licenses the IP for the Hatsune Miku games, but the music itself all comes from a thriving creative community. All of Miku’s music (and that of her co-stars) is made by fans, giving Sega a huge, diverse pool of music from which to curate track lists for the games. That said, I wish there was more hip-hop; there’s some really good “Miku-HOP” that people have produced, and it’s a shame that none of it features in Future Tone.
The expansive track list also means that Future Tone caters to almost any skill level. True to genre norm, each song is available in a few difficulty levels, and a star count shows how challenging a track is in relation to the game as a whole. A song with one star shouldn’t pose much challenge to all but the most rhythm-impaired people, while a 10-star is nigh impossible. 224 tracks, each with three, four, or even five difficulties, means a huge range in whatever star count you’re comfortable with, except perhaps for the far ends of the scale.
When I say that 10-star songs are nigh impossible, I’m not exaggerating. Future Tone lifts the difficulty ceiling higher than any other Miku game before it, to the point that even Project DIVA fanatics who can ace Extreme songs on the earlier games will struggle with some of the Hard tracks here. As a game originally made for arcade, it’s designed for a more hardcore audience, and it’s not really made with a controller in mind. The arcade version has big, punchy buttons that you can easily hit rapidly or press all at the same time, and many of the higher-difficulty songs depend on that. For most people, I suspect, limitations on thumb dexterity are going to limit success at the higher end.
At high levels, rhythm games are all about mastery – practice and repetition, until the complex strings of notes become muscle memory. The obvious way to do that is to play a song over and over, but Future Tone comes with a very useful practice mode. Not only does it let you play any track without fear of failure, but you can fast-forward, rewind, and restart from a custom checkpoint at the press of button. If you’re struggling with a particularly tricky part of a song, you can use practice mode to focus on it and hone your skill to perfection.
One thing that may put some people off is that Future Tone has little in the way of progression systems or other game modes. There’s nothing like Project DIVA X’s story mode, or Project DIVA F’s simulation elements. All songs are available from the start, with no need to unlock them. The only sort of growth, if you can call it that, is that there’s a wealth of costumes and accessories to buy with points accumulated through playing. There is an experience / rank system, but it’s entirely arbitrary and there’s nothing to be earned from ranking up other than a sense of achievement.
The lack of game modes and other such bells and whistles might put off some people, but I think it’s pretty much moot. Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone is a pure arcade experience, and to be honest, I think that’s Project DIVA at its best. The massive track list, fantastic music, clever beat maps, and sky-high difficulty ceiling make this one of the best rhythm games available. When you’ve got that, you don’t need a story mode.
Matt received a digital copy of Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone from SEGA for review.