Review: Japan Studio VR Music Festival

Sony’s  Japan Studio “VR Music Festival” VR experience was announced just a few days ago at the TGS 2017, and it’s already available on the Japanese PlayStation Store (exclusively for PS+ subscribers in it first month). For more information on what this VR experience from Sony actually entails, do take a look at our previous article. In short, it’s kind of a 3D cinema where you watch a recording of a select number of songs from the Game Symphony Japan 23rd concert, which took place earlier this year. For us Gravity Rush fans, the festival includes one song from each Gravity Rush game. Below you can read my impressions on the application after having taken a look at it earlier today.

After starting the application, you’re greeted with a menu with three options: Start, Video Bonus and Credits. Interestingly, while I was expecting to see Japanese text, everything was already in English. I imagine it may have picked up the system language, but it’s interesting to see English support already for something that’s only available in Japan for now (EDIT: it’s been brought to my attention that the Music Festival is also available for download in Hong Kong, which explains the English language support).

The “Video Bonus” option was a bit of a surprise, as it grants access to a few 3D VR videos from the Game Symphony Japan 23rd concert. You can view a few of the songs played in the concert from within the audience or from the viewpoint of the conductor. But unfortunately like many of the 3D videos I’ve watched on PlayStation VR so far, the video quality is simply too blurry to give you a convincing feeling that you’re actually there. I quickly found myself exiting the “Video Bonus” section and made my way to the “Start” option to see what the main part of the VR experience was like. Thankfully, it was a very different story there.

After pressing Start, you can choose to view the entire concert from the beginning, or jump in at a specific song. My first impression after starting was that the presentation is one of the better ones I’ve seen on PlayStation VR. On the PS4 Pro, the 3D concert hall you’re seated in is certainly simplistic, but the graphics are bright, colorful and of a high enough resolution. All of this contributes to a visual presentation that doesn’t fatigue your eyes over time as some of the other VR games I’ve played (Driveclub VR for example).

When the concert starts, you’re seated in front of a selection of monitors that display still images or video footage. Depending on the song being played, they’re arranged differently. The center one always shows a video from a live recording of the Game Symphony Japan 23rd concert, while the surrounding screens are used in varied ways. The first two songs are from Gravity Rush (“Fighting Back”) and Gravity Rush 2 (“Main theme”), and those use the monitors in what I found to be the most interesting way. Four panels on the side display pieces of the (excellent) artwork from the games, while the top one shows video footage of previous Gravity Rush 2 trailers.

There are a few elements that enhance the experience. PlayStation mascots Toro and Kuro sit next to you, making all sorts of faces depending on the mood of the song. In one amusing moment while Gravity Rush 2‘s main theme is playing, they start floating up in the air as if they’re in zero gravity. Another really nice addition is the virtual controller. Like in many VR games, your real-life controller is shown in-game. Tapping the touch screen brings up a transparent menu that shows the elapsed time and the name of the song being played. While it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s a nice and genuinely helpful addition. Holding square and shaking the controller will also cause colorful sparks to release from your controller. The environment also has a few interesting effects. For example, as the colossi appear during the Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack, dust falls from the roof of the hall you’re in, as if caused by the impact of their footsteps.

Overall, I was impressed by this first Japan Studio VR Music Festival. While it’s only 30 minutes, it’s this kind of content that I’d like to see more of. It takes something familiar, like watching a movie in the cinema, and then enhances the experience using VR. Even so, this first attempt has its limitations. I can certainly think of a few things that I’d like to see added. For example it would be interesting if there was an option to re-arrange the in-game screen panels, so I can get the screen I want to watch right in front of me.  The ability to move the seat backwards a bit would also have been welcome, as now you’re seated rather close to the screens. And wouldn’t it be nice to have characters from the game make an appearance in the 3D world, rather than just Toro and Kuro?

To conclude, considering this is free for PS+ subscribers in Japan, Japan Studio VR Music Festival is a great demonstration of the kind of experience that PlayStation VR can offer. It’s also something that’s perfect to show to non-gamers, or people who otherwise experience nausea from movement in VR (here, you don’t have to move from your virtual seat). As such, I really do hope this ends up being released outside of Japan.

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