After four consecutive JRPGs I suppose it’s due time to change the genre. That’s not to say I would leave Japan, though, as the next game in line turned out to be Bandai Namco’s idolful (yup, that shall be a word) The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars. As per tradition in the series, the player once again becomes Producer-san, tasked with turning thirteen young girls into music entertainment superstars. Many of the Idolm@ster games are hardcore management sims that are hardly suitable for us without fluency in Japanese. Thankfully Platinum Stars handles management with simple mini-games that don’t take anything away from the game being a proper Hatsune Miku -esque rhythm experience.
Apparently Producer-san isn’t a very trustworthy person. At first, the player is only given custody of three idols and half a dozen songs. More of each are slowly unlocked by leveling up managerial skills. Depending on the viewpoint, Platinum Stars is either a heaven or hell for grinders. Not only do the player and the girls have a character level, each of the latter also has an idol level, affection meter, number of fans, and three different attributes related to the number of points earned by playing through songs. If that wasn’t enough, the songs themselves have a level as well, so there certainly is plenty of meters in play.
The most obvious way to make progress is to play through live shows. Three idols go on a stage together and complete either a single song or three in a row. Notes make their way towards the hit zone at the bottom of the screen, and comprise of the usual selection of those that have to be hit, those that have to be held down, and those that require a synchronized press on the d-pad. In addition, each song has a segment that requires stroking the DualShock touch pad, and a single note towards the end that has to be nailed by clicking the pad. That invokes an euphoric Extreme Burst mode, which is just a fancy way of saying that all subsequent notes reward a lot more points as long as they aren’t missed. The gig is a success if a predetermined score is met. If not, even with a perfect performance, it’s back to the earlier challenges to level up.
The level of challenge is most moderate. Even the game itself is ashamed to suggest its easiest difficulty mode by default, and normal mode is usually good for just one go per song to unlock its Pro mode. Even on that, perfect note chains quickly become a second nature. The reason for this, though, is devious. The game only features 20 songs about two minutes in length. All of them are familiar to anyone who has ever played an Idolm@ster game on PSP or Vita. Even those who haven’t will soon get more than used to them. Raising all idols from their scrubby F level to bona fide S-class platinum stars will take a small eternity. For example, it took me just shy of 18 hours just to unlock every character for playing. Some of the songs are still behind lock and key, and no one is even near the fabled S-class. According to the internet, unlocking absolutely everything would be a gargantuan effort of around 200-300 hours. This, coupled with the fact that there’s only about of 40 minutes of music, is so tragicomic that I’m actually inclined to see just how far I can go before my brain self-destructs. A penchant for girly pop is a must, given that you can easily play through each song dozens of times in a row without making any notable progress. I’m not entirely sure if Bandai Namco wanted to hug Idolm@ster fans or give them a corporative middle finger but whoever either designs or completes games like these… Phew… Mankind never ceases to amaze me.