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Cool Find: Love Live! School Idol Festival – a really cute (and fun!) rhythm game for iOS and Android

LLSIF Intro ScreenUnfortunately, due to further scheduling conflicts, and a suddenly-very-flaky computer (random spontaneous crashes, makes it really difficult to do stuff like record/edit audio and video) I still haven’t been able to get our AX 2015 coverage online. I’m hoping to have the computer problems sorted out soon, so that I can at least finish posting AX pics and video (not sure it’s worth it to do our usual audio recording at this point, since we’re now 2 months past the event itself, but I may change my mind.) In the meantime though, I have yet another Cool Find for you! So pull up a chair and stay awhile and listen as Uncle Donald spins another of his famous long-winded yarns before actually getting to the point of this whole article, as he is wont to do.

When the whole DDR craze hit, I was just entering my Second Wave of Anime Fandom, having recently come back from a (less than stellar) attempt at getting a higher education, and with very little to do except mope about town while taking computer classes at the local community college and working odd jobs. It was then that I reunited with some of my old disreputable friends from school (yes Scott, I’m talking about you 🙂 ) and where one day, as we were randomly shooting the breeze, I happened to start talking about my first love, he turned to me and said “So, you like that kind of stuff, huh? Well you really oughtta check out this ‘anime’ stuff… here, you can borrow these…” And the rest, as they say, is history.

(Man, less than a full paragraph in and I’m already rambling… Time to get back on topic… er, off topic… before getting back on-topic… whatever…)

Where was I? Right. Late 90s/early 2000s. I was pretty much locked into the anime fandom by that point, and had started branching out into other things like JRPGs and video games in general. I started going to anime cons right around this time as well. Back then I remember DDR machines popping up pretty much everywhere you went — arcades (those few that remained by then, that is… sniff), pizza parlors, bowling alleys… I think even my community college rec room had one at one point. And when the home release came out, it instantly became a staple at anime con gaming rooms across the land.

But I never really got into the whole DDR craze — but not for the reason you think. It’s true, I’m ordinarily not the kind of person to do something as embarrassing as gyrating wildly in front of complete strangers; but with enough persuasion (mixed with a little alcohol, and maybe a Klondike bar as well) even I could eventually be convinced to debase myself in such a manner. No, the real reason for my reluctance is an entirely practical one: I hate con funk — not just on other people, but especially on myself — and nothing does a better job at generating con funk than stomping around wildly and vigorously, as one tends to do when playing DDR. (This is why I almost never visit an anime con’s game room nowadays. Oh God, the funk. passes out and dies)

As for home-based setups, it’s true, a home-based DDR setup would eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) the con funk factor, since (A) there are generally less bodies around to cause con funk, and (B) when you’re in your own home, you can more easily control your own body odor (e.g. changing your shirt or taking a shower.) But I never really had either the money or the physical space to get a DDR setup (or any of its uber-popular spiritual successors like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.) (I also didn’t have enough friends to play it with… sniff… but that’s another story.)

But when portable game consoles came on the market, and decent rhythm games started showing up there, that’s when I finally started getting in on the genre. True, you didn’t get the same kind of physical exercise as you did when playing DDR, but playing a rhythm game on a portable device was still just as fun, and the lack of physical exertion meant that there was little to no con funk potential involved. It also could be done solo — while most rhythm games had a multiplayer component (either using a console’s built-in wireless networking, or the tried and true “hand your console off to the next player” method) most games could be played single player, where your “opponent” is either the computer, or yourself (i.e. beating your own score.) One of my all-time favorites is the K-On! game for the PSP. I played the heck out of that thing, that is, until my PSP broke. I also discovered that, contrary to my beliefs, I was actually a pretty decent rhythm game player (which was another reason why I didn’t really feel like getting into the genre in the first place.) No, I can’t pull off those m4d 1337 Hard mode Full Combos you see on the YouTubes, but I have gotten to a point where I can consistently get high ranks on easy and (most of the time) normal, and have even managed to low-rank on an Hard level song every now and again.

Fast forward to today. Nowadays, just about everyone is carrying around a device just as powerful, if not more so, than most portable game consoles. Yes, I am speaking about smartphones and tablets. And developers have taken note. Even longtime mobile gaming holdout Nintendo has started putting out mobile titles. (a moment of silence as we mourn the passing of Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata) Mobile gaming is big business, and just about everybody wants in on a piece of the action. This brought about a huge explosion of mobile titles, including – yes, you guessed it – rhythm games. A rhythm game is a perfect fit for a touchscreen device like smartphones and tablets — tapping on-screen buttons is even easier than dealing with actual physical gamepads, plus the quick nature of rhythm game play sessions (most rhythm game songs are in the 1-2 minute range) fits perfectly with the short play sessions typical of smartphone gaming (e.g. you play in brief spurts when you have a few minutes, waiting for the bus, in line at the grocery store, etc.). Unfortunately many of these titles are only available in the Japanese app stores. But even if you could buy an app on the Japanese app store (which is certainly possible, there are companies that can help make that process (relatively) easy for both iOS and Android users) there is still that language barrier to overcome. We now have some great companies like JAST and MangaGamer that are localizing PC and console content. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for mobile games. Which is why we rejoice on those few occasions when a developer sees fit to bring their title to a wider audience outside of Japan. Such an event has happened recently, and it is based on none other than that über-popular multimedia franchise that has pretty much dominated the Internets lately, Love Live!

In case you’ve just woken up from a years-long coma, or been living in a cave in the Himalayas or something, Love Live! is a ridiculously popular multimedia franchise, consisting of manga and light novels, anime, a hit movie that recently came out in theaters, and a metric crapton of music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays. It tells the tale of high school student Honoka Kosaka who, when she hears the news that her beloved high school will be closing soon due to lack of applicants, decides to form an idol group, µ’s (pronounced “Muse” — and no, I’m not talking about these dudes) to try and generate interest in her school and attract new students — and maybe, just maybe, win the nationwide Love Live! idol competition. It’s pretty much the only thing the people I follow on Twitter have been talking about recently, and so I finally broke down and watched the anime — and I liked it! Cute, lovable characters, a down-to-earth and heartfelt story, pretty and shiny animation and above all else, some really catchy music. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you can be persuaded to step outside your comfort zone even a little, you should watch it — you might just like it.

Well the latest property to join the Love Live! franchise is none other than Love Live! School Idol Festival, a rhythm game put out by Bushiroad and KLab on both iOS and Android. And – good news for all us non-Japanese speakers — not only did they make the app available in non-Japanese app stores, they went one step further and localized (translated) the app into English, Chinese and Korean. So now everyone can play along!

As a rhythm game, it’s fairly typical of the genre. There are 9 spots on screen where you can tap (corresponding to the 9 members in the idol group µ’s.) As the song plays, circles will start flying down the screen towards one or more spots, timed to the beat of the music, and you must hit the corresponding button right when the circle hits the correct spot. If you timed it right, and hit it dead-on, you get a Perfect score; if you’re off by a little, you get a lesser score, and if your timing is way off (or you miss entirely) you actually lose points. You have a certain amount of Stamina which goes down every time you screw up. If your stamina goes to zero, you fail. But if you manage to plow through the entire song (accurately or not) without completely draining your stamina, you will clear the song and get a final grade, based on your performance, how accurately you hit the notes, how long your longest combo was, etc. Usually you’ll see single notes coming down the screen, one at a time. (Although sometimes they will be in quick succession, one right after the other, so pay attention!) Sometimes you will also see a pair of notes with horizontal bars through them; these need to be hit simultaneously. A note with a trail behind it needs to be pressed and held until the trail ends. And there are notes with stars in them that, if you screw up on those notes, you lose even more points than you would if you screwed up on a regular note. Songs are available to play in Easy, Normal, Hard and Expert modes. (Although I’d avoid Expert and maybe Hard mode, at least at first, unless you’re an android or something.)

But there’s another portion to this game too. Your idol unit is composed of cards, which you get as rewards when completing songs, or you can “scout” (i.e. random draw) for them using friend points and Love Gems, which you win at various stages throughout the game. Most cards are “normal,” meaning they have no special abilities; but there are also Rare, Super Rare and Ultra Rare cards that you can get that give you special bonuses or powers when placed on your team, such as a chance to increase your score or relax the timing or recover lost stamina periodically; with enough of these, you can survive (and maybe even score decently on) even Expert level songs. Cards can also be leveled up to increase their stats and special abilities. In this respect the game has kind of a Pokémon aspect to it (“gotta catch ’em all”) or something like Magic: The Gathering or similar type of collectible card game.

Finally, there’s also a visual novel-esque component to the game. As you go through the main story, which involves the 9 members of µ’s, you unlock new songs to play and you also obtain various rewards. Also, as you play songs, you increase your “bond” with the cards on your team; when you’ve maxed out a particular card’s bond, you unlock that character’s side story, which you can view for additional rewards.

(This description is somewhat oversimplified (not to mention kind of lame, now that I re-read it) so you really should check out some of the resources below, especially the videos – they do a much better job of explaining the game mechanics than I.)

The game can be played alone, but there are regularly occurring “events” (usually about two every month, lasting about a week apiece) where you can compete against others (in sort of a tier/ladder type format) and win some cool prizes, including unique super-rare cards. But regardless of whether you play it alone or go gonzo and dive headfirst into each and every event, you’ll have a lot of fun. The game works well even on older devices, the graphics are shiny and cute, and the songs are catchy as hell. You’ll recognize a lot of them from the anime, as well as the various music CD/DVD/Blu-ray releases if you’re familiar with those.

Get it today for iOS and Android – it’s free! (Yes, there are in-app purchases – you can buy Love Gems, but you really don’t need to, it’s pretty easy to get them in-game without paying a thing, sometimes as easy as just logging into the game.) And if you like, feel free to friend me up! My friend code is 767074992, and provided that I still have enough space on my friends list, I’ll be glad to friend you back.

Need help getting started or learning how to play? This guide on the LLSIF subreddit (there’s a subreddit for everything apparently) is very helpful, as is this guide by Twitter user @sproutella. Finally, YouTuber ErynCerise has a great series of videos on how to play the game, build and optimize your teams, play the various types of events and so on.

🎵 Music S.T.A.R.T!! 🎵

Android app on Google Play


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