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The Idolmaster

The Idolmaster

The Idolmaster

The Idolmaster is a Japanese raising simulation video game developed by Metro and published by Namco Bandai Games. It was released on July 26, 2005 as an arcade game and is the first game in The Idolmaster series. It was ported to the Xbox 360 on January 25, 2007 with many changes and improvements. The gameplay and story follows the career of a producer in charge of training prospective pop idols on their way to stardom. This includes arranging the idol's schedule, taking them to jobs, training them during lessons, and directing them through auditions. As gameplay continues, a relationship will develop between the idol and her producer fostered through talking with the idol and forming good memories.

Development for the game began in 2001 to make an arcade game that would make players want to come back to play every day. To effectively use the competitive culture that surrounds video arcades, the game was developed so players would raise and compete against other players' idols on a national network. A port of the game had been discussed as early as two months before the arcade game was even released. The Xbox 360 was chosen because the development team felt its hardware and the Xbox Live network could handle the game's specifications. The original game features 10 songs the idols perform, which is increased to 16 in the Xbox 360 version, later released on several music albums. The raising simulation system has been described as simple and easy to understand, and the various minigames have been described as "addictive". However, the game has been criticized as presenting a narrow and unrealistic view of the idol world.

The Idolmaster Gameplay

The Idolmaster is a raising simulation game in which the player assumes the role of a producer working for the talent agency 765 Production (765 Pro) who is in charge of training 10 prospective pop idols on their way to stardom. They include: Haruka Amami, Chihaya Kisaragi, Yukiho Hagiwara, Yayoi Takatsuki, Ritsuko Akizuki, Azusa Miura, Iori Minase, Makoto Kikuchi, and Ami and Mami Futami (who work as a pair). The player starts by choosing an idol to train and the idol's unit name. The player is initially able to train a single idol, but this can increase to up to three idols at a time once the player gains enough experience as a producer. The game depicts the activities of the producer and idol during one day of each in-game week.

At the start of every in-game day, text progression pauses when the player is given the option to greet the idol or take a break, which ends that in-game week. There are multiple responses to choose from, and the player is given a limited amount of time to make a choice; if no choice is made before time runs out, the choice with the worst possible outcome is automatically chosen. Depending on which choice is made will affect an idol's enthusiasm, which is displayed at certain points throughout gameplay by the color of a heart on the heads-up display. An idol's enthusiasm ranges from black, to teal, yellow-green, violet and finally red as enthusiasm increases. The player can view the state of an idol's statistics at this time, which are divided into three categories: vocal, dance and visual image. As these increase, an idol's overall image level will also increase. The player is shown an idol report which shows an idol's rank and level, and contains current popularity trends in vocal, dance and visual image, which gives the player a guide on how to gain popularity. The player can next choose to either change the idol's song, her costume and accessories, or neither. Each idol unit can only perform at most three different songs, but these songs can be switched any number of times. The idol's daily schedule is divided into two choices: taking a lesson, which is followed by a communication phase, and taking an audition.

An example of Ami, Iori and Yukiho (respectively) taking a voice lesson. The player must tap the button that corresponds to the right note as the indicator passes from left to right over the notes.

The lessons are in the form of five minigames which serve to increase an idol's statistics in either vocal, dance or visual image. Each lesson is divided into six parts, and the lesson's overall performance is ranked from bad, to normal, good and finally perfect. Sometimes a lessons is temporarily unavailable. The communication phase of the gameplay mainly deals with the player talking with the idol and doing jobs to further her exposure to the public. The player is given multiple jobs to choose from, which change as an idol's rank increases. Like when greeting the idol before, the player is given multiple responses to choose from over the course of a conversation. Depending on which choice is made will affect how well or poorly the communication is received from bad, to normal, good and finally perfect communication, which results in either good or bad memories. The good memories are tallied in the heart on the heads-up display.

When the player chooses to do an audition, the idol will use the previously chosen song and costume if she passes the audition; the song is also used during the audition. Each costume and song have either a vocal, dance or visual attribute which will affect the idol's statistics and thus the results of the audition. There are three types of auditions: ones limited to idols with an E or F rank, national auditions for idols of any rank, and special auditions that can be taken after satisfying certain conditions. Once an audition is chosen, the player can view the rank and level of the other idols who are auditioning. While the game's network was still active up to 2010, the game would match up to five other players from around the country who were auditioning at the same time; if enough players could not be found, non-player characters would fill the necessary spots. When taking an audition, the player guides the idol to appeal to three judges in vocal, dance and visual image by receiving points in each category. How many points an idol receives when appealing is dependent on her statistics. Each audition is divided into three segments of nine attempts at an appeal followed by a mid-audition review. At the end of each segment, the three idols with the most points in a given image category will receive a number of stars in that category dependent on the current popularity trends from the idol report; an idol will also lose a star if she has the least points in a given category.

The interest level of the judges is indicated by three gauges which increase and decrease depending on how well or poorly an appeal is received. The appeals are also affected by how well the player stays in rhythm with the chosen song. If one judge is appealed to too many times, their interest level may drop to zero, at which point all the stars earned for that category will be revoked. The player also has the option to use up to three good memories during each audition which serve to dramatically increase an idol's appeal points and the gauges for the judges. At the end of the audition, the number of stars received determines if the idol passes or not. If an idol passes the audition, she is chosen to do a televised performance of the song previously chosen. In the case of a multiple idol unit, the player can choose who sings which lyrics, though at least one singer is needed for each line. A performance serves to increase an idol's number of fans, which in turn can increase an idol's rank if enough fans have been obtained for a given rank. An idol's rank starts at F, and goes up in stages to E, D, C, B, A and finally S. It is possible for an idol to make mistakes during a performance if she has not trained enough, which may affect the number of fans gained from the performance. The player is allowed to take photos during the performance, but only the last one taken can be saved.

Once the day's schedule has been completed, the player returns to 765 Pro with the idol in the evening. The player will be shown the idol's rank, how many fans she has gained over the course of the day, and how many fans she currently has. If available, the idol will be given various presents and letters from her fans at this time. The player's idol unit may be forced to retire under certain circumstances, such as the player not gaining enough fans by a specified time, which is called the rank up limit. In addition, if an idol's rank is either A or S, the idol will be forced to retire on week 62.

Reception
While sales figures are not available for the Xbox 360 port of The Idolmaster, it was the fifteenth best selling console video game in Japan for the time of its release. The Xbox 360 version received a combined score of 26 out of 40 from the Japanese video game magazine Famitsu. The port has been credited with making Japan's ratio of sign-ups for Xbox Live compared to the number of consoles sold as the world's highest. Over four times as many Microsoft points were sold on the date of The Idolmaster's Xbox 360 release as on the date before it. The raising simulation system has been described as simple and easy to understand, and the various minigames have been described as "addictive". Despite there being a limited number of minigames for the lessons, they are described as having an "abundance of variation" that do not get tiring because of their unexpectedly high degree of difficulty. Similarly, choosing correct responses, such as during the promotional phase, is also described as fairly difficult because each of the given choices often appear to be similar despite having radically different outcomes.

While one reviewer for Famitsu suggested it was natural to identify with the idols when watching them perform, a different reviewer in the same magazine issue stated that the game would be somewhat tiresome if the player did not have an emotional attachment to a given idol. In writing for Dengeki Online, reviewer Aogeyarō's first impression of The Idolmaster was embarrassment about playing a bishōjo game in public, but after playing it, he felt that the emotional ups and downs of the game, including the passing and failing of auditions, was very enjoyable. In reviewing the Xbox 360 port, he likened the 52 week limit to the heartlessness that surrounds the entertainment industry. The game has also been criticized as presenting a narrow and unrealistic view of the idol world. Dom Nguyen writing for Wired described the arcade version as awkward at times and felt apprehension about the various touchscreen minigames that "encourage you to fondle the screen." He also called the "coin-guzzling nature" of the game "perturbing," and that it would result in a "ridiculous sum" if played long enough. Aogeyarō also commented on the high prices of an entire downloadable content pack for the Xbox 360 version, and cautioned that not everything in the pack may be needed or wanted.


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