Now I won’t lie, I have fallen out of love with Ensemble Stars for a year or two now. Even with my grievances with the company Happy Elements and the way Enstars is heading down now, I still want to see some good in it (though I am totally jaded by everything now, I’m not the starry eyed fan I was once).
Anyway, on November 8th, they released a demo of Ensemble Stars!! Music to the Japanese Google Play store and the App Store with only one playable song. Here’s my thoughts on the demo.
What is “Ensemble Stars!! Music“?
Ensemble Stars! is heading into a different direction, or to put it more accurately, Ensemble Stars! is being upgraded to Ensemble Stars!! (please note the extra “!”).
The original app will be upgraded to “Ensemble Stars!! Basic”, which includes new story, UI and characters. The original main story will be contained, but at this point in time there will be no new events in the original game, possibly to prepare until the new overhaul update comes. I think (might not be confirmed) your previous cards from the original game will be kept when it upgrades to “Basic”.
Meanwhile, there is another new game to be released called “Ensemble Stars!! Music”, which is mostly a rhythm game using 3D CG models. It will have the new story, but it won’t have the original story from the base game and probably won’t have the previous cards in the base game. There is a “card training” aspect in this game too so I’m guessing there’s also gachas. It will also have an “office customisation” feature, similar to “Idolmaster Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage”.
So how was the demo?
It was interesting.
It seems like the android version is kind of broken, or at least the APK qooapp used to upload was corrupted and broken. No matter how many times I uninstall, reinstall the game it’s still corrupted. Anyway, let’s check a look at all the corrupted images I took:
And here it is in motion:
But really, it works better on iOS devices. It also runs smoother on my iPad compared to my android/Samsung phone (which sounded like it was breaking my phone’s stereo speakers, might be the APK file but might be my phone lol).
So first off, the graphics is pretty good, especially for it’s “genre”. By genre I mean, it has pretty good graphics for a game aimed towards women/girls. We all know what I mean when I say that almost every company gives rhythm games aimed towards women/girls is given the shaft and has low-quality/lack-of-effort graphics (I’m sorry SideM live on stage). The 3D CG models don’t look weird or out of proportion, which is a classic problem when companies make 3D models of male characters. The shading, coloring of the models is very eye-pleasing and the lighting just makes everything pop.
The demo has 3-modes for the game: 3D-Rich, 3D and 2D. 2D is just a picture in the background while you play the rhythm game, not a lot of animations. 3D is the default 3D CG MV playing in the background, while 3D-Rich is a more richer looking rendering of the MV.
Here’s a comparison between 3D-Rich (on the left) and 3D (on the right):
I’m guessing the only difference between the two is how smooth/clear 3D-Rich is compared to 3D, not sure if it affects bloom/lighting like how Cinderella Girls does.
It is impressive that this isn’t a pre-rendered movie, but rather the models are rendered in-game. You can even swap characters so they can perform in different spots along with singing different verses which makes it very uncomfortable to be hearing Hokuto’s voice coming out of Subaru’s model lol.
As far as UI goes it’s ok, neat and clean. Nothing too gaudy.
It feels like a mixture of a couple of rhythm games I’m familiar with, Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage being one of them. In this demo there is only one song available and that is the original theme song “Only Your Stars!”.
The rhythm game is basically a 7-button (for Easy and normal mode) and 9-button (for hard and expert mode) rhythm game, meaning it’ll be a handful to tap the beats at the right time. Though I don’t mind challenge in rhythm games.
There are about 5~6 different types of notes, they are…
Just a simple tap at the right time
Flick the note in the direction it is pointing
Tap both notes at the same time
Hold the note and release at the right time
Hold and slide the note, while following the direction of the note’s tail
Then there’s “Ensemble Time”. During the rhythm game, there is an allocated time where you must fill up the “ensemble gauge” with in-time taps (miss or bad taps won’t fill up the gauge). Ensemble Time will finish when you see a rainbow coloured note called the “Ensemble Note” (you can tap it at the right time).
Depending on how well you filled up the gauge will effect on the dance scene after tapping the Ensemble Note. Kind of similar to Project Diva’s “Chance Time”.
If you don’t fill the Ensemble Gauge, the dance scene will still have the UI over it. If you somewhat fill the gauge adequately you can see the dance of the whole unit without the UI and if you fill it to MAX, you will see your selected unit member dance by himself (before playing the rhythm game you choose the performer to do the dance scene if you are successful with Ensemble Time). I’m guessing this feature is there so you can take many screenshots of your favourite characters.
Dance scene when you adequately fill up the gauge:
Dance scene when you fill you the gauge to MAX (with Makoto as the performer):
There is no “life/stamina gauge” that fails the song when it reaches 0 but there is a “voltage gauge” which fills up as you tap successfully. However if you get miss or bad, it will deplete the gauge. I’m unsure what the voltage gauge actually does but I’m guessing it affects your score depending on how full it is.
As gameplay goes, it’s nicely balanced between challenging and do-able. It isn’t dumbed down and could rival some other mobile rhythm games out there. Though the hotspots/places where you tap the notes is a bit small, especially on smaller screens, which can get frustrating when you break your combo because you didn’t tap the exact pixel on the screen. Some people have complained that it seems like it’s not registering their taps at times when they know they tapped it on time.
One thing I wished they had in this demo is an initial set-up of the note speed/tapping speed most rhythm games do to customise the gameplay to suit the player. You can set it up yourself manually but it’s better to have the game do a tap test to change the speed according to your pace.
Audio is okay, could use some work, though some have complained about the tap sound effects (there are only 3 different tap sound effects). My main problem is how low the characters sound when they speak during the results screen, they are barely audible and very overpowered by the BGM. There are no options to raise the character voices louder so I hope this issue is fixed when they release the full game.
If you’re running it on a old phone I can imagine the game not running well. I’m using a samsung model that was released a year or two ago and it does stutter and lag, especially when playing on 3D-Rich (on top of the graphic bug that constantly murders my eyes). The only way to run this smoothly if you do notice the game lagging is by playing the 2D mode which has little to no animation and is just a jpeg background. I really hope they address and fix this. Though it runs very smoothly on an iPad. Maybe this is a conspiracy between Happy Elements and Apple to make people buy iPads/Apple products just to play Enstars!! Music 😂
Overall it does look promising. It has some of the stuff I had been begging for when it comes to stuff I want in rhythm games aimed at women/girls (E.g. Good graphics, good 3D models, challenging gameplay, rhythm game with more than 4 buttons). I really appreciate it isn’t dumbed down because it’s “a game aimed towards girls/women”, but it does need some polish. Other than that, I look forward to it releasing so it can set a standard for rhythm games aimed at women/girls so other companies can do the same.
One thing I’m curious about is that it seems like they might have every dance for each song specially choreographed rather than having a plethora of generic animations shared between all 3D models to use in succession, kind of like Cinderella Girls? If so, I’d imagine it may cost a lot to do unique motion capture for each song choreography… then again the choreography used in “Only Your Stars” does seem like it has recycled motion from previous 3D CG concerts… Either way it does make thing easier and cost efficient if you have a number of generic but reusuable animations to use for choreography, but that’s just my opinion.
I said it before, but even though I’m no longer a fan I do hope this ends up being good considering how promising the trial/demo was. It does keep my hopes up that women/girls can get quality rhythm games similar to this.
Thanks for reading! Enjoy this video:
Official Links for Ensemble Stars!! Music: