Ensemble Stars! is a series I’ve dabbled with over the years. A male-centric idol series that started off way back in 2015 as a spin off of the now defunct Ensemble Girls it became wildly popular in comparison. You are a transfer student at Yumenosaki academy to produce a group of idols to stardom. It had a ton of fun character designs and a bunch of interesting stories, but I never quite got into it the way other fans did.
Way back when the original app was for lack of a better term a point and click game. You tapped the screen and scouted for cards. It had the usual events where you rank for a pretty five-star card like all the other idol games, though it lacked a rhythm element that would make the series truly engaging to me. It got an anime in due time after being delayed for what felt like forever. As the series grew and began to release more music and merchandise, it was inevitable they would cash in on the rhythm game trend at some point in time.
Now in 2020 the game is split into two different apps- the “basic” app where you play the old game and tap on the screen, and the “music” app where you tap notes to music ala every other mobile idol game out there. Today I finally decided to download Ensemble Stars!! (with two exclamation points!! don’t forget it!) Music.
To anyone interested, both Ensemble Star apps can be downloaded from the Japanese play store or Qooapp.
The Beginning & Rerolling
To be honest I completely dread starting new mobile rhythm games- most have a tutorial where you play a super easy song and get hand-held through different gameplay scenarios until twenty minutes later you can finally play the game. This becomes even more of a nuisance when you factor in rerolling which means scouting with what the game gives you until you get a desired card/rarity, guaranteeing you start off with a “good” card or a card of a character you at least like. If you don’t get the character you like you just delete the game data (or clear the cache, depending on the game) and do the whole thing over which can take quite a bit of time if you’re devoted to securing one character.
Thankfully this game simplified the whole process- you start off with a short little spiel about idols and then pick a unit to scout from. Now this is great- you don’t have to do a gatcha with every single character in the game to get who you want which would be annoying in this case since there’s tons and tons of characters.
For smaller units getting your favorite is a breeze. Do you like 2wink, the duo of Hinata and Yuuta Aoi? Well good because you have a 1/2 chance of getting a card of the one you want. If you don’t get the one you want? Well after scouting…you can literally hit a button that takes you back to the scouting screen in the beginning of the game. I can’t begin to explain how elated I was at this function being implemented.
I got the occult boy Natsume, a character I liked before from the unit Switch. So once you’ve secured a card of the character you want, you can jump right into the game. By that I mean RIGHT into the game.
The main menu is pretty self explanatory and has enough English to navigate you through everything. So fear not!
But you know, why not scout some more? The game gives you a free ten pull ticket to start out with, and holy moly I got two more five stars.
I got one card of Nagisa and one of MaM (better known as Madara Mikejima) but wow. I can’t be mad at all even if I didn’t get any of my favorites since rare cards are always good to start a new game with.
The stories are something you’ll probably tap through, though there’s plenty of translations to be found online if you want to read them. The well-known rich boy Eichi Tenshouin plays a big role in the story this time, introducing you to the agency Ensemble Square after enrolling the characters from the previous story into the agency. Or something like that. The story begins focusing on Eichi and the new unit Alkaloid. Alkaloid eventually meets the other units in the game as the story goes on.
The stories mix stills and Live 2D. Thankfully for me, one of my old favorites Tori Himemiya infiltrates a few scenes into the first chapter. You’ll be reading (or skipping) through the stories since they’re a good way to farm dia, the premium currency of the game used to scout new members. Reading stories will also unlock new songs for you to play.
I’m really happy that the game starts off with the new unit. I’ve had enough of Trickstar, the old “main” unit over the years- they got a lot of screentime in the anime and the original game. Kind of like the way the story Love Live! All Stars focuses on Nijigasaki’s growth along with interactions with the previous two generations.
The section we’ve all been waiting for!
When I said you could jump right into this game, I meant it. You can play the default songs on any difficulty which is awesome! I’d be bored out of my mind if I had to play easy to unlock normal, normal to unlock hard, ect.
The gameplay itself isn’t bad at all. The notes you hit are in a half circle similar to Love Live! School Idol Festival. The transition to hard/expert charts isn’t bad at all coming from someone who plays a fair amount of rhythm games. I don’t have a problem full-comboing hard charts. The expert charts are a little fast for me, but they’re fun. Did I mention there’s no health bar? You have to hit what seems like at least half the notes to raise a voltage meter to the halfway point so go wild trying harder songs even if you don’t think you can pass them.
My favorite songs to play so far are 2wink’s Play “Tag” and Bewitching Theatre by Valkyrie. The game starts you off with a decent selection of unit songs, a few solo/duo character songs, and of course the game’s main theme ONLY YOUR STARS! which I can’t unhear as the old title screen music (because it is, but now with lyrics).
The visuals are 3D which is a plus. The models look pretty smooth, though I wish I had some cool outfits for the boys to wear instead of the default outfits at the time of writing this. It’s kinda cool because in the old game they were just 2D, so seeing them in 3D really brings them to life.
Leveling Up Your Cards
Like most idol-raising games, you farm materials to level up your cards. You can get materials from completing beginner missions, playing events, and clearing songs. Leveling up your cards is important for getting better scores of course, so it’s very important to do so!
The skill tree is pretty self-explanatory. It levels up different stats on a card and unlocks more appeals/outfits until the eventual idolization of the card.
There’s also an office mode where you place furniture and take your idols to events with little mini games. They earn fans this way as well, so don’t let them flop!
Last but not least, Ensemble Stars has a ton of characters. All the units have different sounds, ranging from Trickstar’s idol-sounding music to Akatasuki’s traditional music (which is really, really good). There’s definitely something for everyone in here. While the units deserve another article on their own, here are a few to get you started.
ALKALOID, not to be confused with vocaloid, is the main focus of story. They’re hot headed and have a rock sound. The leader is the red haired Hiiro who has a brother Rinne in the unit Crazy:B. Naturally Hiiro wants to make it big as well like his brother. Other members include the idol loving partially french boy Aira who caught my eye, the purple boy with spiky teeth Mayoi, and last but not least the former idol Tatsumi who joins them on their mission to rise to stardom.
Crazy:B is led by Hiiro’s brother Rinne. They’re total hypebeasts if you can’t tell by looking at them. The blue haired boy HiMERU (real name unknown) is already a popular idol looking to join in on a group act. The pink haired Kohaku only knows about the world through internet and TV, so he’s certainly interesting. Last but not least Niki has my favorite design of the unit and used to be a chef before wanting a change of pace in his life.
I really like Valkyrie with their fine-tuned aesthetic and songs heavy on strings. The unit is composed of Shu and Mika who take an artsy approach to their music and often narrate fine art programs. Shu, the one with the pink hair is often cold and arrogant but likes making dolls while Mika, and admirer of Shu’s work wants to find his own muse and grow from Shu’s shadow. Some of their songs are produced by ALI Project as well, sounding similar to the Rozen Maiden anime openings the band is known for.
Akatsuki is a traditional Japanese unit with really good music. They were seen as a force to be reckoned with in the anime, always ranking high when it came to music festivals which is good because I feel like they’re underappreciated. Composed of tough but actually soft red and black haired Kuro, student council president Kaito, and purple haired boy with a sword Souma.
Fine is a unit that makes me think of Ouran High School Host Club- they’re polite and manufactured to an extent. Pronounced feenay, the unit led by Ensemble Square’s Eichi Tenshouin himself. Wataru, the one with the blue hair is an oddball that ended up in there along the way who loves magic tricks. Tori and his butler Yuzuru. To absolutely no one’s surprise they’re extremely popular in the industry.
Last but not least 2wink (I’m desensitised to their name at this point) is composed of the twins Yuuta and Hinata Aoi. Where would an idol series be without twins? Their songs have a techno/EDM sound and the boys have a bubbly personality and play off of each other during their live performances. They’re pretty fun overall and the teal/pink color scheme fits them well.
For something I downloaded on a whim, this game isn’t bad. The graphics are solid, the song selection is decent, and the UI is nice as well. It’s been a while since I’ve tried out a new mobile rhythm game and thankfully this game has it down pretty well. It’s fun to play, the characters are engaging, and there’s a good variety of music in it.
If you like enstars you probably already have this game downloaded. I actually didn’t realize it was out until now- I remember there was a demo out in late February but it went to the back burner for me.