The Taiko no Tatsujin series has been around for 18 years, since the very first game appeared in Japanese arcades in 1999. For years, it has appeared in arcades, on consoles, and even on handhelds. However, it has been years since an official English release. Taiko Drum Master, on the PlayStation 2, appeared in North America in 2004. This means Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session is a rather big deal. This is the first entry with English text in years, released on a platform in Japan with no region-locking. PlayStation 4 owners anywhere could pick up the game and start playing. And thankfully, it is organized in such a way that anyone who grabs it could jump in and enjoy.
First, let’s get any localization concerns out of the way. Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session turns to your system language to determine which language it uses when it loads up. So if your PlayStation 4 is set to English, the Japanese and Asian versions of the game will be in English. Both versions of the game have Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean language options, so people are pretty much set. The result is a game that welcomes you in a language you know well, so there is no fumbling to get settled.
While a few of the Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Wii U installments have storylines or even RPG elements, Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session sticks to the basics and does its best to do them well. This means there are two primary modes. Taiko Mode gives you access to 74 songs. (This number may be larger depending on where you get your copy, as some physical copies come with codes for DLC.) You can play them at your leisure, choosing from four difficulty levels. Playing a song can create ghost data that people on your friends’ lists that lets you “compete” against their last run on a song. (You do not need PlayStation Plus for this.) You can also participate in online-only Taiko Ranked Match. After five songs where the game ranks you, you are then put into real matches against others, trying to “win” at random songs from the game’s track listing.
While the lack of story is a little disappointing, this means the focus is on what is important: the gameplay and music. Each song always relies on red or blue notes, representing the center of the drum or rim. There is little confusion, since they are so identifiable. There are other notes that appear from time to time. Large red or blue drums mean you can get a higher score by pressing two buttons at once. Yellow drumrolls, Japanese peddle drums, and balloons involve button mashing any button. Everything is clearly telegraphed, so you can focus on the rhythm.
Playing with another person is a big deal in Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session. When your game begins, it immediately gives the option to have a second player join in the session locally, allowing both people to start in on Taiko Mode. Each one can customize characters and begin filling up Bingo Cards in Taiko Mode to accrue coins to earn accessories, greetings, sounds, and titles. If you are alone, you will always see the ghost data from people on your friends list before any other songs in Taiko Mode. And of course, Taiko Ranked has you competing against others. I even felt like this was helpful for people who might not be as familiar. Even if someone is floundering, they can see and hear how another person is playing. It might help them find the beat again.
Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session is also great about incentives. In both Taiko Mode and Taiko Ranked Match, each song has a Bingo Card with nine spaces. You earn a stamp for completing objectives like hitting certain scores or keeping a combo going. Getting three stamps in a row earns you one coin. So on a completed card, you can earn eight coins. (And then the right to access a harder business card.) You can then take these coins to the Treasure Box and randomly acquire different customization options for your drum avatar. You can get head, body, makeup, and full body parts. There are titles you can give yourself. There are greetings that you can set for before and after ghost and ranked matches. You can even change the way the drum sounds when you hit a note. It is a great motivator to keep you playing, since you never know what you will get. And makes playing against ghost data more appealing, since doing so guarantees you a coin even if you do not fill a Bingo Card row.
With Taiko no Tatsujin, the game can be good whether or not it is elaborate or filled with all sorts of modes. Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session goes with an accessible approach. It is easy to jump in and play. There is no confusion or need to worry about other odd mechanics. You tap buttons in time with the easily identifiable notes. You play with other people. You work hard to improve yourself and either rise through the ranks or earn coins for customization options. It is easy to jump in and enjoy yourself, which is exactly what people may appreciate with the first English-language entry in a while.
Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session is available on the PlayStation 4 in Asia.