As mentioned in my summer preview, the Idolmaster franchise will finally have its 10th anniversary on July 26th, the date when the arcade version of the game was first released. Since its inception, the franchise has grown tremendously with Cinderella Girls, Million Live and Side M (which everyone forgot about). With that, I want to celebrate the occasion by reviewing two games from the franchise, movie and share a personal reflection on the franchise as a whole.
To start things off, I want to reflect on my experiences with the franchise and why it’s special to me, especially from a person that has a musical background.
Compared to other idol franchises, Idolmaster is the one that got me interested in idol anime in general. For a while now, I became uninterested with idol groups like AKB48 or even K-POP in general since the music they sing usually sounds shallow and I find the no-dating policy kind of dumb and unhealthy. However, when I started watching the Idolmaster anime that started airing in the summer in 2011, I discovered that the franchise in general has a diverse genre of songs (including cover versions of various anime and video game songs), some that I really liked. In fact, the Idolmaster franchise in general has a lot of songs that it surpasses all the other franchises combined.
So, what is The Idolmaster anyways? It’s basically an idol raising sim game where you pick a girl to produce and help them become the top idol. The reason it was not as popular until the anime came out is because it is a Japan-only exclusive. It started out as an arcade game and eventually, it was released on the Xbox 360, which is region locked. For a westerner to play it, one had to import a Japanese Xbox 360 and the games. In short, it’s not accessible, except for the dedicated hardcore fan base, more so if you want to buy the downloadable content. It was not until the PlayStation Portable port of the first game and Namco deciding to switch to the region free Sony PlayStation platform is when the game became more accessible. Nonetheless, you still need to know Japanese to fully enjoy the game, but at least it is something.
My first entry to the series was Idolmaster 2, which I got in 2011. I didn’t understand much of the story since I just started learning Japanese during that time. Despite that, the gameplay was enjoyable since the main performance gameplay is a rhythm game where you press square, triangle or circle for the appeals, cross for a memory appeal and R1 for the burst appeal when the voltage meter is filled. Although it is simple, it requires a good degree of strategy to earn a high score for a song or to beat the opponent in an idol festival, especially at the later levels. In comparison, the first vision games are simpler where you just press a button to do an appeal while it flashes and try to earn the maximum amount of stars.
While the music, lessons and choosing the outfits is usually the part most players will be excited about, I like the fact that the game focuses on developing the idol through communications. You basically interact with the idol you chose from your unit and pick an event. This allows the player to get to know the idol a bit more. Besides making decisions, you might need to touch them as well. The place where you need to touch is usually obvious from the dialog. Of course, inappropriate touching will ultimately make them angry and leaving you with a bad communication result.
Compared to other idol franchises, I feel that Idolmaster particularly excels in developing each girl individually. This is also true with both the main and the Cinderella Girls anime, although the first or second half is focused on the whole group as a whole. To me, this approach allows the player to grow some sort of attachment towards her while understanding the difficulties they face to reach stardom. This personal touch is something that other franchises usually lack since the main focus is usually on the whole group.
So, what is my favorite aspect of the franchise and which game is my favorite? To me, it’s a bit of everything because I enjoy every aspect of it. I have to admit that most of the music is enjoyable and of course, I like most of the idols in the game along with their character development. As for the games themselves, Shiny Festa is basically a cash-in, but a decent rhythm game while Idolmaster Gravure for You is basically a mini game where you take pictures of your favorite idol, Idolmaster 2 and Idolmaster One for All is tied for being my favorite games from the franchise. Still, Idolmaster SP is also a good game for the fact that you can freely produce idols as well as having a good variety of lesson mini-games. The only flaw is the poorly implemented lip-syncing.
As a whole, it’s clear that Idolmaster left a big impression on me since I’m still a fan of it after four years. Sure, I enjoy other idol shows like Love Live, but it cannot really compare to the amount of impact this franchise left on me since it motivated me to learn Japanese. Even so, I have to admit that the games are more enjoyable now since I can understand the dialog. Hopefully someday, Namco will recognize that there is a sizable fan base in the west and decide to localize one of the main games.
With that, what are your fond memories with The Idolmaster franchise? If you played the games, which one is your favorite? Feel free to share.