Looking Back on Ten Years of Project Diva

A new Project Diva is coming, and we dived into its popularity overseas throughout the years

Hatsune Miku is back with a new game coming to Nintendo Switch. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Mega 39’s, or Mega Mix, was recently announced by Sega Japan for 2020. But the reveal only disclosed a Japanese release window, which is surprising given the international popularity and SEGA’s recent track record with localizing the series.

Project Diva, otherwise known as possibly the most anime rhythm game out there (not counting Osu!), features the Vocaloid 2 voice synthesizer mascots Hatsune Miku and her friends, Luka, Meiko, Kaito, Len, and Rin, as well as fanmade characters Haku and Neru. Throughout the iterations, level creation systems, dating sim-esque features, costume customization, and more have appeared, bringing rabid fanboys and girls alike closer and closer to their teal twin-tailed virtual waifu.

But its appeal doesn’t just lie within its beautiful sets, characters, and dances–it’s a unique rhythm game experience in that instead of keeping your eyes on one part of the screen, takes them all over the screen. And well, the entire song list is absolutely infectious Jpop. But how this extremely niche anime-as-literal-hell rhythm game series found itself in international waters is a bit of a complex one, and didn’t just happen on the reputation of the games alone. 

Hatsune Miku is a mascot of sorts for a voice synthesizer program by Crypton Future Media called Vocaloid. She’s eternally 16, eternally anime and not actually human–she’s, in essence, an instrument, starring in video games, Dominoes, Toyota and shampoo commercials with Scarlett Johansson, guesting on David Letterman and even headlining her own hologram concerts around the globe.

She’s anything anyone wants her to be. And the video game series, Project Diva, absolutely plays into that feeling of connection that so many artists, producers, composers create in the promotional videos they create using her voice–Project Diva is a sort of proxy in that way, making something that is very much just a figment of our collective imagination live literally within the palms of our hands.

Mega Mix is in celebration of the series’ 10th anniversary in 2019 as the first game launched on July 2, 2009. It will include 101 songs from the games that span the core and spin-off titles in the Project Diva series, and 10 of those songs will be making their debut in the title. The game will also include 300 costumes for all of its playable characters and new, sleeker, more anime-esque character models.

The song list currently is confirmed to include fan favorites like “Rolling Girl” by the recently deceased Wowaka, “Decorator” by Kz, “Odds & Ends” by Ryo, “Freely Tomorrow” by Mitchie M, “Skeleton Orchestra and Lilia” by Tohma and more. Among the two new songs, which were shown off in the announcement trailer, are “Alien Alien” by Nayutan Seijin and “39 Music!” by Mikito-P.

The official website states there will be new game modes exclusive to the Switch, but what exactly that entails doesn’t seem to be clear quite yet. The 10 new songs debuting in Mega Mix will appear as DLC in Project Diva Arcade Future Tone and Future Tone Deluxe in 2020 as well. But while these new features play into what the series has become over the last ten years, they don’t say much about where they came from.

The first game, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva, is a much more archaic version of what it is today but employs the same floating note mechanics still seen in the Vita, PS4, and Arcade versions of the title. Only that back then, success was based on score and not how many good or perfect notes you could hit. In the original game, the original six Crypton Vocaloid 2 characters were playable, but only Hatsune Miku songs were featured, and not all of them had fully animated dance shots to go with them. “The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku” featured original and fan-made artwork in its video.

The following two titles, Project Diva 2nd, and Project Diva Extend, would also launch on PSP in Japan only. Project Diva 2nd would feature more characters, more customization, a level creation system, and even duet songs between different characters. Extend, like its namesake, was an extension of 2nd, adding in the DLC of 2nd to the core game, and a new set of playable songs. All three are importable titles and will operate on Western PSPs as the system is region free.

Each of the three titles would see PS3 versions as well in DLC versions of themselves known as Dreamy Theater. Dreamy Theater wasn’t a separate game from any of the originals and required the PSP version to play–so it was more like an HD version of the game to play on the TV before PlayStation TV was a thing in 2013. Its graphics looked much like the graphics we still see today in Project Diva Arcade Future Tone.

This is not the first time Hatsune Miku has made it to a Nintendo platform, as spin-off series Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai started on Nintendo 3DS in March 2012. In addition to its adorable, nendoroid-esque character models, Mirai also offers an entirely different playstyle unique to the system and a much more “cute” setlist separate from the playable songs available in the core series on PlayStation.

The first two iterations of the spin-off Project Mirai were region-specific to Asia and the 3DS is a region-locked system, unlike the PlayStation PSP or Vita, so it wasn’t exactly the most import friendly of the series. Mirai made its debut in the West in 2015 as Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai DX, which was the international version of both the first and second Project Mirai titles.

Later in 2012, Project Diva expanded to PS4 and PSVita with Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Forte. It was the first of the series to have touch controls and feature “alternative” endings, as well as have international localization. In 2014, Forte 2nd was released, updating old songs from the original 2nd PSP title, and adding new costumes and songs with the updated mechanics.

Two years later, the series stepped away from its strict rhythm game mechanics and turned into more of a visual novel approach with Project Diva X. For the first time, Project Diva had a story, focused on collecting power through playing through songs and restoring light to the world of the Vocaloids. It was also the first in the series to have remixes and feature a sextet.

Project Diva Arcade had been a Japan-only game for the majority of its lifetime–as it’s a literal arcade cabinet–with small handfuls in surrounding countries. The first Project Diva Arcade cabinet launched in 2010 as a port of the 2009 PSP title. Later, it would come to select malls in North America and Europe in 2016. What was unique about it is that SEGA actually requested fan-made content for the port. Its sequel, which is what we know Arcade to be now, launched in 2013 as Project Diva Arcade Future Tone.

Project Diva Arcade Future Tone came to the home in the West on PS4 in 2017 and its remaster of sorts, Future Tone DX, arrived shortly after, celebrating Hatsune Miku’s tenth anniversary by adding a handful of new songs and costumes to its already massive catalog. The idol’s 12th anniversary is August 31, and considering Sega has a track record of making big announcements related to Project Diva on that date, we can likely expect more news about the next iteration in the series soon.

The newer iterations of Project Diva keep delivering more of the same songs and challenges we’ve seen again and again in slightly different, improved fashions. Mega Mix seems to be following that formula in its current state–but that’s not exactly a bad thing. These experiences always had the magic to bring fans closer to these personas that will never actually exist, which for a rhythm game to accomplish that is difficult. And It’s thanks to the wider culture of producers, composers, and especially fans who have been alongside Miku for the last 12 years of her virtual existence.

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