No encore for Hatsune Miku on 3DS

miku contract

Last thursday, Sega was celebrating the launch of Hatsune Miku Project Mirai Deluxe on 3DS in Japan. At this event, the producer in charge of Hatsune Miku games had come to Akihabara, heart of the world for the digital singer’s fans. In the middle of the celebration event, he has rather unexpected words.

The [Project Mirai] series will be paused, because I will focus on other projects. I want to thank all those who have supported us during all those years”

3DS nears the end of its lifespan. Any “pause” is the politically correct wording for “it’s dead, Jim!”. Stating the end of a series on the launch of the latest installment is nothing common and that speaks volumes about Sega’s actual motivation in doing those 3DS games. Project Mirai Deluxe had recently stirred a controversy because it adds only one song compared to Project Mirai 2 : gamers were asked to reopen their wallet for almost nothing. The most likely explanation to this is that Sega was in contract with Nintendo for a certain number of Hatsune Miku games, hideous scheme to undermine the Project Diva series on PS3/PSVita. Quite simple : during the long year preparing a game barely different from the previous one, Sega isn’t making Project Diva F Extend for PSVita. Nintendo is buying itself some time as usual, lowering the players’ experience in the process. Sega probably got tired of this mockery and sent a strong message to Project Diva fans : he wrote in the recent issue celebrating the 20 years of Dengeki Playstation that “he shall have something for them in the future”

The truth is that Project Mirai has never been in a position to rival Project Diva in terms of sales. While Project Mirai 2 launched whith 88’000 units sold, Project Diva F 2nd doubles that. Given that the latter also received higly profitable DLCs for months, Sega’s verdict is only natural. Today is a victory day for Hatsune Miku fans who thwarted an onimous threat to their passion. Of course, we can’t discard a future NX version, but that’s another story.

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Review – Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax

With no known equivalent in the West, Japanese light novels are quite a thing in Japan. Worshiped by otaku circles, those bizarre stories mixing action, love, science-fiction, fan-service and humor sell large volumes at each new issue and become animes in a blink of an eye. Reading is good, watching’s fine too, but playing is even better and Sega knows it. The fans’ aspiration for direct action now comes true with Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax (FC).

While the game design of this 2D fighting game is fairly classic, its playable characters aren’t. You’ll have the great pleasure to play as the most famous heroes/heroines from a dozen of series. Characters well-known in the West as Asuna and Kirito from Sword Art Online come alongside less renowned ones like the basket-ball star schoolgirl Tomoka from Ro-Kyu-Bu, plus some guests like Akira and Pai from Virtua Fighter (who have a tendancy to gatecrash every fighting game since they don’t have their own anymore).

In terms of game modes, you have the usual suspects : Arcade, Story, Training, Survival, Time-attack and Versus await you. Arcade feels a bit repetitive, but the point of an arcade mode has never been to tell a story. In fact, the little narrative behind it, however simplistic, proved intriguing enough and features surprising metaphors. For example, the girl designed by Kei representing Sega’s last console asks you to save the dreams. In other terms, in FC, you must save the Dreamcast! On the other hand, the story mode exclusive to the console version turned out to be no more than a series of mini dialogs. I did expect a lot more substantial content.

Asuna b (2)

The whole game is nevertheless extremely well dubbed and transcribes the atmosphere of the Dengeki series in an astonishingly wonderful way. Should it be Taiga’s extravagant behavior, Miyuki’s Magic or Tomoka’s shoots, FC spares no effort and goes as wild as needed to delight the fans. Kirito is especially cool : everything in its lines, attitude, moves and of course its amazing Double Edge Sword remind us of what’s amazing in Sword Art Online. Selveria being an unlockable playable character also is a huge plus, and she’s an extremely effective character and fun to play on the top of that. Graphically speaking, the 2D sprites on PSVita have a lovely feel in them, but animations look a bit jerky. The 2D models during talk parts are the ones from the novels and not from the anime. It kinda gives a fresh look to the characters and the animation are rather cute/fun despite no lip sync. Music is way above your average fighting game, with a beautiful theme song and quite great and entertaining composition.

Miyuki a

Each character’s movelist being ten lines or so, you could believe that FC lacks depth. Far from that, it’s actually a vastly technical game. You just have to spend some time online to ascertain that : skilled players build impressive combos, proof of a vast amount of time spend in training combining moves with one another. The annoying thing is that it makes it difficult for people not used to 2D fighters to enter the fray online : FC’s gameplay tuning is made for experts. It’s really a shame because the controls are quite fine even on PSVita, on which the stick allows you to perform half/quarter circles with ease.

Kirito d

Adding to traditional combos and moves, FC has 3 original elements : a support character, a kirifuda and a Climax gauge. The support character attack or defends depending on whether you press X ou X+direction. Effects and range being quite different from one another, there’s already some training to do in order to find the one that fits your way of playing and calculate timing in battle. Kirifuda is a special move a bit more powerful than the others or a boost that gives you some advantages. They’re pretty uneven : Selveria fires a whole magazine of her personal rifle, while Shana’s is an all-cancel that refills a bit of her Climax gauge.

Selveria b

The above mentioned gauge is used either to give an additional blow to the square button combo (consumes one bar), or unleash extra powerful techniques known as Climax Arts (two bars). Here’s the problem : the latter are next to impossible to execute successfully in a serious match. The range is short most of the time and normal guard blocks them. The only way to have them hit is to imbricate them in a longer combo. Good luck with that… Consequently, it is often more beneficial to use the extra square hit which is a lot more practical. Further in this logic, this almost unbreakable guard discourages risk-taking and tends to turn online battles in defensive/long range confrontations which is hardly fun. Let’s stress that unlike the 3D fighters I know, here you can’t perform combos unless you actually hit your opponent, so no approaching while being covered. You’ll have to cautiously monitor your distances if you don’t want to become full of openings.

Selveria

Last point, FC is rich of bonus content. There’s whole range of customization items such as colors/plates/icons and even the authors’ & voice actors’ autograph, plus some well-chosen illustrations and a chapter to read!

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax is a very enjoyable fighting game, so well-thought for its targeted audience that it’s impossible to get bored if you like Dengeki series. It is just sad that gameplay arbitrations make online less fun than it should have been.

Review – Project Diva F 2nd

Blackjack c

Project Diva F on Vita has been for me a great discovery. Fun and arenaline rush like I hadn’t known for a while in a video game. The excitment was therefore high when booting this direct sequel. Excitment that stayed at maximum level until the end.

Magical Paint a

In terms of content, Project Diva F 2nd (PDF2) inherits the principle of Project Diva Extend (PSP), that is to say half new songs, the other half being songs taken from previous episodes. In the case of PDF2, those ones come from the PSP games Project Diva 2nd and Project Diva Extend. Before complaining about rehashing, bear this in mind : while Project Diva Extend was merely transferring songs from Project Diva 2nd, PDF2 remakes them from scratch. Two-faced Lovers, Romio & Cinderella or Luka Luka Night Fever to mention a few, have been completely remades and not just remastered : choreographies have been changed in several aspects, especially by adding a finale like it was introduced in Diva F. No only this, but the incredible 3D engine of the «F» series transforms the hits of the previous generation and the astonishing graphics further enhanced from Diva F (PDF2 looks quite sharper) make it a whole new experience.

Genga a

As for the new songs, I found the list pretty uneven compared to Diva F which was a true concentration of musical masterpieces. Many have slow rythm or not enough intensity for my tastes. But whatever, that’s just me and I did find a few exhilarating compositions like Yubikiri, Ni Soku Hôko, Envy Cat Walk, Meteo 2nd Dimension Fever and Akatsuki Arrival, let alone the fantastic design and direction that mix elegance and cuteness in wonderful fashion.

Miku usagi

You’ll of course also get a new range of nice modules (=costumes) with the possibility to import the ones you already have in Diva F. In pure aesthetics, you have now an option to put a skin on your progression bar. While I think it takes too much room on the screen, some may please you. Note that if you want more, Sega has planned a looong DLC season to destroy your savings with seriously exciting stuff : the Japanese version already got Change Me, Kochi Muite Baby, Yellow and Sekiranun Graffiti, among others. Remember that if you have the extra character DLC for Diva F, you can get it free for PDF2 as it’s cross-buy.

2nd Dimension Fever

The most striking thing about gameplay is that the game became A LOT harder. If like me you’d come to master progressively the Hard mode without making wonders in Extreme, drop by the chemist’s to get some anxiolytics because you will suffer like hell. Narisumashi Ganga and 2nd Dimension Fever are inhumane, Envy Cat Walk drove me mad. It’s my concern with PDF2 : the Normal mode is still a bit too easy for returning fans, but Hard mode is discouraging sometimes.

etoiles

Generally speaking, the challenge has been beefed up in several ways. Remember the yellow stars for which you just had to scratch the screen continuously? That’s over, Jim! From now on, you’ll have to follow the pace. Technical zones have become a lot more technical, those bonus points are no longer offered like they used to be (Huh, God Tier Tune?). This episode comes out with new types of stars. There’s the «big» star which is cleared by scratching the screen in two different locations, and the «linked» stars, that are actually normal ones with more bonus points.

DR Luka b

All the side content is still there and has improved. The Diva Room, the now famous dating sim is more lively than in the previous game : the number of events have doubled, they’re triggered more often, yo have new mini-games and characters show a lot more actions/reactions. Camera angles have been nerfed a lot though, especially in close-up, which is definitely unwelcomed. All the friend level parameters have been tweaked to allow a more precise progression. The much sharper graphics add greatly to the enjoyment of this Diva Room 2.0, which more than ever is a game in itself.

ARL

The game comes with a dozen of new AR lives, save that now you no longer need the AR markers to organize your private performances!

AR Miku e

And of course, the fun of the AR camera mode is still intact ^o^

Despite the small hiccups in gameplay and balance, the immense delight is still the same. Project Diva F 2nd is pure and immediate joy until the end. That is, if you can see an end to a game you never really stop playing.

Preview – Phantasy Star Nova

PSN ship

With the demo available on the Japanese PSN late August, I could give a try to Sega’s major exclusive for this end of year in Japan.

Whereas Phantasy Star Online 2 is online only, Phantasy Star Nova (PSNova) is thought as a single player game. The game system is roughly similar to God Eater, that is to say a solo adventure with an actual storyline, in which you can invite you friend in local multiplayer.

PSN monster b

The world where PSNova takes place reminds us about Star Ocean 4 quite a lot. Nothing surprising since the developer behind both games is the same : Tri-Ace. So we’re off exploring inhospitable exoplanets. That said, mechanical rabbits and armored dinosaurs make a rather bizarre bestiary, far less impressive than God Eater or Monster Hunter. Some of them are gigantic, but that’s the only thing about it.

PSN b

Technically speaking, it’s quite magnificent : characters as well as environments have been modeled with great care, which makes it a top game as for graphics. A true pleasure reinforced by the character design, classy as always in PSO. However, it’s a shame that like in God Eater 2, you can’t play as such attractive secondary characters. Also, the sound environment felt pretty poor : bland music and worse of all, terribad English voice-over!

PSN monster a

Like in PSO2, the player creates a character of his own. This demo was fairly limited though : only 4 classes available and non-customizable in any way! It gives an impression of rigidity a bit unsettling… I tried the two female classes in the one and only mission selectable. No real issue in gameplay, the good old PSO2 recipe still works well. Dodging, combos, magic, lock, heal via touchscreen… Tri-Ace delivers. Each class has 3 or 4 different weapons. There seems to be a lot a possibilities, although none of the characters showed very nervous gameplay.

My main worry is that like Tôkiden, the action is kinda slow and it’s not as thrilling as God Eater 2 in that department. True, it might vary depending on classes and weapons, but I’m yet to be convinced on this. On the other hand, PSNova seems more challenging than God Eater 2 : your character will drop dead quite fast if you’re careless, and the number of revives looks limited at higher level.

PSN a

Impossible to say much on the story, but the Star Ocean feel is real and engaging. In short , a demo too much limited in every aspect, but with there is definitely some charm in PSNova.

As expected, Bayonetta 2 is a huge flop on WiiU

I wasn’t a big fan of marketing classes, but I learned one thing : in market economy, you must think of the client first. A company must deliver where, when and the price the client wants. Platinum Games failed at this. Their clients wanted Bayonetta 2 on Playstation or Xbox, they deliver on WiiU. Their clients expected a 60€ pricetag, they made it 360€.

With such a hazardous commercial strategy, the results are pretty clear : in Japan, Bayonetta 2 sold only 33’114 copies at release (or 38’828 if you follow Media Create). It’s more or less equivalent to Bullet Girls or Action Neptune U, two PSVita action games less known for their action part than for their lavish fan-service. There is no greater humiliation for the contender for the action game of the year. But beyond that, it is essential to remember the sales of the 1st Bayonetta in Japan : 138’000 on PS3 in its first week (223’272 in total) and 66’211 on Xbox360 (118’165). Bayonetta 2 sold twice less than Bayonetta 1 on 360, a system despised by the Japanese. That speaks volumes about how the Japanese fans of the series think about the change of course at PG. Consequently, 84% of Bayonetta 1 day one buyers didn’t come for Bayonetta 2.

Maybe I should wait until October to draw conclusions. But Bayonetta happens to have only 47’000 preorders on VGC, and statistically VGC’s preorders are overtracked. A turnabout in the west seems unlikely. Operation Platinum is delusional : no, philanthropic gamers ain’t one million. No, it is foolish to expect WiiU owners to get together to save private Platinum. No, gamers ain’t investing 360€ for Bayonetta 2 when PS4 and XboxOne will have all the other action games for themselves, as well as nearly all the games of all the other genres by the way.

Where do we go from here? A company with a 84% unsatisfaction rate can’t go really far… The good news is that the developer is not unemployed. The bad news is thaat as things stand now, they’re going straight into the wall anyway. I can’t tell about Legend of Korra because I don’t know the IP at all, but it is clear that making an XboxOne exclusive was the worst possible decision after the Bayonetta 2 debacle (unless they run for the Guinness of the longest series of ludicrous business decisions). Working exclusively on a system that isn’t popular at all in Japan and Europe will only delay their eventual collapse. A ambitious developer like Platinum Games definitely cannot ignore PS4 during this generation. But yeah, they’re not totally in control of that…

Here comes Sega. The situation is the following : Sega owns the Bayonetta IP, they have 84% of clients waiting and Platinum Games is always ready for some work. Even though Nintendo publishes Bayonetta 2, nothing stops Sega from making a Bayonetta 2 Climax/Director’s Cut/GOTY edition on PS3, PS4, Xbox360, XboxOne or even Atari 2600 if they want to! This intriguing tweet from a journalist of GameInformer suggests such plans at the Osaka-based company. Better still, this series of tweets from Hideki Kamiya himself. This testimony from the most famous blocker of Twitter is extremely important. His story goes like this : after Bayonetta 1, PG and Sega reached an agreement in making a sequel, and the development began. Sometimes in 2012, while the development was advancing as planned, Sega suddenly withdrew from the project. What happened after is well known. We learn two things : Bayonetta 2 was originally a multi-platform game under Sega’s supervision, which contradicts their numerous statements when they say they «nothing to do with this». More important, their is in PG’s hard disks a work-in-progress version of Bayonetta 2 that belongs to Sega! Sega can logically resume the development of Bayonetta 2 for others consoles anytime. In short, a situation eerily similar to Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor’s Edge, the development of which on PS360 had been hidden by Tecmo. At a time when whichever super-HD remake is easy money, who would believe that Sega is gonna ignore 84% of one million gamers out in the cold crying in front of WiiU shelves, when the technology is ready, the 3D models here already and the design finalized?

A company that turn its back at its clients doesn’t go anywhere : Platinum Games must return to its fans if they want to go on in this industry. The best way to do it is to port Bayonetta 2, it’s the only way to re-establish confidence. The developer could come back via other projects like a sequel to Metal Gear Rising, but that wouldn’t erase two years of frustration.

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.