K-On! Hokago Live!!
Rating: CERO A (Everyone)
Release Date: September 30th, 2010
Without a doubt, there are a lot of new rhythm games coming out as of late. Each one claims to be the best, with the best collection of songs and unique features not seen before. Despite these boastful claims, only one is based on K-On! that lets you play as either Yui (lead guitar), Azusa (rhythm guitar), Mio (Bass), Ritsu (drums), or Tsumugi (keyboard).
K-On! Hokago Live!! is bright, cute, and lighthearted just like the anime. When I say "just like the anime", that goes for much more than just using anime girls as a marketing tool to sell a low quality game. On the contrary, K-On! Hokago Live!! not only holds its own against other more common games in this genre, but it stands on its own as a genuinely fun game. It features a nineteen track song list including the opening, ending, singles from the anime, as well as character songs from the first season.
The music of this game is brilliant! Not "epic RPG" brilliant, but epic in tone. The game is consistently cheerful and entertaining, and stays true to this throughout the game. The voice actresses are exactly the same as in the show and several background tracks in the anime are in the game as well, giving a sense of the game itself being an episode. Once during a song, either at the beginning or the end, there is an "MC" note that appears. Hitting this note allows the character you're playing as to take the role of emcee and say a few words. These are collectable and unlockable along with the BGM and playable tracks. The only problems in the sound department is the in-game volume. You MUST raise the volume to max in the settings, and even then the vocals are drowned out in several songs. There is also a feature in the settings that makes a tambourine sound every time you hit a note. This is turned off by default, and rightfully so. Not only is it distracting, but it's pretty annoying if you happen to be playing a lengthy song with an endless stream of notes. Other than these two issues, the music is flawless. The play list is a great mix of songs that a K-On! fan would be familiar with, as well as songs from the character albums that they might not know. The playable songs in order by difficulty are:
1) Watashi no Koi wa Hotchikisu (anime single)
2) Humming Bird (Mugi's character song)
3) Sunday Siesta (Yui's character song)
4) Hello Little Girl (Mio's character song)
5) Fuwa Fuwa Time (anime single)
6) Dear My Keys ~Kenban no Mahou~ (Mugi's character song)
7) Jaja Uma Way to Go (Azusa's character song)
8) Sweet Bitter Beauty Song (anime Ending B-side)
9) Fude Pen ~Boru Pen~ (anime single)
10) Lets Go! (on all character albums, sung by whoever you're playing as)
11) Kare Nochi Raisu (Hokago Tea Time mini album single)
12) Mezase Happy 100%↑↑↑ (Ritsu's character song)
13) Watashi wa Watashi no Michi wo Iku (Azusa's character song)
14) Guitar ni Kubittake (Yui's character song)
15) Happy!? Sorry!! (anime Opening B-side)
16) Heart Goes Boom!! (Mio's character song)
17) Girly Storm Shishou Stick (Ritsu's character song)
18) Cagayake!GIRLS (anime Opening)
19) Don't say "lazy" (anime Ending)
Graphics aren't this game's strong point. When you're playing a song, the characters themselves are a bit blocky. The backgrounds are nice and quirky, ranging from the beach to a giant drum set, but they're not too impressive. If you happen to be doing good on a song you're playing, either character animation or artwork from the anime (depending on the song) will appear halfway through. The artwork looks great. The animation, not so much. When you aren't playing a song, the characters will be in the music room in chibi form; cute, but still blocky. You can also press START while in the music room to take a picture that you can view from the picture folder on your PSP. It's not that the graphics are bad, they're just not great.
Like other rhythm games, you press buttons in correspondence with what's on the screen and get scored on your accuracy. These are rated from "perfect" to "miss" with chains forming with a number signifying multiple correct notes in a row. At the end of the song, you are shown just how many "perfect", "great", "good", "bad", or "misses" you got, as well as your "max combo". Based on this you are given a score in numeric value as well as a letter grade ranging from "No Rank" to "S". Your ratings, chain numbers, and scores are all in English so no translation worries here. Once you clear a song you unlock other songs as well as costumes, artwork, and items.
Each character not only plays differently, but sounds differently, too. For example, Yui plays using the CIRCLE, X, RIGHT, and DOWN. Azusa plays with the SQUARE instead of CIRCLE, but with more emphasis on making chords with the RIGHT and DOWN. Ritsu plays with the TRIANGLE, CIRCLE, X, and SQUARE buttons as well as the DOWN button. Mugi plays with all buttons. Mio is the most interesting to play with. If you've seen enough of the anime, then you know that Mio is left handed. As such she plays heavily with the RIGHT and DOWN, only accenting with a staccato CIRCLE or X. For a right handed player, this she is the most difficult character to play as. Also if you play as a certain character, then that character's instrument will play the dominant role in the song. This is both good and bad at the same time because on one hand the game tracks give you a different perspective on the singles and character songs, but on the other hand you almost drown out everything other instrument.
You can also take items in the form of various sweets to help you out in ways such as increasing chains or keeping you from failing a song. You just press either L or R to activate it. There are two difficulty levels, normal and hard. Normal is fairly easy with no real challenge. Hard is where you have to be quick and start mashing buttons. There is also an item you can unlock on the harder songs called "秘伝の楽譜" (secret score) that add more notes, effectively raising the difficulty. On hard with this item in effect is the most challenge you can get out of this game.
The menu is all in hiragana, but can be a bit tricky if you can't read it. Luckily each selection on the menu is a different color. The dark pink one leads to the songs, the light pink one is the where you can change costumes, hairstyles, and accessories that have been unlocked, the light blue one shows you all the things you've unlocked, the orange one saves, the purple one is the settings, the green one takes you back to the title, the dark blue one is multi-player, the Miku-ish colored one is the custom track maker, and the yellow one is the clock. You can also decorate the music room or Yui's bedroom with posters, instruments, and other things you've collected. I haven't tried the multi-player function but from what I've read in the manual, it's local multi-player only with up to five PSPs. The face of the other player's characters shows up as an icon and indicates by emotion how well that person is doing. The clock is the last feature to be unlocked once you clear the last song. It's a bit anticlimactic. You just choose a character from the anime, including Sawako, Ui, and Nodoka, and have them tell you the time. The custom track maker is pretty much a glorified karaoke feature. It's more difficult than it should be; and even if you know Japanese, it's still confusing.
Even after you beat the game with all five girls on all difficulties, you still won't have 100%. This isn't an exaggeration, it's true. This game is notorious for keeping you from unlocking everything. There will still be events to trigger, items to collect, and "rare MC" sound bits to find. If completely clearing the game isn't your thing, just going back and trying to get a higher score on your favorite song is fun enough.
If you enjoy a good rhythm game, even if you aren't familiar with K-On!, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. If you are a fan of K-On!, then what are you waiting for? For an import game, it isn't that hard to understand. As with any import, some basic understanding of the language is recommended, but it isn't necessary for this game. K-On! Hokago Live!! is great fun whether you want a quick game you can just pick up and play on the go or a sit down and melt the hours away experience.