Review: Megpoid the Music #

Developer: Paraphray
Platform: PSP
Reviewed by: Carl Dayagdag
Website

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Amidst all of the high-profile titles that came out last month, this game got lost in the shuffle. Equally as strange is Project Diva f’s port to the PS3 was enough to shove Megpoid the Music # out of the limelight when it clearly should’ve been the exact opposite. And despite what the vocal majority of the naysayers have said about this game in English, personal experience has shown it can hold its own against Sega’s juggernaut.

Just like with any Vocaloid-themed rhythm game, the primary job Megpoid the Music # does is expose the player to a collection of some of the best songs found online for a particular voice bank, which in this case is Megpoid (or Gumi [or Meg]). This might not sound like a big deal, but when there’s hundreds of people trying to become the next big hit using a specific combination of Vocaloid voice banks on the internet, most listeners won’t have the time to comb through all of these songs to hand-pick the ones that stand out the most to them. The curators of this game chose well as I loved almost everything on the song list compared to the handful of tracks I kept coming back to in the first release of Project Diva. Here’s some of my personal favorites:


I like the celestial vibes this song gives out.


I didn’t think that Megpoid’s updated voice banks would sound so lifelike. Music to rock out to doesn’t hurt either.


I’ve never heard a celtic-sounding song in an official track list for Project Diva. It’s so full of energy too!


This song sounds like it should be in a Megaman game.

On a side note, Megumi Nakajima said during her Q&A panel at Anime Expo 2010 that her favorite song using her Vocaloid counterpart is Megu Megu ☆ Fire Endless Night because the name sounded really funny to her (she also said before this she hasn’t listened to any songs using her synthetic counterpart up to this point). That’s probably not why they put that song in the game though:

Of course, just showcasing music doesn’t make for a much compelling game. You need some meat to go along with those bones, so to speak.

The best way to describe the majority what you’ll be doing in this game is to show it in action:

Basically the gist is in order for you to listen to the entire song, you have to make sure that you’re pressing the buttons or arrow keys on the PSP as indicated on the screen which are all timed to the beat of the music. And depending on the costume you let Gumi wear, she might be part of the reason why you’re screwing up on your timing.

Where the majority of criticism comes from is the game’s presentation doesn’t look that much different from Project Diva while lacking all of its pizazz:


The problem is Paraphray lacks the resources that Sega can muster to deliver a polished game with innovative game mechanics. This limitation forced them to focus on only a few key features in their game, with one of them being how the rhythm mechanics worked.

Before getting started on this review, I first had our local rhythm game expert David Reyes play this for a few hours to see if the game felt like any of the others he’s played before. After he threw my PSP a couple of times in frustration from failing the songs I suggested him to try out, he immediately told me that it was “complete BS,” which was then followed by him saying “screw this game.” When I asked what he meant by that, he further elaborated by declaring whoever designed this was a really big fan of Beatmania because it almost played like it.

So what are the main traits of Beatmania’s game mechanics? The primary element determining how the rest of the rhythm game mechanics work is that passing or failing a song is solely determined by the current state of the Groove Gauge (yes, that’s the same term used in Beatmania) when you reach the end of the song.

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As long as the Groove Gauge looks like in the screenshot above when you reach the end of the song, you’ll pass it even if your max combo was three for this playthrough. You know what the game considers “barely passing” on the Groove Gauge?

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The game does not consider this next image a successful run:

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Seriously, you could’ve pulled off the longest combo you ever accomplished or beat your high score for a particular song, but if the Groove Gauge looks like that at the end, your results will look as ridiculous as this:

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Getting this rank also doesn’t unlock the next song either. Now that you’re aware of how the pass/fail system works, the note placement is also deliberately designed a certain way- they’re typically no longer than two minutes with the most difficult parts usually found at the beginning and the end of the track.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at one song from Beatmania. Even though the notes are really fast on this video, you can sort of tell that the game isn’t that hard on you once you get past the first third of the song but then it tries beating you into submission near the end:

What I find amusing about this song is that it was composed by OSTER project, who’s actually more well known within the Vocaloid community and even has a song in Megpoid the Music #.

Anyway, let’s look closely at how much Paraphray borrowed Beatmania’s ideas for their game:

It has the same overwhelming feel as that Beatmania song except it’s much, much slower. Still doesn’t make it easy to pass though. It’s also very clear that the beginning and end have the really difficult parts of the song like Beatmania does.

Beatmania’s game mechanics by nature make Megpoid the Music # really difficult if you choose any difficulty that’s higher than Normal. What’s really terrifying is that last video wasn’t the highest difficulty for that song, which the game will only unlock the highest difficulty for all of them when you get a passing grade on the entire song list.

Another thing I greatly apreciate Paraphray doing is that they took great pains to make sure that whatever mistake you made feels like it’s really your fault. You could be a millisecond or two off and press the button which might sometimes sync with a different tone at that time and the game will still register a hit. About 1/5th of the entire note’s icon could be overlapping with the button marker and pressing it at this point would be fine. And it can be done consistently.

A simple and effective decision that Paraphray chose to make the game more difficult without having to resort to faster button presses is that the directional keys count as their own separate button presses:

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What Project Diva did was map the directional keys to their corresponding face buttons (triangle for up, circle for right, etc.) and the only situation where pressing the arrow keys is absolutely required was when something like this happens:

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I’ve always had issues with Project Diva because although the notes going all over the screen was an innovative idea, I’ve always had to rewire my brain to time my button presses based on the visual cues and not the audio ones. The reason why is that relying more on the audio cues creates wildly different results; most of the time I would drop combos because the game said I pressed the button too “early” since I was following the music and not what the screen was showing me, even if on a previous play through it registered as okay. I’m guessing Sega doesn’t actively check to make sure that the timing of the notes is properly synchronized to the audio throughout the entire song. This problem extends to the song editor even when using songs bundled with the game but the developers never put into the playable list.

So while Project Diva might have the polished visual presentation, I enjoy Megpoid the Music # more because it has game mechanics that are finer tuned. And besides, the game mechanics matter more than the visuals anyway since the entire point of Vocaloid is its music.

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…Well, polished for the most part, anyway. I can’t deny that part of the song is total BS on Expert difficulty, and no, I will not use Rhythm Items to help me out on this.

So Paraphray has made an excellent Megpoid-themed rhythm game here. The problem that many will have, especially those coming from Project Diva, is that the presentation of the game pales in comparison, and I’m not just referring to the visual presentation that accompanies the music when you’re trying to pass a song. Many of the things Sega took great pains to make sure navigating through the game’s menus is as pleasant an experience as possible are not present here. The reason why Sega never auto played a sample of the song you selected is because the PSP locks you out from doing anything else until it’s done loading it, which takes forever and a half to do. Paraphray apparently decided that having this feature on without the option to turn it off is what their customers want, and they don’t have an excuse to say that they have no menu music for the song playlist because they do have a unique song that plays when you select a song you haven’t unlocked yet.

Even though you are given the option to install game data, the load times still feel like the first Project Diva game, and that release didn’t even give you the option to install part of the game onto the memory stick. You will scratch your head as to why there is a loading screen just to see the small selection of illustrations available at the game’s art gallery. And although it’s really nice that the game keeps track your costume preferences from song to song, the entire process of changing costumes is extremely time consuming. What’s annoying is that even if you select the same costume that’s currently used for the song, the game will still go through the painfully slow process of first loading the costume that Gumi is currently wearing and then start loading the other costume model you selected and then send you back to the previous screen regardless of whether or not you’re sure of using that costume.

There’s also a bunch of boneheaded design decisions in the game’s menus that could’ve been avoided if they planned it out better. Here’s some of the annoying ones for me:

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The first time I was greeted with this menu option that you see here, I wasn’t too sure which one was the selected item and which one wasn’t (hint: the selected menu item is the one filled in orange). So when I restarted the song, I’d pause the game and accidentally select “retry” so the song would reset to the beginning. It took me at least five more tries to realize that the highlighted menu item is the one filled entirely in orange instead of the one filled entirely in black, which is the exact opposite of every other menu dialog I’ve been exposed to since any other developer would’ve chosen a color that would strongly contrast with the rest of the dialog window to visually confirm that a menu item is highlighted. Even David Reyes was confused until I told him which one to look at.

You know what would be a more clever color for selected items in this dialog window? Green, since that’s also part of Gumi’s color scheme.

Another major annoyance with this game is there is no autosave function whatsoever. There’s an install game data feature, but no autosave. Believe me, I’ve tried looking everywhere. I checked the options menu and found nothing:

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I also didn’t find the option to save or load my current progress which is actually found in another menu which loads another screen for some dumb reason:

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The reason why I say it’s dumb is because when it loads this screen, it takes less than 3 seconds to reach it. However, when you leave this screen, the game takes about as much time when it’s trying to load a song you’re going to be playing. I’m assuming what’s happening here is that the game tells the PSP to dump from its memory the costume information Gumi’s wearing in the game’s main menu when it reaches this screen and then it has to reload that information again when you leave. All of these headaches could’ve been avoided if they simply implemented an autosave function.

One feature that they should’ve taken more time to develop is giving presents to Gumi. Like with Project Diva, this game has a feature that allows you to furnish Gumi’s room however you see fit, but in order to get these furnishings, you have to purchase them using the points you’ve earned by passing songs. Buying presents is just a variant of buying items for Gumi’s room because you don’t know what you’re going to be getting when you hand them over to her. The problem I have is not how this feature works but more along the lines of how they implemented it. The first big annoyance is that the game has to spend time loading the interface for giving her presents. Then there’s the animation for giving her presents:

So what’s the problem here? Well, let’s say you like to buy presents in bulk and managed to get 10 of them. To give you an idea of how painfully slow the process of giving her presents in large amounts is, repeat that video 10 times. Paraphray should’ve implemented an option to ask you how many presents you want to give her and then just see one response. Or they should’ve spent more time with different responses (i.e.- she won’t take the present because she’s tired of getting the same kind of present from you, or one of the other voice banks from Internet steals it and you have to duel them in a rhythm game to get it back). Or they should’ve scrapped this mechanic until it was more ready because it clearly wasn’t.

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Out of all of the features that Paraphray promised, the one I really want them to focus on for the next iteration of this game is to expand on what they currently have for their multiplayer mode because as of right now it’s pretty barebones. The only fundamental difference between single player and multiplayer mode is that the song will not end prematurely and fail everyone unless all players have nothing left in their Groove Gauge. There’s also a bunch of other annoyances too: if the host of the multiplier session has a song that one of the other players does not have unlocked yet, the host can’t select that song for this multiplayer session, but the host is the only player that’s allowed to unlock songs for the current session, which sucks for everyone else. And don’t think that you can use the multiplayer mode to unlock songs that you can’t pass because the host of the multiplayer session still needs to have a passing grade in order to unlock the next song.

One of the incentives that the developers made to make you use multiplayer mode is there are a few illustrations that can only be obtained if you manage to successfully start and end a session. The one I got looks really nice and was hoping that it was one of the costumes you can let her wear in the game, but the game didn’t have it:

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I’m also kind of surprised they don’t have a screenshot mode that allows you to save these images onto the pictures directory on the PSP in case you want to use these illustrations for your wallpaper.

Anyway, I think I’ve rambled on for long enough about this game. Since I’ve written so much about this game in a single blog post, it’s pretty obvious I like this game a lot despite its faults. Whether or not you’ll enjoy this game is based primarily on whether or not you like Vocaloid music sung by the Megpoid voice bank as well as what your expectations are in a rhythm game. If your expectations are to have a more pleasant audiovisual experience, then Project Diva might suit your needs. If you want a challenge though, Megpoid the Music # might be right up your alley, if you can deal with the clunky loading times to get to the song that you want to play, that is.

So to summarize everything that I’ve said about this review in a few bullet points:

+ The music selection is a lot better than Project Diva’s
+ Solid game mechanics with better feedback on your button presses
+ It’s Megpoid!

– Game’s menu presentation needs a lot of work to minimize loading times and initial confusion when selecting menu items
– No Autoasave
– Gumi Room features need some more thought put into them
– Mutliplayer needs a little bit more than single player simultaneous mode or the only way to unlock certain illustrations.

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