So much to unpack. But let this be the prelude and I’ll just build on it.
The rhythm game IDOLM@STER Million Live: Theater Days, launched the night I was packing for Anime Expo (day -1). I put in a fair amount of hours and money in the game since and we don’t really have a real event yet. The first “event” is actually just a period of time where activities in-game will yield more rewards, and you get a free 30-stam drink every day.
Since I can’t talk about how events affect this game, I can talk about the other stuff–which is rather noteworthy. To put it simply, this is the game we’ve been waiting for since Shiny Festa was first a thing. It takes the next step that Deresute didn’t quite take, which is to build out hakomas-style dance groups (fixed at 5 members), but also with audio mixing. Granted this is only available for one song, Brand New Theater, but we expect Thank You, Welcome, and Dreaming all will have this option available.
Watching and playing Brand New Theater in Theater Days (avoiding the Milishita nickname for now) is a trip. It is enough proximity of an experience to watching S4U modes in PS3. This is something that I can call authentically “IDOLM@STER” which has been now recreated in a new video game. On just this level, Theater Days is a success in my book…at least comparable to Shiny Festa.
The main interface of Theater Days is full 3D with characters moving about the screen like…ships passing in the night? They just glide to and from designated points in each “room” and other than a few pre-scripted things, they are just kind of there. I guess this is the limitation of randomly-generated character events than carefully-scripted ones you find in the in-game menus of Platinum Star or BanG Dream. I’m nonetheless grateful that at least on an individual basis, the idols that appear in the rooms, lobby, hallways, or whatever, do the things we want to see them do.
Unlike Deresute, I’ve been playing Theater Days with 3D as much as possible. The 2D mode is pretty lame, but it does what you need it to do–which is nothing but static background that you can’t even affect (outfits/SSR make no difference). Indeed, this game is meant to put the fact that IDOLM@STER the Video Game Franchise is about 3D-rendered idols dancing and singing while you do things, front and center. The gameplay even forces a gameplay pause during the bridge of each song so you can watch the idols strut their stuff.
I feel this is the main charm of the game. And at the same time it’s something that the market has been kind of weaning off of. Most players these days are groomed to play them without these enhancements, in order to squeeze the battery life a bit longer. The hardware in the wild probably still has a ways to go to make the Theater Day vision 100% true, but we’re pretty close, if you have a modern phone (GS8, iPhone 7).
The rest of the game is very much similar to Deresute. The team composition, leveling, training, awakening, and limit breaking all play more or less like modern rhythm F2P games that now flood the market. I won’t belabor this and rhythm game aspects of Theater Days besides to say that flick notes sure are PITA. And probably the one most notable thing is that Theater Days have many quality-of-life upgrades over Deresute, such as removing inventory management all together, so you never have to deal with duplicate cards or putting cards into dorms or whatever. Not too important of a thing, but I appreciate it.
Of course, Theater Days is still in its early days, and it isn’t as feature rich as Deresute, although you can kind of see they plan to feature-match all the basic stuff down the road. It’s also kind of buggy on the edges, and talks to the server a lot. The core game works pretty well, so it’s not like BanG Dream which can still cold crash on my phone (happened just today in fact…).
And yeah, it’s invariable to compare Theater Days with Deresute, and so far it’s a helpful guide. There isn’t a room of SD stuff you can play with, but I think that’s intended (no such thing in ML card game). The gameplay adds a “shigoto” mode which in effect, lets you progress using stamina to get a random commu, rather than to play a song. Maybe it’s a QoL thing too, but commu with idols is also another hallmark of the franchise. It’s important and heartening to see this feature being put it to in the game explicitly, rather than just story that you unlock.
One last note in regards to the early days of Theater Days: the gacha. Unlike Cinderella Girls, you can reasonably “collect” all the Million Live characters off the bat. In fact, with 765Pro characters in the game and getting new voiced lines and scenarios, I really wanted to at least get those 13 first. It would just be like OFA! LOL. The harsh reality is that the initial gacha layout gives 26 R and 26 SR, splitting the full cast in half. Since there is no “friend point” gacha you cannot roll for Ns, as N cards drop only by completing songs and work, and at a “fairly low” rate (given that this is a compu gacha you’re aiming for). The characters whose only non-N cards are SRs are hard to get. Also since the SSR rate is at a blessedly 3% it meant that you had a higher odds of pulling a SSR than a specific SR. With the first new batch of limited SSR/SR, that ratio has changed a bit so you have 0.388% of pulling a SR (excluding the promoted SR) and 0.338% of pulling a specific SSR–almost the same IMO. But it’s hard to get all the Ns. As of this writing I have 48 Ns, 24 SRs, and 7 SSRs. I only was able to complete all the Rs.
So, let’s talk about the meta stuff.
I’m still struggling to incorporate Kaori and Tsumugi into my brain, on an emotional and intellectual level. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it; it took me over half a year to get into Million Live properly so I expect to get comfy with the two project 39 members by winter this year at the latest. I certainly don’t dislike them, but it would help to see them live in October, yeah?
There are some fanon forming and reforming around Kaori and Tsumugi, and it’s kind of a fun time seeing it happening as it goes. The game itself brings life to Million Live by introducing the characters to more people and to opportunist artists, so hey, not complaining about that.
One of the more subtle threads about the two new characters is how in effect, at least at this point, the less refined characterization necessarily meant they are caricatured to a degree, replacing existing ships or roles in well-established tropes or jokes. I think Fuuka is really feeling it. Hopefully this is just a temporary thing while Mugi and Kaori spread their wings to come into their own selves.
With SideM game also on display (prereg period ongoing now!) we get a glimpse of the hydra that is IDOLM@STER as a game franchise. LOS is clearly taking a different path than TD and SS. It’s sensible to see that the boy side take a different route than the girl side. And it makes me wonder if we’ll get another boy-idol spinoff…
What’s probably the most noteworthy is Taneda Risa and Tanaka Kotoha. Kotoha is plainly not in Theater Days, and this is a huge move relatively. This speaks to me that IDOLM@STER is done with seiyuu switching if the circumstances can help it, and this is an internal decision. If anything, we should infer all the more that Tanechan is coming back, and it is just a matter of time. Just like how SideM anime announcement confirms that Million Live anime will happen, and it is also just a matter of time…
I guess I can take heart that at least the management is committed to doing the right things, but it’s hard to see what’s good about it. Tanechan is not Kotoha. But if Tanechan is coming back, then we need to keep that seat warm for her… Maybe there is a temporary compromise somewhere that makes up the room for improvement. Namely, just put Kotoha in but keep her voiceless?
Please get well soon & come back Tanechan, we all miss you (and not even just in Million).