It’s a brand new Project Diva, and although the graphics have been given an overhaul, such that virtual singer Hatsune Miku no longer looks like she’s constantly suffering from a bad hair day (the jagged pixelation on the outlines of her twin tails in previous games somewhat resembling hair frizzles), this new Vita sequel, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f, plays more or less similar to past installments.
As a song and music video plays in the background, graytone "O" and "X" icons (Square and Triangle only come into play on difficulty levels higher than "Normal") appear on the screen. Simultaneously, a matching set of "O" and "X" icons, this time in colour, begin to stream in from the sides of the touchscreen, gliding towards their greytone counterparts. When the icons overlap each other, that’s when you hit the corresponding ‘O’ or ‘X’ button. Even if you’re seeing Project Diva for the first time, all of this is readily apparent pretty much from the moment you pick the game up.
Well, all but one element: the star-shapped icons, which are new in Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f.
"You know about those star marks at the beginning of the song? I never quite understood what you’re supposed to do with them. How do you deal with it?" A writer from another site approached and posed the question to me while I played Project Diva f theme song Odds & Ends on the Normal difficulty level for the second time in a row.
We were at a PlayStation preview event hosted by Sony, and the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f kiosk had been rather spartan. There weren’t any instruction sheets to provide any information on the potentially mystery-inducing star-shaped icons. Neither were they explained within the demo itself.
"Oh yeah, they’re new in this game. You have to use the touchscreen for that," I told the fellow writer. "Just slide your finger across. Tiny movements will do."
"Like scratching a turntable, huh?"
Fond memories of playing Konami’s Beatmania games immediately surfaced. The Vita’s touchscreen (or rear touchpad) would certainly be the perfect vessel for Beatmania’s turntable element (Konami, are you reading this?). Except the "scratch" mechanic in Project Diva f hadn’t really been as simple as I had described it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be playing Odds & Ends twice in a row. Not when Weekender Girl, Melancholic, and Catfood beckoned for my attention in that demo.
My first time through with Odds & Ends didn’t exactly end in complete failure. I did clear the song. I just didn’t get the wickedly cool climax scene (another feature new to Project Diva f) that would have been mine to see had I nailed the final star-shaped scratch-indicator near the end of the track with spot-on timing.
I had messed up because of a lack of understanding on the intricacies of the scratch mechanic. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f requires your thumb to be completely on the touchscreen for about a split-second before any sliding movement would be detected and interpreted as a scratch.
What this means is that you can’t approach scratches here the way you "flick" your index finger on the virtual keyboard in Miku Flick – where your finger swoops down onto the touchscreen, grazes it for a short split-second, before returning back to hover in thin-air, ready to swoop down again and strike at the next virtual key on with the accuracy of a hawk.
What you want to do, instead, is to have your thumb firmly planted on the touchscreen before the yellow-coloured star-shaped icon approaches. Then all it takes is a short sliding motion for the game to detect your input.
It’s really easy once you understand that your thumb needs to be placed on the touchscreen prior to the actual scratch maneuver. If it’s a rapid sequence of several star-shaped notes, your thumb should swipe up and down the touchscreen like a windshield wiper. Or like if you were strumming a guitar.
With my new-found understanding of the mechanic, I cleared my second run through Odds & Ends without incident, and finally saw the heartwarming climax scene that the game had previously robbed me of: a CD, whose cover says "Odds & Ends", now sits on the computer desk along with a semi-translucent, palm-sized Hatsune Miku, apparently pleased that the song’s been completed (in an earlier part of the song, the lyrics had Hatsune Miku pleading with an unspecified songwriter to use her voice as a means of belting out his thoughts), providing some form of closure for me.
For now, at least. I expect to take on Odds & Ends again on Hard and Extreme modes in typical Project Diva fashion when the game finally comes out later this month. Unfortunately the demo did not feature any difficulty levels past Normal, so we’ll just have to wait to see how hard the game can get with touchscreen scratching in the mix.