Hatsune Miku Project Diva F 2nd, the differential equation

Digital sales for March in Japan have just leaked. We can hence have a precise idea of the launch sales of Project Diva F 2nd. Adding to the 165’000 physical units sold during the week of March 27th, the game was downloaded 15’000 times (10’000 on PSVita, 5000 on PS3). Project Diva F 2nd consequently sold 180’000 units in 3 days. 

In order to assess its performance, we have to do a bit of economic research. In the PSP era, the series had already known a substantial drop between Project Diva 2nd and Project Diva Extend. Diva 2nd benefited from the fact that the concept was still fresh at that time. Extend inherited from a bunch of songs from Diva 2nd, thus diminishing its consumer value.

Then comes Project Diva F. With the PS3 version releasing at a later date (March 2013, while the Vita version came out in August 2012), it achieved spectacular sales given that the PSVita+PS3 userbase (12 million) is quite less than the PSP userbase at that time (19 million). Combined, the launch of those two versions top 270’000 physical units sold, to which we probably add between 15’000 and 20’000 downloads. Project Diva F 2nd therefore seems to have lost some 100’000 purchasers! It so happens that 110’000 persons bought the PS3 version of Diva F when it released in March 2013. We must therefore set two hypothesizes. 

If we consider that the majority of those 110’000 didn’t have the PSVita version, then the series has indeed lost a great numbers of fans and lands more or less at the same level as Project Diva Extend. Extend and Diva F 2nd are actually pretty close in terms of situation, since Diva F 2nd takes half of its songs from Project Diva 2nd on PSP. But since those entirely remade with the 3D engine made for the F series, it has definitely more value. Notice that in that case, the people who bought Project Diva F at release on Vita and those who picked Diva F 2nd (PS3&Vita) are essentially the same. They make a very solid fanbase that is likely be faithful in the long term, all the more likely that they had already purchased Project Diva Extend back on the day. Let’s stress that like Extend, Diva F 2nd costs less to produce given that half of the musical licenses are already paid for. The series could therefore remains profitable even in the case of a Project Diva F Extend. Launching a new trilogy might be a lot more problematic tough… 

Second option, the 100’000 figure is no coincidence and the majority of early buyers of Project Diva F PS3 actually bought the game a second time. It means that between Project Diva F and Project Diva F 2nd, the series hasn’t lost a single person given that Diva F sold 158’000 in one week and Diva F 2nd 165’000 in the same time frame. But there’s a snag : while the PS3 version had indeed some additional songs compared to the Vita version, those ones could be bought for 3000 ¥ as a DLC for the Vita version. True, the pieces fit, but it’s hard to imagine that many people shedding 7000 ¥ for the PS3 game when they could «complete» their Vita version for only 3000 ¥.

Another thing is to be taken into account : import. Diva F having been localised long after the Japanese release and Diva F 2nd already being westbound, a lot of people who imported Diva are likely to wait the western release of Project Diva F 2nd later in 2014. While it’s impossible to give definite quantities, the Japanese figures of Diva F 2nd clearly lack those sales. Those sales are not «lost» but merely transferred to the western sales of the game later in the year, that should be quantifiable since both come in boxes this time.

There’s one last parameter that didn’t exist in the PSP era : Project Mirai. By introducing a spinoff series, Sega took the risk of a split of the fanbase. It was all the more likely to occur that Project Diva F is directly towards a male audience, while girls will certainly prefer the kawaii side of Project Mirai. Sega hence has to manage to series without extending its public, instead of one before. I really hope that Project Mirai won’t jeopardize Hatsune Miku games in a whole, because it would be Sega’s own blunder.

But the most important in all that is to what extend Sega has integrated all those parameters before making the budget for Project Diva F 2nd. The game has already sold more than 80% of its initial shipment, so if the publisher wasn’t planning a second one, the objective is already met and the western sales will be a plus. Sega’s financial coming next month should shed some light on the matter, and hopefully we’ll know whever we’ll be able to enjoy Project Diva in the years to come. 

Review – Idol Neptune PP

To be honest, this game, I had serious doubts about it from the very start. The PVs weren’t that convincing and I somewhat expected your average fan-service game. Why did I buy? Because a fan I am. And as a hardcore Hyperdimension Neptune fan, there’s no way I can miss anything related to it.

In-between dating sim and Idol game, Idol Neptune PP has actually a lot of exciting but poorly executed ideas. A mysterious group of idols called MOB48 suddenly became so popular that they’re drawing the “shares” that are necessary to Neptune and the other goddesses to rule their respective country. But being popular is no crime and the 4 goddesses decide to strike back by becoming idols themselves.

Noire idol c

Up to you to manage their carrier during the 180 days of the story, with the ultimate goal to reach the top position in shares and in the top 50. It’s not difficult at all : in my second run with Vert, I cleared the game in approximately 90 days. You have a variety of commands shared between “management”, “learning”, “rest”, “move” and “live”. Management is mainly used to increase the number of fans and thus gain shares. Learning will make your heroine progress in singing, dancing, expression, self-confidence, etc. which impact directly the success of your performances. Resting reduces stress and allows you get closer to your girl through dating. Moving will transport you to another country if you aim to perform lives there.

The trouble is that very quickly you learn to foresee the outcome of every type of event, there are very few surprises and some of them periodically reappear in identical form. You don’t have many negative events and nothing ever stops you in your way to the top. It ends up being boring because you feel no risk of game over. Once you team with another goddess to form a duo, shares are automatically recalculated to your advantage and you you have even less effort to do at this stage (same applies to trio).

The actual show part exceeded my expectations. Graphically it’s strikingly nicer than the PS3 games, choreography felt good and the little something of fan service makes it a real pleasure for hardcore fans of the series. You can toggle various camera angles, effects, choose between an array of costumes and accessories, which ultimately determine your final score. Despite the limited number of music tracks (only 5!), I never get bored during lives. On the minus side, it’s very difficult to understand the actual levers for success during lives, making them a bit random. Also, the fact that you can only change to goddess from when alone on the stage is quite a letdown. You will only be able to do it in the first stages of a walkthrough. Speaking of fan service, Neptunia PP has a viewer mode similar to Senran Kagura’s dressing room, though far less elaborated or fun.

Noire idol a

On the dating side, Idol Neptune PP is a trainwreck. It’s all the more disappointing that the idea of seducing Noire and the others was seducing in itself. Though dating is normally done by resting, you can trigger events in pretty much every situation. Those ones are far too short and hardly fun at all! I was astonished by how flat the humor felt given that it’s been a great strength in the series so far. Worst of all, there are virtually no original illustration. Even the MOB48 who are at the center of the story aren’t shown, you never come to know what they look like! This is unthinkable in Hyperdimension Neptune. What was Tsunako fu** doing when this game was in development? All this is totally underwhelming and it’s quote surprising coming from Tamsoft who had done an excellent job in the field with Love Application.

To conclude, Neptune PP seems like a lamentable accident in the trajectory of the series. Management is could be richer, good ideas are misused, it’s visually entertaining but feels incomplete. In fact, I’m under the impression that Neptune PP wanted to be too many things at the same time, without succeeding in any. And like they say “Jack-of-all-trades, Idolmaster of none”.

Preview – Lightning Returns

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When I was at Japan Expo 2013 (Paris, France), I had the occasion to try Lightning Returns, which I look forward intensely. I threw myself on the thing as soon as a PS3 stand became free (there were X360 versions of the demo for some reason).

Unsurprisingly, that was the E3 demo. But whatever, since I wasn’t at E3. After a few engagements, it is very clear that the new system is even more dynamic and immersive than before. Lightning’s outfits work almost exactly like FFX-2 dress spheres : each one has some specialty and you can switch between them at will. I even saw one (not in the demo but in the live gameplay on stage) in which Lightning has a staff whilst I had assumed they would always be swords. The change between costumes must be very frequent to achieve sufficient lever to cause Break status on your opponent. The base outfit was somewhat balanced between physical attacks and (weak) magic, the second one had rather ATB costly but powerful blows and the final available one was deprived of physical attacks and relied on elemental magic. The common point between each job (let’s call them as such) is the guard command on the square button. Lightning rises her buckler when you push it, and by doing it with the right timing you prevent all damage and can even throw your enemy unbalanced for some time. Another new thing, you can now move Lightning within the battle area with the left stick. Something I easily forget since I’ve been used to play unmoving characters for 15 years of Final Fantasy.

Let’s talk about Break, which has changed quite a lot. You no longer have figures to determine when the Break status will come but instead you’ll have to observe oscillations around your opponent’s life bar (yes, they seem to have a life bar now). The stronger it’s oscillating, the closer you are from Breaking. Furthermore, the Break is now not only a matter of threshold : weak spots make it a lot faster! Up to you to identify those knowing that the oscillations go red when your strike one. The boss fight showed some ability called Overclok. This apparently rare occurrence freezes time a bit like in Toki Towa, allowing you to strike at your will since you’re freed from ATB limitation. The demo in general was pretty easy, but I suppose it was to be expected since SquareEnix definitely can’t have people lose when discovering the game on a showfloor. Still, let’s hope that it will be (a lot) harder than FFXIII-2 which terrible in terms of difficulty setting. One quick word on Lightning’s movements, she can jump (like in FFXIII-2) and sprint, which is new. She also automatically grabs and climbs ladders (i.e without pressing any button).

Graphically speaking, I can only confirm what everyone has realized already. In the sort of castle/bunker where you chase Snow, textures were a bit terrible, with low level of details and aliasing is rife. It’s a lot better in battle and character modeling seem still good (depends on the importance of the character though), but Lightning Returns is not likely to repeat the technical prowess of its predecessors. Needless to say, this episode puts a lot of focus on Lightning. And not only psychologically speaking, if you know what I mean… Lightning’s clothing and victory poses haven’t been made on random : they expressly exude fan-service in more or less direct way. Therefore, this game has been mostly made for Lightning’s fans and them alone. Another very good news, I must stress the comeback of the traditional victory fanfare which had disappeared without any real reason since FFXIII. I don’t refer here to the Cloud pre-order DLC : what I could hear in the base game was undoubtedly Final Fantasy victory fanfare, although a little remixed.

Enough of E3, let’s talk about other games! #2013

Atelier Escha&Logy (PS3)

The pressure is increasing rapidly as we are less than two weeks away from the launch of project Atelier 15. Atelier Escha&Logy will give the choice between two main characters, conscientious Logy and energetic Escha. The battle system sees further changes as well, as you now have 6 characters on 2 rows! As a direct sequel to Ayesha, it will feature popular characters from the previous installment such as Wilbell, Marion and Linca.

Conception II (PSVita/3DS)

Conception 2 is a curious UGO (Unindentified Gaming Object) in which you have to make children (!) and tackle treacherous dungeons with your «family». Of course, you will be able to pick your loved one during dating sim-like sequences. The battle system seems a bit dull, but rather nice graphics and remarkable character design may very well make up for that.

Fairy Fencer F (PS3)

Crazy project in which star designers Tsunako (Hyperdimension Neptune) and Amano (Final Fantasy IX) work side by side, Fairy Fencer F is SRPG under the newly constituted label Galapagos RPG. Galapagos having been made «especially for hardcore JRPG fans», I’m dying to know what its first game will look like.

Exstetra (PSVita/3DS)

In this recently announced JRPG, you play as Ryoma, the chosen one in the fight to save Tokyo after the Apocalypse. To do that, he will have to kiss (!) pretty girls known as «Prisma Knights» so as to awaken their powers. Any resemblance with another existing game is purely accidental.

Liberation Maiden Sin (PS3)

After its success as a shoot’em up on 3DS, Liberation Maiden makes a striking debut on PS3 as… a dating sim! It’s not about saving the world as Shoko, but making her fall for you. The game will also feature a story that reveal what happened to the world after the first episode. A strange idea by Japanese developer 5pb (famous for similar adventure games) and greenlit by Suda51 himself. Let’s hope it plays as good as it looks.

Review – Toki Towa (Time and Eternity)

Toki Towa b

I was rather enthusiastic in my preview of Toki Towa (aka Time and Eternity in the West). I was a bit optimistic, because the magic didn’t last.

/!\ Caution! The video contains spoilers /!\

Some aspects hold true : ImageEpoch wanted to bring a bit of fresh air to the JRPG scene by making Toki Towa in full anime style, and they did it right imho. The characters’ animations may be somewhat repetitive, the art style is charming and looks like nothing you’ve ever seen. It’s clear that Toki and Towa are the main attraction of this, so it’s more than ever a matter of opinion. The humor is particular also, very ludicrous similarly to what you can see in actual anime (the clear source of inspiration again), while heavily leaning towards ecchi (including the illustrations that come together). But in the result, it’s super effective and I had awesome laughs quite a couple of times. Be careful though because I don’t know how well it can be transcribed in English!

The first thing that falls into pieces pretty quickly is the gameplay. For starters, enemies of the same type do always the same actions in the same order. Consequently, you always attack them the same way, that is to say in the few openings they leave. Let’s be absolutely clear about this, battles in Toki Towa are not repetitive, they’re IDENTICAL. Skills are extremely unbalanced, since magic can OHKO most enemies and even 2HKO bosses up until the first half of the game. Physical attacks as well counter are then left unused because underpowered and imprecise. Time Magic is not really better : the only useful one is the one that freezes your opponent. The others I still don’t know what they are here for, except for the time-acceleration magic which is clearly here to kill you since you take damage anyway! If you add a not so engaging quest system and a insane surge in difficulty in the 3rd chapter, you realize that you need a great deal of patience to finish Toki Towa.

On the graphics side and independently from design which I’ve already talked about Toki Towa is again fairly modest and it’s clear that the company has privileged an economical development. Dongeons aren’t that varied and backgrounds are as empty as Moon landscape, whilst suffering from framerate drops and clipping on the top of things! NPCs aren’t fully animated or even displayed on the field… In short, Toki Towa is kind of halfway between JRPG and visual novel.

It is therefore hard to recommend Toki Towa to regular JRPGs players. It is mostly destined to Japanese anime/games fans you are deep into ecchi design/visual novels. So if you’ve fallen in love with the art direction, Toki or Towa, you might try this out, but the risk of disillusionment remains high. 

Is it the end of the line for Hatsune Miku Project Diva?

Miku fail a

Tough I told this many times, let me say again that I love Project Diva f and the project Diva series, which I discovered last summer. I invested 10’000¥ in that game, in particular for the beautiful DLC that added songs from the PS3 versions. That blew me away : my brain had to make an internal update of the definition of «beautiful» after seeing Senbonzakura.

Therefore, when I learned that Sega was preparing a sequel to the 3DS iteration Project Mirai, which is not even remotely as good as Project Diva, I was far from happy. The publisher had never failed to deliver a Project Diva each end of year before. Driven by rage, I took my phone to give them a piece of my mind.

Still, I should have known. The PR guy wasn’t enthusiastic when the first Diva f numbers were published. And two days ago, Sega gave the final ones. They shipped 390’000 Project Diva f (PSVita) + F (PS3) in Japan (probably crossed the 400K mark with digital purchases). The grand total of the Hatsune Miku games (Project Mirai included) is of 1.8 million games shipped. According to GAF, Project Diva f shipped 220K, Diva F 160K. Both are nearing the end of their shipment, because Diva f hit 200K as of end of 2012, and Diva F is currently around 155K sold. The 1st Project Mirai had 2 shipments and sold 150K in 2012. If we extrapolate, 1800K – 400K Diva f+F – 200K Mirai = 1.2 million PSP games shipped between 2009 and 2011. That means that it took one PSVita game + one PS3 game to equal the sales that PSP games used to acheive. Diva f like Diva F are each way more costly than a 3DS game, hence Sega greenlit Mirai 2.

This triggers serious questions. When even its second-best selling game can’t meet the objective, how can PSVita survive on the market? Will publishers find any interest to deliver the ultimate experience when spin-offs make more profits? Are we going towards lesser quality because of the bearish market? Bad business news are rife those days. SquareEnix’s western games are a gigantic failure that burned millions. The newest God of War, Gears of Wars and Darksiders bombed, and many more stories point towards the end of the current economic model. Next gen is around the corner, can developers keep up? Will gamers foot the bill? Won’t publishers have to cut in their budgets? Will they be still eager to surprise us while it’s the the less innovating games (CoD, FIFA, Mario,…) that make the most money? All this with the rounds of applause from the press which on the top of that often give lectures on innovation and indies. Their hypocrisy is sickening.

Those questions then find a direct illustration in the little world of Hatsune Miku games. What can I do? Unless Mirai 2 bombs hardly, Playsation versions seem out of the agenda. There are rumors of new DLC, but the official silence spells doom on the Project Diva series. I played 15 minutes to snap this screenshot, 15 minutes and yet it’s utmost delight.

Tonight, I am no longer angry. I’m just sad. Of this sadness that draws all your strengh, by which you can’t move forward or even turn on a game. After Valkyria Chronicles, losing Project Diva would far too harsh…