There are things you do at a concert that you wouldn’t during your everyday life. When thousands of people are pumping their fists in time to the beat, you do it, too. When they chant “encore” in unison, so do you. I did all of those things while attending my first concert from Hatsune Miku, the holographic vocaloid pop star who’s appeared on late night talk shows and toured with real, live human bands. My arms are still sore from pumping them along to the rhythm of her songs, and my throat hurts a bit from when I yelled “konichiwa” from the front row.
The weird thing is I did all of this from my living room with a PlayStation VR strapped to my face.
Hatsune Miku: VR Future Live is one of the launch titles for Sony’s new virtual reality platform, which came out this week. It’s not exactly a game, but more of a mildly interactive concert simulator. The experience sits somewhere in between watching a 360-degree video of a concert in VR and actually attending one in real life. You don’t get the same sense of being in a place with thousands of other people, of course, because you aren’t. But VR Future Live does a remarkable job of simulating the effect.
The VR headset puts you in the crowd at a Miku concert, surrounded by dark figures holding brightly colored glowsticks, while the blue-haired singer does her thing on stage. Though you can’t make out many details in the darkened arena, each of the people surrounding you looks and acts like an individual. They aren’t just carbon copies of each other. They have different silhouettes, and while some move in perfect rhythm with the music, others are slightly off. When you combine this with the interactive nature of VR Future Live, you get an experience that feels surprisingly close to attending a real concert.
In the game the PlayStation Move motion controller in your hand transforms into a glowstick, and it’s your main way of interacting with the experience. As songs play, the crowd will pump their fists and twist their arms in time to the music. Just like at a real concert, all you need to do is follow along.
If you keep in time to the beat, the experience will be slightly different. Miku might change her outfit — one of the benefits of being a hologram is instantaneous wardrobe changes — or she might shoot a ball of light in your direction that will transform your glowstick into something else. During my first concert I held a maraca, a tambourine, and a knock-off lightsaber that made a strange whooshing sound. Outside of your hands, you’ll also need to use your voice, with the PlayStation Camera tracking what you say. Again you just need to follow the crowd; when they start chanting, so do you. This is most important at the end, when the only way to get her back on stage for an encore is to, well, yell “encore.”
Being a video game, VR Future Live also offers up several things that would be impossible at a real concert, even one starring a hologram. For one thing, you can change your seat at any given moment, switching up your angle of the performance. While I preferred being in the front row, it was really cool to jump around midway through the concert, when Miku stepped on a floating platform and soared throughout the stadium. You also have a say over which songs she sings; at multiple points Miku will offer two choices, and you need to look at the song you want and pump your fist as hard as you can. There’s also a really simple rhythm game that happens partway through the show, in which you need to swing your arm in time to the beat.
The best addition, though, is the encore. Instead of just simply singing another song, Miku will transport you to a strange wireframe dome for a one-on-one performance. It looks sort of like a candy-coated take on the holodeck. Compared to the thumping spectacle of the concert, the encore is much more relaxed. You don’t need to do anything at all — you can just sit back and enjoy the strangely intimate show.
It’s a good way to end the concert, considering that VR Future Live is quite possibly the most physically exhausting experience I’ve had with PSVR so far. After just one song I found myself having to pause the game to rest my arm, which got sore from all of the swinging and pumping. The game doesn’t actually require you to act especially intense, but, at least for me, it was hard not to when I was fully immersed in the virtual concert hall. I got swept up in the crowd — even though that crowd was completely virtual.
The main drawback for VR Future Live is probably its price. It’s a relatively expensive experience. There are three different concerts available, which cost $14.99 each, or $39.99 for all three. Playing through the first concert took me maybe half an hour. There’s some incentive to experience them multiple times, to hear different songs or see things from different angles, but even still it’s a fairly lightweight experience. Then again, it’s also the most convenient way to experience Miku “live.” So if you’re a fan of her particular synthetic blend of J-pop, it might be worth the price of entry.
Just make sure to give your arms plenty of rest.