Riding off the tailcoats of Francisco’s recent article, one of the more import-friendly genres for curious gaijin is rhythm games. There are the occasional titles that do require knowledge of Japanese, like Uta Kumi 575, but most can be played easily enough after you’ve learned to fumble through menus. On this note, I decided to take my first plunge into import gaming with IA/VT Colorful.
IA/VT Colorful was released in 2015 for the PS Vita after experiencing delays for nearly a year. The game was directed by Kenichiro Takaki, best known for directing the Senran Kagura titles, and published by Marvelous. As the title suggests, the game’s songs were composed using 1st Place Co.’s Vocaloid IA, whose voicebank is provided by Japanese singer Lia.
IA/VT Colorful falls under the general nuances of many rhythm games, being easy to pick up but difficult to master, though personally I found the game in general to be on the easy side. During gameplay, notes corresponding to the Vita’s face and directional buttons travel down lines to a pink circle, where players must hit the corresponding note as it reaches the center of the circle. There are also special notes that can be hit using any button (though certain requirements in the game’s challenge mode require you to hit them with specific buttons) and add to the song’s “colorful” rating. Oddly, despite Colorful being considered separate from the Project Diva series, its gameplay bares some resemblance to Project Mirai DX, albeit without the use of the touchscreen and with more buttons. While the gameplay sounds easy enough in writing, the harder difficulties require you to be dexterous enough to hit fast-scrolling notes on the fly and multiple tracks of notes at once.
The colorful rating ties into the game’s scoring system, which I don’t think I’ve fully figured out but I’ll try to explain. Like most rhythm games, IA/VT Colorful rewards accuracy and maintaining combos, though it offers some leeway because most of the overall scoring is tied to the colorful rating. Each song has normal and colorful sections, and the colorful segments are marked in red on the track progress at the top of the screen. During the colorful sections, the beatmaps temporarily eschew the note tracks and fly across the screen freely towards multiple pink circles. Essentially, do well in the normal sections and get higher grades in the colorful sections to earn a higher overall score. The focus on the colorful grades can cut players a break for scores; break a combo and it’s still possible to get the gold SSS rating if the overall score is high enough. Conversely, a player could full combo the song and not get the max rating.
Despite not being localized, IA/VT Colorful is easy to navigate which is excellent for importers (sadly, the game’s DLC tracks are region-locked). Many of the game’s menus are in English, and the X = Cancel O = Confirm switcheroo from being a domestic Japanese game can be dealt with by using the Vita’s touchscreen to navigate. The game utilizes a DJMax-esque level up system, wherein players earn points for completing songs and leveling up unlocks new songs, PV costumes for IA, as well as palette swaps for the gameplay UI and notes. It’s easy to unlock all 60 of the game’s songs simply by leveling up with minimal point grinding, but the rest of the unlockables still require some work. Gameplay modes include free play, where unlocked songs can be played leisurely, ‘step-up mode’, a challenge mode for completing songs with specific goals, and ‘my list play’, which allows for the creation of custom playlists of songs to play through.
The best way to describe IA/VT Colorful is “snappy”. The game’s clean aesthetic masks some surprisingly addicting gameplay, and despite some of the grindiness involved in unlocking certain things like costumes or UI themes, the game somehow makes replaying songs significantly less arduous. Perhaps this is because I get a stupid amount of amusement from replaying the PV tracks with IA in contextually inappropriate outfits, but I strongly feel this is more of a testament to the gameplay itself. Colorful manages to be pretty even difficulty-wise; you still have to practice at the game to ‘git gud’ at harder difficulties, but it offers a specific level of flexibility to make the overall experience much more approachable.
Though I occasionally indulge in Vocaloid music, IA inexplicably wasn’t on my radar prior to playing. Thankfully, Colorful acts as a sort of “best-of” collection for music using IA, and shows her off in an array of different music genres ranging from slow guitar serenades to dramatic, upbeat tunes. Personally I felt the game’s tracklist was a touch too mellow for my tastes, though thankfully there’s plenty of fast-paced electronic/dance songs to round out the selection. If anything else bothered me about the game’s music, I was annoyed that many of the songs were not cut for length (one track is literally 7 minutes long), which consequently makes part of the game less friendly for playing in short bursts. Nonetheless, I feel Colorful‘s delightful gameplay makes these minor hiccups with the track selection less apparent.
Pros: Is extremely import-friendly and easy to navigate without knowing a lick of Japanese. The general gameplay is wonderful without being overly easy or strangling itself with an obscenely high difficulty curve. Tracklist is varied, and runs the gamut from laid back sentimental tracks to fast-paced electronic pieces. Relatively approachable for newcomers, while also offering strong (but doable) challenges for genre veterans.
Cons: Certain songs are too damn long and needed to be cut to under 3 minutes. Beatmaps can be a bit odd on certain songs, and don’t seem to match the rhythm or vocals. Some of the extraneous unlockables require a bit of point grinding.
Colorful was likely passed over for localization because IA is considered one of the more “obscure” Vocaloids (i.e., not being Hatsune Miku or her band of Crypton pals), though thankfully new and used copies of the game are easy to find online. IA/VT Colorful is one of the finest rhythm games I’ve played in quite a while, managing simple yet approachable gameplay, catchy music and plenty of extras to unlock. I still find myself returning to Colorful between other games to revisit songs on harder difficulties and slowly work my way through the game’s challenge mode. If you have even a fleeting interest in rhythm games and don’t have a strong aversion to the usage of Vocaloids, I wholeheartedly recommend IA/VT Colorful.