Sunday, February 18, 2018

UtaPri Impressions

Lately I've been feeling like a lot of the games I've reviewed have come with the caveat that they feature heavy use of "fan service" particularly focused on female characters. In the spirit of fairness, I decided to pick something a little different for #DatingSiMonth and go with one the Chic-Pixel blog's recommendations: Uta no Prince-sama Shining Live (aka UtaPri).

UtaPri Shining Live is a free-to-play rhythm game that features relationship-building mechanics that focus on a band of fictional male pop stars from the larger UtaPri media franchise. The majority of the gameplay is pretty typical touchscreen rhythm game fair similar to games like Voez and various Japanese arcade games. Between the musical performances, UtaPri's campaign features visual novel style cutscenes that advance the story of the band's off-stage activities. In addition to this, there's the "dating sim" part where the player can interact with their favorite of these bishonen (pretty boy) anime pop idols, give them gifts, and dress them up in different outfits. Before I get into my observations from my time with the game, I should mention that I am well outside the target audience for this game but I think that one of the great things about themed gaming events like #DatingSiMonth is that they encourage players to take a step outside of their usual domains. I'm all for giving a game like this a fair shake and getting a little context on parts of the gaming world that I don't normally see. Anyway, on to the impressions:
  • I've never really been into pop music or boy bands, so I didn't expect to get much out of this game's music. I was pleasantly surprised to find that in addition to the typical pop ballads, there were a considerable number of tracks that had a rock or electronic flair that made them fun to play and listen to. This game's soundtrack also showcases a feature of J-pop music that I really appreciate: the use of classical elements like string sections.
  • As I had mentioned previously, the rhythm game sections play very similarly to other touchscreen rhythm games. I'm not musically talented enough to know how well the in-game prompts coincide with the music itself, but the combination of taps, holds, and slides certainly works from a mechanical standpoint and is fun to execute. One of my favorite parts of the rhythm game is that certain notes, when timed appropriately, cause pyrotechnics to launch from the stage. I may be a grown man hunched over his phone playing a cutesy anime pop idol game, but I feel like a total badass every time I nail a set of these notes and shoot off some fireworks.
  • Aside from the music, the production values of UtaPri are quite high. There is a considerable amount of voice work (in Japanese) for each character and the visual novel sections feature a lot more animation and changes of facial expressions than I'm used to seeing. From a visual standpoint, I'm reminded of the character interaction sessions in Fire Emblem Fates.
  • Compared to other mobile games I've played, I've found that my play sessions of UtaPri can't be quite as spontaneous. Since the gameplay hinges on being able to hear the music, I pretty much have to save playing it for situations where I can hook up headphones or play the music on my speakers without disturbing people around me.
  • While the story sections look and sound great, so far their content has not really appealed to me. I've never really been interested in what celebrities do when they're not performing and most of the story sections of the game are about the band members hanging out between shows or doing appearances on talk shows. Essentially, these scenes are just idle banter between the characters and thus are not my cup of tea. Though they are probably interesting to players who have a connection to these characters from other parts of the UtaPri franchise.
  • UtaPri wouldn't be a proper Japanese mobile game without a gachapon component, and this game's definitely got that for those who want it. One of the game's currencies, Prisms, can be spent on doing photo shoots with the band members that yield trading cards of the idols that come in common, rare, super rare, and ultra rare varieties. These serve two purposes. The first is that the cards allow you to swap out your band members for upgraded versions of themselves. Having band member with better stats make it easier to attain high scores when playing the rhythm game. The second purpose of these cards is to admire/collect the character artwork. While this part won't be every player's thing, I can definitely see how some players would get hooked on collecting cards of their favorite characters in different poses and outfits (including swimsuit shots).
  • Occasionally, the game does special events with themed photo shoots for holidays. However, the start and stop times of these events are based on the Japanese timezone regardless of the player's location. This meant that for me Valentines Day in UtaPri ended early in the morning on February 14th.
  • There isn't much substance to the "dating sim" portion of the game. You can tap on your favorite idol to make him say things to you, give him gifts, and change his clothes to build your "bond level" with him. As far as I can tell, there isn't much more to it than that and there aren't any decision trees or plot branches like those that would present in a proper dating sim.
  • Between its various character stats, multiple currencies, leveling up mechanics, and social elements, there is a lot more depth to UtaPri than initially meets the eye. While I've put several hours into the game at this point, there are still some aspects of it that I haven't firmly grasped yet.
Uta no Prince-sama Shining Live presents a compelling package for fans of rhythm games who also enjoy boy bands and bishonen anime. As someone whose affinity for UtaPri's themes is limited, I still found my time with the game to be both fun and interesting. It probably won't make my list of all time favorite mobile games but I'm still planning on keeping it on my phone and checking in  periodically. If anything I've described in this post sounds intriguing to you, the game is free on iOS and Android, so definitely give it a go.

Note: If you find yourself overwhelmed by this game's systems, check out this starter guide.

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