Hatsune Miku VR touts itself as a dance and music game where the player can join “world-famous” virtual singer Hatsune Miku on stage and have a rollicking good time. Falling somewhere in gameplay between Beat Saber and Audio Trip, this game has a decidedly Japanese anime feel and aesthetic. But, should you actually dig into your pocket and channel your inner pop star and join along? Well…
Attack Of The 50 Foot Anime
When you first jump into the game, you’re greeted by a giant floating image of Miss Hatsune herself. You find yourself in some sort of futuristic room with a pretty static (yet huge) image of the turquoise-haired starlet looming large before you. From here, you can navigate around. There’s an option for a tutorial, a concert mode, leaderboards, and of course, the actual gameplay. Always one to come prepared, I dipped into the tutorial first.
The tutorial is pretty straightforward. If you’ve played any of these types of games previously, it’s not entirely necessary. There are speakers which produce musical notes; you have to use your fairy wands (because Japanese pop star, so natch) to hit the notes as they come flying at you. No timed trigger pulls or real directional pitfalls to contend with. The end. Simple enough.
That out of the way, I wanted to get into the meat of the game. When you’re ready to play, you’ll find 10 unlocked songs available for you to conquer. You can also choose from two difficulties: normal and hard. Hatsune Miku VR allows you to choose between two costumes of Hatsune to wear and two different style wands. One set looks like a typical fairy wand, replete with a star on top – the other looks like spring onions. I went with the onions because nothing quite shouts Pop Star like green onions.
Assuming there was some difficulty curve along the 10 unlocked stages available, I started at 1. Well, you know what they say about making assumptions, right?
“Were You Listening To Me, Neo?”
“Or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?” Okay, Morpheus, you got me. When stage 1 opens up, a 3D 16-year-old anime-style school girl prances out onto the virtual stage in her schoolgirl uniform. She immediately turns her back to you, and the “performance” begins with a bit of light hip-and-rump shaking. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if I should be playing a game or throwing dollar bills at her. But, I didn’t have long to wonder because soon, the colorful speakers floating in the air behind her started to pump out colorful music notes. The notes needed my attention, begone jailbait!
The mechanics here are straightforward. You just hold out your wand and touch every note that comes your way. Every note you manage to touch contributes to your “fever” bar (cowbell not included). Fill up your fever bar, and you can initiate a type of bonus round. The old stage will disappear, and then you’ll be transported to a dark stage where Hatsune will dance and sing on a light-up dance floor. It’s very Saturday Night Fever. If you miss a note in normal mode, you will lose your progress on your fever meter. But in this stage, missing some musical notes doesn’t matter, and each note and combo successfully hit gives you more points than usual.
I slogged through as best I could, finding my annoyance with Hatsune growing with every note. I found myself growling over and over, “Could you just….move! You make a better door than a window, Hatsune! OMG! Get. Out. Of. The. Way!”.
I did not want to be on Hatsune’s stage. Why did she have to be right in front of you? Couldn’t they have put her off to the side somewhere? Here she was, winking, prancing and twirling and flipping her hair coquettishly all over the place and obscuring the notes so that I couldn’t even see some of them until it was too late. Sayonara high score and combo streak! “Shhh,” Hatsune seemed to say. “Your high score be damned, mortal. WATCH MEEEEEEE!”
Despite doing my best to ignore Hatsune’s incessant struts, my eyes would inevitably catch her movements just long enough to break my focus. It’s beyond annoying, and it will plague you the entire game. In a later stage that was actually a lot more challenging than the first one, she ruined an over 400-note streak I had by blocking my view. Then, I kid you not, she blew a kiss over her shoulder and winked at me. If you could give the middle finger in VR in this game, I would have. Instead, I was just left impotently flipping off my living room.
At the end of each round, you’ll wait for your result with Hatsune. You’ll see a listing of your notes, combos, score, and you’ll get a grade. The highest I ever got was an “SS”; the lowest was a “C.” Get a good enough score, and you’ll hear the crowd cheer and clap. Give a mediocre to poor performance, and you’ll get booed. On some levels, even a “B” will get you booed. The crowd is fickle, Hatsune, but we can’t let them destroy our spirit!
New Quest, Who Dis?
After the perplexing and underwhelming first round, I needed answers. Who the heck was this Hatsune Miku? Was I supposed to know her? Was she really world-famous like the game description said? Was her popularity supposed to be the main draw in what was shaping up to be a decidedly mediocre game? So, I did some digging. Turns out our heroine (or more aptly, villain) has her very own Wiki page!
Here’s the dirt. Apparently, Hatsune Miku is a “Vocaloid software voicebank developed by Crypton Future Media” way back in 2007. Hatsune gets her voice from Saki Furita, a Japanese voice actress the developers used as a model.
Now here’s where things get bonkers. In Japan, Hatsune has been marketed as a “virtual idol.” She’s even been used to hold actual concerts where she appears on stage in all her animated projection glory. When translated, her name means “the first sound of the future.” She’s apparently so big in Japan that she has appeared in multiple anime shows and movies, on the sides of official race cars, and in other video games. According to Crypton, she had over 100,000 original songs to her name by 2011.
Not impressed yet? Well, she was even announced as a performer for Coachella 2020. But, the pandemic ruined Hatsune’s electric dreams there when Coachella was canceled. Here’s to hoping Lil Sebastian can headline next year.
Worst Concert Ever!
Curiosity satisfied, I dove back into the game. I was hoping I might enjoy it more the further in I got. That didn’t happen. I tried every level, on both difficulty settings, some multiple times. To be blunt, Hatsune Miku VR is just incredibly lackluster. The backgrounds and backdrops are pretty bland. They’re poorly rendered, and there’s no real “wow” factor to any of them. They’re just not that interesting to look at. Even Hatsune herself isn’t that well “finished.” Once the initial novelty of having her there wears off, and you have the chance to really “look” at her, there are some glaring holes and glitches in her rendering. This is especially true if you go into concert mode and fiddle around with your placement on the stage to look at her from different angles.
Then there’s the disappointment that is actual gameplay. As far as I can tell, there’s no real purpose to the notes being different colors other than to make the overall game more colorful. You don’t seem to get any more points for gold notes than green ones, for example. The game feels very repetitious quite early on, especially since the notes seem weirdly “timed” with the music. Very rarely did anything seem to actually sync. There were several instances where I thought a song was over, only to have it start up again. The erratic, unpredictable music makes the game as a whole feel erratic and unpredictable. While you could look at that as a way in which the game is naturally more challenging than maybe some others in the genre, I just found it flat out irksome.
As I mentioned earlier, progress in Hatsune Miku VR isn’t linear, either. There is no rise in difficulty; it’s all just…there. Stage 1 was easier than most. But stage 10, which you might naturally think was the big finale, was incredibly short and simple. I actually found stages 5 and 7 more difficult.
Even though Hatsune Miku VR touts itself as a dance game, other than my arms, I felt much more stationary in this game than in others. Yes, there were times when my arms were moving in a flurry, and I swore only an octopus would be able to hit all those notes. But, other than your arms, you’re pretty much just standing there. The hard mode does introduce bombs, which can shatter your streak if you don’t dodge them. At my most “active,” I felt as though I were doing some kind of ribbon exercise in gymnastics, but without all the leaping around. In comparison, in titles like Beat Saber and Audio Trip, I could feel my heart pumping and knew I was getting in a bit of exercise. In Hatsune Miku VR, I just felt my blood pressure rising because little miss “Look At Meeeee” wouldn’t get the hell out of the way.
One thing that makes Hatsune Miku VR a bit different is that you can’t fail out of a stage. I tried. I stood there purposely with my hands behind my back the entire time and nadda. I even managed to score a few points somehow, go figure.
Sadly though, I really can’t say much that’s positive about Hatsune Miku VR. It’s not innovative. It’s not beautiful. There’s no real sense of progression, and even though the music changes, it somehow still ends up feeling cloyingly repetitious. Poor Lil Hatsune herself ends up feeling more like an annoying fly rather than a technological marvel.
Unless you’re a hardcore anime fan or Hatsune Miku fan, in particular, I can’t recommend this game. It’s so generally “blah” that I don’t really feel the need to revisit it in the future. Sure, I could go back and try to top my scores. I simply… don’t want to. This is odd for me because I usually border on obsessive when it comes to getting that highest rank possible. But I didn’t find this game fun, and there are too many other options for Quest games that ARE fun. This game functions, there are no insane bugs or weird glitches, and that’s about the most I can say it has going for it.
At just under 25 bucks, it’s simply not worth it. Nor are the various DLC packs, which will charge you another $11.99 for 5 additional songs. The only exception here I can see is that maybe Hatsune Miku VR is a game for kids who are into anime or want to play a dance/music game that’s more relaxed. If they’ve tried other games and got frustrated with failing out as the content got more demanding, Hatsune Miku VR could be an option for them, as failing out is simply impossible.
The real shame is, the concept could have been great. Watching a top performer do their thing while you do yours in a VR world which provides limitless possibilities could be beyond cool. But that isn’t what happens here, not even close. Save your money. This is one concert you won’t mind missing. Sorry, Hatsune. Good luck with your career..at least you never age.