Taiko no Tatsujin, known as Taiko Drum Master internationally, is a rhythm game that’s simple to learn but tough to master. It seems like it’ll be so easy when you see that there are only four different types of notes, plus occasional drumrolls, but hitting them all in the right order and timing is a challenge reserved for masters among masters.
As a huge RPG fan, the main attraction in Taiko Drum Master: V Version is the RPGlike “Donda Quest” (called “Donder Quest” by some importers). This mode was great fun; it really impressed me with how well it combined the classic Taiko Drum Master gameplay with RPG stuff.
In particular, I loved weighing speed versus power for a given battle. I could use weapons with a low speed but high power, which in the Taiko no Tatsujin Donda Quest context means I need a much higher combo before I can attack…but when I do, I unload. It was rather beautiful. Testing myself to see if I could pull of a huge combo to earn an attack was wicked.
(Side note: the game doesn’t allow screenshots, unlike most other Vita games. So I had to resort to taking pictures of my Vita. It seems Bandai Namco would like you to believe that the game looks like crap. So in these screenshots, if it looks like garbage, remember, Bandai Namco prefers that it look worse than the actual product. Not much I can do.)
Players take a girl named Maple on a journey with two taiko drums through a fairly stupid story while finishing missions, changing equipment, and doing all kinds of other RPG…stuff. Gameplay in the Donda Quest battles gets cool. Maple and company will have the standard notes all coming at them in the usual fashion, but spiced up in a variety of interesting, fun ways.
There might be ice that partially obscures the bar, wind that blows the notes around, or any number of other effects that put players into new situations and change the game. As well, different types of traps and super attacks will appear, instead of just music notes. Hitting the bombs will result in lost HP, while hitting a super spot brings out a guest character for a big attack on the enemy. It’s a welcome change to the time-tested gameplay and great spectacle.
Progress in Donda Quest also unlocks several “Namco Original” songs, which are a highlight of the track list.
I got the clearance to run the interference
What drove me crazy was the automatic difficulty drops in Donda Quest. After failing the same quest twice, the bosses can lose max HP without confirming with the player. The fun of a music game stage is to play again and again if you fail, get better and then get that sweet reward when you finally win. “Yes!” you say, as your practice and improvement pay off. But no. V Version takes that away from you without even letting you object. They don’t even explicitly tell you, I just noticed it on my own that the boss now had less health.
Fuck that. If it offered me a choice, that’s cool. I’m all about choice. Kind of like in the 3DS Mario 3D Land, where failing a certain number of times makes that little super power thing show up, but you can totally ignore it if you want to. Or in Yakuza 3, I remember losing boss battles a few times and being asked if I wanted to switch to Easy Mode for that fight. See, that’s an okay inclusion because they are asking me. Players can say “no” and try again for real, or say “yes” if they want to just get on with it. Choice is great! But when you make my shit too easy without my permission? Oh no. Oh hell no.
That breaks the game, because now you’re not only fighting a weaker enemy, but you have the advantage of being better at that particular song/fight than you were. You don’t practice something so that you can move into a league below you. It really deflated some of the good feelings that should have come from defeating certain bosses.
Still, the mode overall remained quite fun, thanks to the gameplay variety it provided. I’d love for more of those circumstantial changes to become available in other modes.
In fact, without Donda Quest, I’d probably feel very little desire to keep playing Taiko Drum Master V Version beyond a couple of days. The music itself is either stuff we’ve played before or fairly unappealing if you’re not into vocaloid stuff. Even classical music tracks have weirdly been J-popped and/or vocaloided up, making it somewhat less accessible than previous games. It’s nice if you dig that, but if you don’t, watch out.
On one hand, it’s great to have several returning favorites on the playlist, but on the other, that can’t carry a whole game.
It should be noted, however, that a lot of the new music is taken from other video games, so if you happen to be a fan of it, you may get more mileage than I did.
March to the beat of your own drum
Tons of customization is available, with something for pretty much everyone. I’ve switched among several different looks, because it’s hard to stick with just one, when so many look cool, funny, or cute.
Taiko Drum Master has never been a series about wowing graphic nuts, but about looking good with its own visual style, and V Version does that as well as any other game in the series. It looks the same as it always has, and that’s fine.
Menus were all clean, the interface was quite user-friendly, and load times were minimal. It also comes loaded with options that all rhythm games should have, but a lot lack. In addition to stuff like speeding up or switching up colors, you can set the game to restart immediately after missing a single note in Training Mode, which is great for learning to truly master a song. It cuts out all that in-between bullshit and lets you get right to the important part.
Taiko Drum Master: V Version is a mixed bag. It has some great tunes alongside total garbage, and though gameplay remaining the same bring welcome familiarity, it also means appeal can run low rather quickly. Big fans of the series might feel an insatiable itch to get in there and bang the drums once again, and I expect they’ll be met with satisfaction. Likewise, new players have got to start somewhere, and the newest Drum Master is a decent place to do so, if you can’t find a full-sized arcade machine anywhere near you. I found it good enough for short term appeal.
Menus are mostly in Japanese. Key stats in the RPG Mode menus can be figured out easily enough (things like HP and such), but you might need to look up a translation of certain stats or menu items. These already exist and are readily available, should you run into trouble. The story, however, is all Japanese, and its meaning will be lost on you without the ability to read.