Typically I’d had my Asian copy of DJMAX Respect ordered long before I heard of the planned digital release in the EU/US region. After the effort I put into getting the game and the expenditure I laid down for it, I have to profess to be initially disappointed by what I eventually received. However, after stepping away from the game, taking some time off from it, and then coming back, I was forced to re-evaluate my opinion.
|Publisher(s)||Neowiz Games, Sony, Arc System Works (JP)|
|Developer(s)||Neowiz MUCA, Rocky Studio|
|Release||March 6, 2018|
|Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.|
The game is designed and developed by Neowiz. The company behind fabulous titles such as DJMAX Technika Tune and Superbeat Xonic. As a rhythm game aficionado, I had high hopes that the developer would deliver another fun and enjoyable title. After a savagely unforgiving introductory few hours that had me on the verge of selling the game on eBay, that is exactly what I got.
First off, be warned that, if you have no prior experience with rhythm games, there is no English manual, no tutorial, and absolutely no explanation of the game’s mechanics available which makes starting out an extremely intimidating prospect for players who did not play the original PSP releases. In addition, with Technika Tune and Superbeat you always felt that you were progressing as a player but, after putting hour upon hour of practice into DJMAX Respect, I felt I was showing little to no improvement in the beginning. It takes a vast amount of dedication to find your feet in DJMAX Respect.
The main menu is a very pretty but basic affair, allowing users to play DJMAX Respect modes as follows:
- Arcade – Three tracks from a set list in one go.
- Freestyle – You can play any unlocked song you choose and attempt to rack up a massive combo of songs.
- Mission – You can challenge yourself to beat preset playlists, often with negative effectors that fade out your notes or wobble your screen.
- Online – Strangely enough, you can play others via the internet.
The game has a total of 148 songs on disc across an absurd number of genres that vary wildly in quality. There are some cracking tunes but more bad ones than good, in my opinion – anything with JC ‘on rap’ is cringeworthily terrible. At first glance, many of the 148 songs are locked until you reach set requirements such as clearing a certain number of songs, obtaining enough A or S ranks, or beating the extremely trying missions. However, if you rack up enough playtime the songs will unlock without you having to meet these aims, some of which are nigh on impossible for all but the godliest player.
As with most rhythm titles, the basic premise of the game is pressing the controller’s buttons in time with the background music. Button timings are rated as break for a miss and from 1% to 100% on successful hits depending on accuracy. As the game scales in difficulty, the patterns thrown out by songs become more and more complex, offering a steadily increasing challenge to the player.
You get a lot of bang for your buck here. Each song has up to three difficulties for each button layout (some only have two and, less frequently, just one) meaning that there is the capability of a whopping 12 button patterns for any given tune. Comparing that with titles such as Persona 4: Dancing All Night (a predecessor of the popular PlayStation game Persona 5) which has a paltry 29 songs, well, the difference is night and day. I have invested over twenty hours into the 4 button playlist and I still haven’t come close to clearing all the songs. Factoring in 5, 6, and 8 buttons mean you have a game here with well over a hundred hours of play time, possibly more depending on how much the game resonates with you.
In Technika Tune, the player tapped notes as they appeared in the upper and lower segments of the of the screen and in Superbeat the notes flew out from the center of the screen directly towards the button you needed to press on your pad. Both methods were easy enough to follow and get to grips with. In DJMAX Respect, however, you have a number of straight lines that run down the screen that corresponds to certain buttons on your controller.
I found this method extremely difficult to master as the buttons are only identified by small icons at the very bottom of the lanes and nothing else. If you feel the need to alter the button layout in the game’s options, any changes are not reflected visually onscreen, they simply render the corresponding icon completely blank.
As a beginner, you will miss a great many notes as the layout of the lanes onscreen is far from intuitive and you’ll find yourself forgetting which lane corresponds to which assigned button. It would help were able to alter the notes so that they took on the same shape as the button you are required to press but this is an option that is sorely missing.
Missing or mistiming notes causes another set of problems entirely. As each note is programmed to play a part of the song, missing or mistiming can mean that the music is played in a fragmentary, jarring fashion or not at all. This makes following a track extremely difficult as beats and effects are played out of time. This is a personal preference, but I prefer rhythm games where the track plays in its entirety and sound effects are overlayed so you can follow your own beat – such as in the Taiko Drum Master series, for example.
My problems with the lane method only got worse as I moved up from the 4 button playstyle (which uses up, left, triangle and circle) to the 5, 6, and 8 button options (which uses a mindboggling up, left, right, square, triangle, and circle plus L1 and R1). Each additional button basically means you have to learn the game afresh as the newly added lanes are placed in the middle of your currents ones. This means you have to get to grips with your other buttons being shifted from their original positions, the ones you have worked so hard to memorize and become familiar with.
Essentially, the more lanes that appear onscreen, the harder it is to remember which buttons you need to press. In addition to this, on the faster 6 or 8 button songs where you need to jump from, say, circle to square with your right hand, I found hitting notes in time very difficult indeed – I have read that this was easier to accomplish on the original PSP versions as the face buttons were smaller and placed more closely together.
Once you lose all your HP, the track ends immediately which means you can’t play on and learn the rest of the track and you have to start over from the beginning. This has always been a bugbear for me with rhythm games and, in one with such a savage learning curve, it makes songs extremely hard to master when starting out. To raise the difficulty further still, positive effectors from titles such as Technika Tune and Superbeat have been removed.
You can no longer equip items that allow you some leeway in regards to HP benefits or missing a certain number of notes – now a missed note hits you for HP and breaks your chain without fail. This is a shame as these effectors are beneficial in mastering games such as this and, should a seasoned player wish, they could always turn them off for an additional challenge.
I am a seasoned rhythm game player who frequently ranks highly in online leaderboards but, as I already mentioned, I was on the verge of trying to sell my game. However, after taking a month off and then coming back, something had magically clicked and I could follow combos more easily. I strongly believe that this is mostly to do with my brain committing the controller’s buttons to muscle memory and starting anew without a build-up of frustration, but I also tweaked a few options to which also helped out. When starting out I would recommend you do the following:
- Increase the song speed to the fastest one you can manage. This spreads the notes out and makes them slightly easier to differentiate from one another.
- Dim the background videos by pressing the touchpad sensor on the controller as the more colorful ones can seriously detract your attention.
- Make sure your lanes have no transparency at all. This can be changed in the song menu prior to starting a track by pressing triangle.
I had thoroughly enjoyed Technika Tune and Superbeat on Vita and poured hours into them. Because of that I went into this game totally underestimating its difficulty. DJMAX Respect is aimed at a far more hardcore audience so be warned if you do decide to take the plunge. DJMAX Respect is a finely, lovingly made game, but it is also an extremely difficult and unforgiving one. As such, I feel it is not for everyone, and I would approach DJMAX Respect with great caution unless you are an absolutely unshakeable rhythm gamer or have a steely will to persevere.