Rhythm action games are a booming business in Japan. While LOVE LIVE! SCHOOL IDOL FESTIVAL might be the first English-translated example many overseas fans think of, new contender BANG DREAM! GIRLS BAND PARTY from game makers Bushimo and Craft Egg may change the genre. 

BANG DREAM is a franchise created by Bushimo’s parent company, Bushiroad, in January 2015. It started as a manga series included in Monthly Bushiroad. In January 2017, they received a 13-episode anime with an OVA. BANG DREAM! follows the story of high school student Kasumi Toyama, a very happy-go-lucky girl. She’s looking for the miraculous “Star Beat,” a sound she heard when looking up at the stars as a child.

After seeing a performance from the band Glitter Green, Kasumi gathers four other classmates and they create the band Poppin’Party. The five of them get to know each other through their music, overcoming the hardships of becoming a band and their own personal struggles.

Members of central band Poppin'Party. From left to right: Rimi Ushigome, Saya Yamabuki, Kasumi Toyama, Arisa Ichigaya, and Tae Hanazono. | Image: <a href="https://bang-dream-gbp-
The members of main band Poppin’Party. From left to right: Rimi Ushigome, Saya Yamabuki, Kasumi Toyama, Arisa Ichigaya, and Tae Hanazono. | Image: bushiroad.com

GIRLS BAND PARTY is also centered on Poppin’Party, but the game introduces four other groups: the rough and rebellious Afterglow, the idol band Pastel*Palettes, the popular gothic J-rock band Roselia, and the happiness-seeking Hello, Happy World! These girls all share the same dreams of becoming famous bands, and the game chronicles their respective journeys.

All that said, is this game worth taking a look at? My answer is yes, but it’ll take a bit of faith to get there.

BANG DREAM: Poppin’ Party’s Rise to Stardom

Band Management with No Training

The Cafeteria area of the city, featuring all the Girls Band Party menus and <em>chibi</em> Kasumi and Arisa. | Source: <a href="https://bang-dream-gbp-en.bushiroad.com/">bushiroad.com</a>
One of the main locations of GIRLS BAND PARTY, showcasing the many menu icons. | Source: bushiroad.com

GIRLS BAND PARTY gives its players a great deal of freedom. However, I think the game has almost too much freedom. The tutorial you play through after first starting the game is very brief. The player goes through the first chapters of the main story, plays a small snippet of the rhythm portion, and only learns the barest basics through two or three slides. They get left alone after that.

For veterans of the genre (like myself) there isn’t much left to learn. Most reviews agree that if you’ve played other rhythm games, you’ll quickly get used to GIRLS BAND PARTY. But, the fact the game doesn’t teach new players anything until they stumble upon the respective menus makes it difficult for newbies. The tutorial says nothing about how to edit teams, how to level up the cards in your possession, the different card rarities, or even how the gacha system works. You don’t learn these aspects unless you stumble on the corresponding menus.

A couple of days ago, GIRLS BAND PARTY introduced its first event, “SAKURA*BLOOMING PARTY!” Alongside the event came the game’s first limited gacha, featuring a 4-star Arisa card that provides a significant boost to event points should you obtain her and have her on your team. Besides not explaining the event features very well, this introduces gacha to players without actually telling them how it works.

The Dangers of Freemium and Gacha

Gacha is a common feature of Japanese mobile games, as it stems from gachapon. These are around in the U.S. too, in the form of the little machines with capsules of gimmicky toys or candy in restaurants or grocery stores. Putting in a few coins and turning the knob earns you a random selection. In mobile games, players exchange in-game currency for cards of higher rarities and stats.

GIRLS BAND PARTY offers gacha scouting at either one time for 250 Stars or 10 times at once for 2500. The cards available are two-stars and higher, and pulling for 2500 often guarantees at least one three-star or higher card. The odds of getting the higher rarities is incredibly small, and that chance is made even smaller considering you can’t control which card of that rarity you obtain.

BANG DREAM! Girl’s Band Party Releases Live-Action Commercials

But if you want to do well in the event, it helps to have those cards. Do you not have enough Stars? The game offers in-game purchases, where you can buy Stars in exchange for real-world currency. This is where freemium comes in: the game is free-to-play, but having the option to purchase in-game items makes playing the game easier the more you spend. Even with the temptation available, GIRLS BAND PARTY gives you a number of ways to save up without spending a dime.

I’ve had multiple friends approach me for explanations of game mechanics. After I give simplified walkthroughs, the main reply I receive is, “Why couldn’t the game explain that to me?” My response is GIRLS BAND PARTY operates too much on thinking the audience plays idol games regularly. The explanations being simple comes from the assumption this isn’t the player’s first one.

I do adore how the game changes up the usual formulas I always see. But if those changes are lost on new rhythm game players, why does GIRLS BAND PARTY still appeal to so many people?

I personally think it’s in the girls.

Girls Band Party story screenshot, where Arisa chastises Kasumi for trying to follow her to her classroom. | Source: <a href="https://bang-dream-gbp-en.bushiroad.com/">bushiroad.com</a>
Arisa expresses exasperation when Kasumi tries to enter a classroom that isn’t hers. | Source: bushiroad.com

Hard Work Earns Rewards

I find the stories to be their most engaging when focused on the girls interacting with each other. The dialogue is entertaining and the voice acting is very charming and believable. Live 2D provides the girls with full-on emotive actions and gestures. They actually look away from each other or move in excitement when chatting. This subtlety gives each girl characteristic gestures and open emotions, so it’s like watching a playable anime.

Besides the story, I think the game is worth playing for the music. The original songs for each band all have unique sounds. The bands also cover songs from other franchises which can be bought in-game with specific currency, leading to an expansive music library. You can play any difficulty at any time, with a choice between Easy, Normal, Hard and Expert. From flick notes to slides to double hits and basic taps, the touch-to-the-rhythm gameplay is really enjoyable.

Girls Band Party screencap of the rhythm portion of the game, with cut-ins of Rimi and Kasumi.
The game’s rhythm portion, showcasing the different note types and character cut-ins. | Image: bushiroad.com

GIRLS BAND PARTY also includes the unique feature of “Multi Live”, where players can team up with strangers or friends and play the same song in real-time and reap better rewards. Since many Japanese mobile rhythm games tend to focus more on player vs. player modes, this feature is revolutionary. I tried it with my friend in Maryland and the two of us were able to play with virtually no latency.  I enjoyed knowing my friend was playing the same song in a totally different place.

Is GIRLS BAND PARTY A Poppin’Party of Success?

GIRLS BAND PARTY has incredible music and a terrific cast. The gameplay is complex, but it’s rewarding and incredibly fun once figured out. You can play the rhythm portion as much as you want, listen to fully-voiced stories and earn stars, and eventually, use the gacha to try and win the four-star card of your favorite girl. There’s always something new to do or a new event going on, so don’t let the lack of tutorial prevent you from giving it a try. Trust me, the music and the girls are completely worth exploring.

If you want to get to know the girls in Poppin’Party even more, the anime is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.

The game is free to download on Google Play and iTunes, so be sure to give it a try!

Featured image courtesy of Bushiroad.com

2 Comments

  1. Peyton

    June 20, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    Would anyone say it’s recommended to watch the anime first before playing the rhythm game? Or can i just play the game by itself?

    Reply

    • Hayden Moseley

      June 20, 2018 at 7:16 pm

      The anime mostly focuses on Poppin’Party, and none of the other bands in the game are featured in that series. Two new anime series have been confirmed for the future that will focus on them, but I don’t think it’s necessary to consume one before the other because the game’s story is independent from the anime! 🙂

      Reply

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