Approx. Length (Story): 25 hours
Approx. Length (Other): Many on the S4U mode (free-play performance mode)
Language: Japanese only
Type of Game: Visual novel; Management sim; Mini-games
Overall Impression: Greatly enjoyed it! Could have enjoyed it more, though (language barrier reason)
PERSONAL STANDING (Pre-exposures, thoughts, etc.)Ever since I've heard about iDOLM@STER, I have always wanted to play it. My first exposure was an entry on Siliconera. The entry looks archived, but take notice of the date: January 30, 2007. That's over 4 years ago! When I read that entry and watched those videos, I was instantly taken. The way the characters danced -- the way their hair (and sometimes costume pieces) flowed and bounced with every movement -- the way their eyes would subtly shift to the camera with every close up, as if they were alive and aware of their surroundings; I had never seen so much detail placed on a video game character in my life -- you know, besides in a cutscene. Take a look at this video if you'd like to see what I'm talking about:
The first iDOLM@STER game was only released for the Xbox360, so there was no way I could have played it. I don't own a Japanese Xbox360, and I couldn't bring myself to import one just to play one game. Years later, iDOLM@STER was released on the PSP, but was broken up into three different versions, each one featuring a few different idols. I eventually bought a copy, but stopped 5 minutes after when I saw boxes of Japanese text that continued automatically. How the heck am I supposed to read that?! My eyes are also sensitive to the brightness of the PSP screen (even at the lowest setting), so I knew that I wouldn't be able to play it for more than hour.
Then in August, I found out that iDOLM@STER 2 was being released on the PS3. Oh, joy! I have a PS3, and Japanese PS3 games can be played on North American PS3s. I can finally play it and watch the idols sing and dance on my TV! Then I bought it and the rest is history.
TL; DR: There you go -- that's my personal standing with the iDOLM@STER series. I am a long-time fan and enjoy watching the characters sing and dance in their funky costumes. I was already excited about this game before playing it.
GAMEPLAY/STORYIn iDOLM@STER 2, you play the role of a producer who puts together a group of three idols, and you have 55 weeks to promote them and get their songs to the top of the music charts. Insert a rival group in some of the scenes and critical plot points, and that's the gist of the story -- or at least that's what I gather with my very limited knowledge of the Japanese language. Each idol has their own individual story as you play through the weeks, which I just can't talk about (because I don't know enough Japanese!).
A TYPICAL WEEK IN iDOLM@STERiDOLM@STER 2 is a very text-driven game. There are scenes and conversations (all of the idols are fully voiced as well as some of the NPCs); then the locations change and there are more conversations; then some mini-games may occur depending on what you scheduled for your idols. You can schedule up to two activities, though plot events, auditions, lives/concerts, and festivals (song battles) can only be scheduled once since they take up the whole day. Various activities include promoting your idols' current song, shopping, watch I just mentioned before, and lessons, which can increase your idols' stats (yes, there is some stat-building!). You can also dress your idols in various outfits, each costume piece upping different idol stats. Then there's a conversation in the evening. Then the week is done and it starts all over again. During many of the conversations you will need to make timed choices which will affect your idols' moods and how some scenes/events will go. Here's a photo of my group (left: Makoto; middle: Yayoi; right: Chihaya):
MINI-GAMESThe neat thing in iDOLM@STER 2 is that you can skip many of the mini-games. I originally wanted to say that the mini-games are rhythm-based, but that's not true -- there are a variety of short mini-games, ranging from rhythm-based (hitting buttons to a beat), to voice recognition, to good old-fashioned rock, paper, scissors. The mini-game you do depends on what you've scheduled for your idols. Many of the games are straightforward and fairly easy. The mini-game for doing performances, though, takes some strategy if you're aiming to get a high score or to even win a festival or audition.
PERFORMANCES - CAMERA MODE/ANGLESWhile your idols are singing and dancing, you can press the "select" button to get into camera mode. In that mode, you can take up to five photos of your group. You can take more photos, but it will save over what ever photo is highlighted. If you press the corresponding buttons, you can also change camera angles and focus on a specific idol and take photos. At the end, you'll be able to save any of those photos into an album for later viewing.
Changing camera angles and idol-focus also affects the "music video" for that performance. At the end of every performance, the game asks if you'd want to save the performance for later viewings. So if you really wanted to try conveying the emotions of a song through some detailed camera work, you can!
GRAPHICS (The idols... whoa...)I can't stress this enough -- the detail work on the idols is simply amazing. They are completely 3D in all aspects of the game. If one of your choices make the idols happy during a conversation, they will do a gesture -- and you will see that gesture animated.
The detail work on the costumes is also quite amazing. There can be some layering issues, depending on how you dress your idols. As your idols move (during a performance or conversation), various costume parts like a necklace, tie, skirt frills, skirt, etc. will also move with the idol, giving a neat feeling of realism to something that is very obviously not.
MUSIC (Good)The music is good! The music is generally upbeat and energetic, but for serious moments, a slow, grim piano piece is played -- the atmosphere is set pretty well. The songs are mainly Japanese pop, dance, and ballads. If that's not your cup of tea, then you may not enjoy the game as much.
One thing to note, though. Each idol is voiced by its own voice actor, so each singing voice is slightly, subtly unique. Some voices are very distinct. When you make your idol group, the vocal harmony will change depending on who you choose.
IMPORT-FRIENDLY LEVEL (Ehh...)If you want to understand the story of the idols and pretty much just about anything besides the scheduling and doing mini-games, iDOLM@STER 2 is NOT import-friendly for you. On top of automatic text, there is a lot of kanji. Somebody just starting to learn the Japanese alphabets would not be able to read or understand everything before the text changes.
If you only want iDOLM@STER 2 to see the idols dance and sing in funky costumes, then go ahead and import. There are some wiki sites available to help step you through the basic menus.
REPLAYABILITY & DLC (Lots)There is a good amount of replayability IF you are one who would want to:
-buy/collect/unlock costume pieces (money carries over with each playthrough)
-view all the different endings (there are four)
-promote/interact with all the idols at least once (there are nine)
-see all the individual character stories for each idol (you will only get to see group leader's story in full during one playthrough)
-unlock characters if you haven't during your first playthrough
There is also a hefty amount of DLC available for iDOLM@STER 2. Up for DLC are costume pieces, mail from the idols (probably for more character development/flavour), songs, and in-game money. The Xbox360 version currently has 6 catalogs of DLC, so... DLC can be quite expensive if you're one to collect them all.
CLOSING THOUGHTS (Umm...)I am quite aware that iDOLM@STER 2 is not a game for everybody. A heavily-text-based game with multiple choices, dress-up, dancing, singing, mini-games, scheduling strategy... it's quite a mix.
As somebody who can be driven to play through a game based on story and character development alone, I can only say that I would have enjoyed iDOLM@STER 2 more if I could attach the facial expressions to actual words I can understand.
That said, I am very happy I got to experience what I did. Long-time fans who never got to experience any iDOLM@STER games for similar reasons as me should definitely try it out. I should warn you, though. If you play it for the fun of playing it (like me), you will most likely get the BAD ENDING the first time through (pictured below). Have fun!
P.S. If there's something I missed that you'd like me to cover/talk about, please leave a comment. If you think I type too much, sure, tell me that to, if you want. I can't guarantee that my style will change, though!