“Love Live: School Idol Paradise” Review

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I typically don’t review Japanese games because I feel like the game not being in my native language could unfairly impact my impression of it. Of course, most of the ones I get are primarily VNs and not rhythm games so… screw it, I guess. I feel like there’s almost no chance that this will ever come out in the west anyway. I hear NISA’s been pretty cozy with Kadokawa lately and they do have the Love Live anime license, but I’d still say the odds are slim. It’s been a little while since I finished these (late 2014), but I’d still like to review them.

So let’s roll this out in the usual manner. I’ll be writing this review as if it were any of the three games. The only differences in the three revolve around which characters the side events are based on and which ones appear in the classroom content. You also get a few exclusive songs per version: One for the unit and three solos. But the majority of the game is the same, so reviews won’t vary much between versions.

Gameplay: 4/10 – Honestly, the game falls flat in a lot of places. The rhythm game is a simple two-button type. There are heart notes and star notes. Each one works on one side of either the touch screen or the face buttons. There are also doubles and holds, but that’s as complex as it gets. The notes are presented in a fairly random placement on screen, so it doesn’t feel super polished, either. Timing is extremely loose and often inaccurate. Note placement isn’t always accurate to the music, either. There are also only two difficulties, and the hard difficulty isn’t really that hard. All of that said, however, the included mission mode does add a lot to the rhythm game. By being given a set of sub-challenges like reaching a certain score, getting a certain combo level, or even completely randomizing the notes (any note will randomly be generated as either a heart, star, or double), the game becomes a lot more interesting. Clearing the missions for the trophies, which I initially expected to be the worst grind in the game, ended up being the most fun I had with it. I wish this mode had been expanded on a little more, with more challenges and unlockables. Speaking of unlockables, the vast majority of the songs in the game are locked when you first start. Most of them are unlocked via story mode, with a few coming out of the missions. On the note of story mode, the game isn’t bad, but it’s not super interesting, either. There are three routes in the game, depending on your success rate at the rhythm game. But unless you’re absolutely terrible at it or you’re terrible on purpose, you’ll never see anything but the true ending. The game is extremely lenient on difficulty. It takes very little to get above the worst score in a song and you’re required to get the worst score at several to get into some other routes. Fortunately, it’s impossible to fail a song. You can go without hitting a single note and the game will give you the worst rating, “Good.” It basically hands out participation trophies. But of the three routes, two of them are pretty much exactly the same. The only difference between them is that there’s no post-credits scene or performance of the game’s new song, Shangri-La Shower (which unlocks it for play in other modes). The other route splits off into a different place and then ends up in the middle portion of the other two routes by the end, simply cutting out the last chapter of those routes. Grinding for endings/trophies/songs becomes a bit of a chore as a result, but you can skip any scene you’ve read once. The story is typical Love Live fare. The group is looking for opportunities to perform and help promote the school. Friendship abounds. There are a few other modes in the game that let you talk to the girls, review story scenes, change their clothes (there’s a trophy for tapping the screen furiously while they’re changing to rush them, which involves them making snappy comments), and a number of other things, but it’s not something you’ll probably spend a lot of time in. You really only need to see it at all because one unlockable story scene for a trophy only shows up in the scene library here.

Graphics: 6/10 – I’ll be super honest here: The models are creepy. For some reason or another, they all have mouths modeled onto the faces, but don’t use the lips to animate the characters talking, so you have this weird overlap with a second mouth that doesn’t do anything. Some of the girls also have really weird dimples in their faces, and cleavage/shading is literally just pasted onto the model as part of the texture. The textures are also pretty low res, and there are some bad ones, too. One of Nico’s outfits (I think the No Brand Girls outfit) has her belly button completely off center. The backgrounds in story scenes are also just still images. Where the game really shines, however, and why I’ve still given it a reasonably good score, is in the concert performances. Here, you can set up 3D stages with some degree of customization, including both pieces of the stage and stage gimmicks to fire off (literally fire, if you want). The characters move very smoothly here due to well-done motion capture, and the dances all completely capture the ones you’ve seen in the anime or any of the µ’s live performances. For the ones that have appeared in the anime, the camera work is even carried over here (including the crazy spinning camera in No Brand Girls). There is, of course, a free view mode where you can watch these performances without having to play the rhythm game. And despite the rather poor look of the models, there’s some decent variety in costumes that makes coordinating a performance into a nice experience. Unfortunately, the stage designs are pretty limited. Since the rhythm game is the core of the gameplay for this title, I felt it best to give it a little extra weight in all categories, and this is certainly where the game shines, graphically. If I had to guess, though, I’d say this game was probably going to be on PSP before they converted it to Vita, because everything looks like an upscaled PSP game. Dingo has worked with Vita before. I know they can do better than this, even on a budget.

Sound: 7/10 – This is the only category I can give a better score to for this game. There’s plenty to love here as a fan of the series. All of the story scenes are fully voiced and there are a number of fan-favorite tracks to play. There are still some problems here, though. The BGMs in the game are decent, but fairly forgettable. To their credit, though, they do seem to have a close feel to those in the anime. I’m not sure if it’s the same composer or if the game’s composer worked to match the style, but they certainly don’t feel out of place as Love Live BGMs. Regarding voices, most of them are fine, but there’s a noticeable problem in sound balancing. Maki’s lines are always significantly quieter than everyone else’s, and I think someone’s was always louder (Rin?). This resulted in problems between either never hitting a good sound balance with a constant volume or constantly adjusting the volume and often getting your ears blown out or missing a line. Additionally, while there are a good number of tracks in the game, a lot of them are remixes of other songs. There are a good half-dozen or so remixes in the game, eating up a large portion of the track list. And while this is something I’m technically docking points for from gameplay, despite not mentioning it yet, the remixes have the exact same vocals and notes as the originals, so gameplay is exactly the same despite being two songs. The only difference is the backing track. Some of them aren’t that good, either.

Overall: 5.7/10 – Overall, it’s not really a good game. I’m giving it a very average score. That’s not to say it’s a terrible game, but it’s one you should probably think twice about if you’re importing just out of curiosity. There’s a lot to like for hardcore fans of the series, but being a Vita game, I feel like all of the content could have been put on a single Vita card and sold as a single game. This furthers my suspicion that the games were originally meant to be on PSP, where they probably wouldn’t have been able to fit it all on a single UMD. Picking a single version, for most people, means not getting all of your favorites to be the stars in one game. Just give some consideration to who you want to see and how much you want to pay for the game before you pick it up. I will say, though, that you can certainly get your money’s worth out of the game as far as time goes, and you can alleviate some headaches in getting trophies across multiple versions because some save data is global (like mission clears).

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