One of Namco Bandai’s most popular series in Japan is a game that will most likely never see a release outside of the country. I’m talking about Idolm@ster, a game which casts players as producers and tasks them with discovering and creating the next singing sensation.
The reason it will likely remained trapped in Japan is simple. The Idolm@ster games feature voice acting by a number of different actresses who not only speak the lines for their characters, but also sing every single song available in the game. Games can feature over 10 songs, and typically have 9-10 idols to choose.
In honor of The Idolm@ster Dearly Stars, the first DS game in the series and the first entry in the Idolm@ster 2nd Vision series, Important Importables’ is devoted to the series today.
Idolm@ster in the home and arcade.
Idolm@ster will, by the end of September 2009, be available on the Xbox 360, PSP and DS. It’s also available in Japanese arcades, but chances are if you’re reading this, you’re living outside of Japan. While the games star singing idols, they’re not really music games. Instead, they’re more akin to pet simulation games. You are raising idols, trying to make them successful within a set period of time. You do so by completing mini-games which boost their visual appeal, vocal abilities or dance skill.
The Idolm@ster began as an arcade game in 2005. There were only 10 songs initially available. It also introduced the world to the 9 idols who would become Idolm@ster fixtures: Haruka, Iori, Chihaya, Yukiho, Makoto, Yayoi, Azusa, Ritsuko and Ami & Mami. No, I didn’t miscount. Ami & Mami are a set of twins, and perform as one idol rather than separate characters. Players get a Producer Card to record their stats and an Idol Card for each idol character they choose to manage. You pay to play, going in one week intervals of your idol’s career. The goal is to make her famous within a set amount of time. You also register your phone with the game, and will receive notices from the idols you’re managing.
The Idolm@ster is the first console entry in the series, and was released on the Xbox 360 in 2007. It’s pretty similar to the Idolm@ster arcade game, though it does possess graphical improvements and introduces the idol Miki. It also boosts the song count to 16. You can also purchase DLC for the game. The sequel, The Idolm@ster: Live For You! as released a year later in 2008, and it is more of a standard music/rhythm game. Instead of managing every aspect of the idols’ lives and helping them find success, you’re focusing on managing their performances and concerts.
After that, the PSP Idolm@ster SP games were released in the beginning of 2009. They’re very similar to the arcade version and first XBox 360 games. There are three versions, Perfect Sun, Wandering Star and Missing Moon. The gameplay is the same in all three games, you pick one idol and raise her to be the best. However, each game has only three idols in it and one rival character idol. It has a large tracklist of songs, plus allows players to download additional songs and outfit items as DLC.
The latest game is The Idolm@ster Dearly Stars, which debuts September 17, 2009. It will be a DS game with DSi enhanced capabilities which will allow players to scan barcodes with the DSi’s camera to unlock items. It stars three all new idols, Ai, Eri and Ryo and will differ from preceeding games as the player is no longer a producer. Instead, the player is the idol he/she chose at the beginning of the game. It’s caused quite a bit of a stir due to the backstory of the three characters available. Ai’s the daughter of an idol who got pregnant with Ai when she was 15, Eri is a former hikikomori (shut-in) computer idol and Ryo is a boy who’s posing as a girl.
Don’t forget the Idolm@ster anime!
The Idolm@ster series is so popular that has also inspired an anime in Japan. The anime series then spawned a manga and two light novels. The series doesn’t exactly follow the course of any of the games, though. Instead, it takes characters and elements from the game series and uses them in an entirely new storyline that’s slightly reminiscent of the Sakura Taisen series.
Idolmaster: Xenoglossia‘s main stars are Haruka, Iori and Yukiho, though all the Idolm@ster girls appear. The three all audtion to try and become famous and popular singing idols. They quickly learn that the agency they’ve signed with isn’t just in the entertainment industry. It’s also a secret agency that uses giant mech robots called IDOLs to protect and save the Earth. The company recruits idols to pilot the IDOLs. The pilots are then called Idolmasters. Big surprise, huh?
Apparently, in the anime’s world the moon was destroyed over 100 years ago and the pieces are dropping down to earth. The IDOLs are used to destroy the fragments before they hit the Earth and cause destruction.
The Idolm@ster is a Japanese series, so some familiarity with the Japanese written language is a must. If you only know katakana and hirigana, you should do fine. Idols’ relationships are built through promotion events, where you have to talk with your selected idol and make the correct dialogue choices to make her happy and give her good memories that she can use to pass auditions. Most of the Idolm@ster games also include a lyrics mini-game class which is used to help boost vocal attributes. Luckily, the games typically have two options for boosting vocal prowess so you don’t have to worry about the lyrics mini-game.
The Idolm@ster: Live For You is a great start for Xbox 360 owners. Its focus is on the concerts and auditions, so if your Japanese is poor, or if you don’t even know much at all, you can still enjoy it.
If your skills are a tad better, then the original Idolm@ster or one of the Idolm@ster SP games may be a better choice. Both are standard Idolm@ster games, where you focus on making select idols famous. As someone who’s played Idolm@ster SP: Perfect Sun and guided two idols to success (Makoto and Yayoi), I’d strongly recommend beginners pick up one of the versions of the PSP game.
COMING NEXT WEEK: Important Importables talks about the Tokyo Game Show.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Last week Important Importables talked all about Famitsu.