Hatsune Miku Project DIVA X Demo, Rhythm Games, And Me

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I have been somewhat aware of the character Hatsune Miku and the series of games SEGA made involving her since… the PS2 was it? It’s one of the main games for the Otaku fandom right? I have a friend who’s into them but I was never really interested enough to try them until I noticed a demo for one on the PlayStation Store. It was whichever one is available on the PS4, I think there’s only one.

Honestly, I kind of resented the ascendance of these games, mainly because they don’t involve any kind of instrument or other crazy peripheral. Part of me is still not over how Konami’s Bemani label of rhythm games drifted into obscurity while Guitar Hero exploded based on a concept that Konami itself passed on releasing outside Japan. I looked at these games where you just use a normal controller to perform songs as some kind of virtual aidoru and thought “this is what the rhythm genre has become?”

See, I was part of what you might call the Dance Dance Revolution scene in the early 00’s. I’m not sure if I was a full-fledged “DDR Freak” as they were called at the time, but I devoted money to buying a dance pad — not a crappy foam pad but an $80 one with the arcade circuitry (I still have it), and I devoted time to learning songs like RED ZONE and DAM DARI RAM. To me, the idea of a rhythm game was inextricably linked with expensive, unusual peripherals meant to emulate instruments or other physical forms of musical expression. It gave these games a more tactile connection with the music as opposed to something as inherently unmusical as a game controller. I didn’t get into Guitar Hero (I mostly just wasn’t into the music) but I understood the appeal just the same.

In those games there’s a physical challenge to accompany the rhythmic challenge. In DDR there is a point at which your body keeping up with the game becomes a serious part of the challenge. In the Miku demo, a lot of the challenge seems to come from how much the button prompts fly all over the screen. I didn’t get enough time with the demo for me to learn how the timing works in this game, but doing all this rhythm stuff with the action buttons, a stick, and the control pad is definitely an adjustment from four pads on the floor or linearly-arranged buttons on a toy guitar. I’m not gonna criticize the music because music is one of the most subjective things in human culture (I just said I wasn’t into Guitar Hero’s music), but I guess for fans of anime music and J-Pop it’s probably as fulfilling as rock music is for Guitar Hero fans. I will say though that the physical element of DDR did bring me into that game in and of itself, as I came to appreciate the music later.

The only thing I can recall that feels similar to the rhythm controls in Miku is Gitaroo Man, a rhythm game that also only used a standard controller. The main difference though was that you had to constantly keep the analog stick turned in the right direction with each button press, and I think that made things feel a bit more involved than what I experienced with Miku. Though, that’s because even though Gitaroo Man only uses a controller like MikuGitaroo Man is still trying to emulate one particular instrumenet — the guitar. Miku has to emulate the entire experience of being a pop idol, and that’s not really something you can do with just a plastic guitar, dance pad, Kinect, or any one peripheral really. I guess you can commend the series for taking on that unique challenge and building a stable fanbase out of it.

As for my ever getting back into rhythm games, I guess that depends on whether I ever find the time to hook my dance pad back up (if it still works) and find some new songs to install into Stepmania on my PC.

BULLETS:

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