With a love that has culminated in me amassing an army of self proclaimed Broject Divas, I figured it was due time to talk to SEGA about Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA f (known as DIVA F on the PlayStation 3). I was put in touch with Sam Mullen, who served as producer on Project DIVA f (as well as Binary Domain and Rhythm Thief, favourites of mine), and we were able to talk about bringing the series to North America and Europe for the first time, the importance of hair bows, and why Miku is not a Sailor Moon wannabe.
When you consider the company’s commitment to focus on successful brands, and the “massive labour of love” comments made by SEGA’s Ethan Einhorn, it’s clear that PDf was a difficult project to bring to North America. What exactly needed to be done in the lead-up to its release?
Sam Mullen: As you might know from any review of Project DIVA F/f, the Hatsune Miku phenomenon is not something that’s immediately obvious. And what I mean by that is it requires a lot of background and explanation. For our Western divisions, something like Miku is not an IP that was on everyone’s radars. To many people, she was just another incarnation of Sailor Moon, pigtails and all. Just another anime character on another Japanese game. Some people had the impression that Miku was basically doing covers of existing J-pop songs, so a lot of misconceptions like that had to be dispelled. So a lot of the lead up to the release was simply doing internal informational campaigns, informing our people what makes Miku compelling, and explaining that Project DIVA isn’t just a J-pop video game. Building that understanding and mindshare was one of the big challenges for this title.
What makes Project DIVA f the best installment to mark the series’ debut in North America and Europe? What makes it a must have for gamers?
SM:Couple of reasons, actually. When compared to the previous PSP ones, the stunning, eye-catching art style and presentation of Project DIVA F is second to none. We felt this sort of fresh start is a good logical start point for introducing the series to Western gamers, who expect high-end experiences. And second was the platform. PlayStation 3 is a great platform by which to introduce a game to the mainstream in the West, and we felt by releasing the PS3 version, we not only see a good reaction from the users, but also get a good gauge on the interest for this sort of title.
As for why Project DIVA F is a must have for gamers, there’s a number of reasons. The most obvious is the fact that it is a challenging and engaging music rhythm game. Gamers appreciate titles that challenge their accuracy, timing, and dexterity. This is the core of what this game is.
The second is the music itself. While some will say ‘J-pop isn’t my thing’, the fact is that Vocaloid music is a new genre in and of itself. The variety of music in this game is striking, and I can almost guarantee there is at least one or two songs that will make you go, “…. Alright, I gotta admit, that tune was pretty cool.” And then before you know it, you have 20 songs from the game that you’ve purchased off iTunes.
We live in an increasing globalized world, where a song like “Gangnam Style” can get international acclaim. So the fact that we can bring a game that exposes the Western audience to the cutting edge work that is being done not only by the song writers using Vocaloid software, but visual artists, the fashion designers, the cosplay culture, and all other interconnected artist and creative talent that is associated with it. I feel that Project DIVA is a gateway to that world. The rabbit hole is very deep, my friends.
Do you have a favourite song or character among the bunch?
SM: Personally, I’m a Rin fan. Dat hair bow.
What are the difficulties in promoting Project DIVA in North America, especially to people with no existing knowledge of the series or character?
SM: Similar to the issues of educating our own Western teams, which I discuss above. It’s just getting people approach the whole thing with an open mind. Some may think, “this isn’t for me,” but if they go into it with an open mind, they will almost certainly find something they like. And all you need is this initial touch point.
But the fact is, a LOT of younger people have come in contact with Hatsune Miku in some form or other, whether they realize it or not. So trying to access that market on limited resources is a challenge. While the game is completely enjoyable by anyone without any knowledge of Miku, if you want fully appreciate the game for everything that it is, and understanding Miku’s background is really important.
Would SEGA consider localizing the music’s lyrics specifically, or would that tinker with the game’s charm or intent?
SM: The issue with English lyrics is not that it would tinker with the games charm or intent. The issue is that SEGA does not own the lyrics, so by default, we do not have the rights to translate them and release them. There is a lot of work that would go into a lyrical translation, and for Project DIVA F/f, that work was not feasible. For those who want deeper understanding of the meaning of the songs inProject DIVA F/f, we encourage you to check out the many fan translations.
We’re only a week past the game’s release, but can you speak to the game’s sales? I’m sure fans are hoping to see the series continue here.
SM: I cannot comment on the performance of the title, but we are encouraged by the fans passion for the title. We hope they will continue to tell their friends and relatives about Project DIVA, and spread the word of Hatsune Miku and her friends.
Project DIVA has some very hardcore fans, and with f‘s sequel released just recently in Japan, the issue or importing comes up. Does that present a problem when considering the future or the series in the West?
Project DIVA has always been a relatively import-friendly game, so for people who want to own the Japanese version, we encourage that. Though now that we have announced Project DIVA F 2nd for the West, we hope anyone who has imported it will pick up the Western version as well. You also don’t have to deal with any issues dealing with cross-region PSN purchasing and whatnot.
Can 3DS owners expect any news on a localization of Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai?
SM: We currently have no plans for Project Mirai, but are aware that fans are requesting it.
With so many factors at play (mechanics, visuals, music, etc.), what do you believe makes for a good rhythm game?
SM: Simple. Precision of the controls and the quality of the music.
SEGA has a terrific stable of characters, is it possible for Hatsune Miku to become a regular, appearing in games like the Sonic & All Stars Racing series?
KP: Hatsune Miku is not owned by SEGA. She is the property of Crypton Future Media. So it’s ultimately not up to SEGA as to which games she appears in. However, she does make an occasional cameo appearance in some of SEGA’s more Japan-focused titles, from time to time.
I’d like to thank Sam Mullen, Kellie Parker and SEGA for providing me the opportunity for this interview. Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA f can be purchased digitally through PSN.