To get things out of the way: Love Live: School Idol Festival is a free-to-play rhythm game with Gacha elements where you can tap your way through many cheery songs from the Love Live! and Love Live! Sunshine!! franchise, while collecting trading cards featuring the members of the various school idol groups and using them to build your own perfect team of idols. It gates your playtime behind an energy mechanic, and collecting the best trading cards involves spending premium currency which you buy with real money.
I’ve played a few games like this, and LLSIF is by far the most casual-friendly of the lot. I’ve been playing for nearly two years and have only spent six dollars in their shop – and that was because, after a year or so, I figured I should give them SOME sort of payment and bought the “welcome new player!” pack.
If all you want to do in the game is open it up on your commute and lose yourself in tapping icons rhythmically while the bus or train does the driving, it is perfect for that. There are dozens of songs in the game, and I would put it WELL above the Vita Love Live! rhythm games that cost Y4800 each for a paltry song selection.
On the other hand, it also has a story mode, and a collectathon aspect, and that is where the game gets into grind and grind with a side order of grind and grind for dessert. I don’t recommend you follow me down this rabbit hole.
There are two different long stories in LLSIF – 47 stories for μ’s and 36 for Aquors, each split into 4 chapters each. Unlocking the Aquors story mode is trivial and largely consists of making sure that you have at least one Aquors character in each of your idol groups while playing songs, so I won’t go into it.
Unlocking the μ’s story mode is done by player level, which increases as you complete songs in the rhythm mode. Playing songs at higher difficulty levels gives you more player xp.
The song difficulty levels are Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert and Master. I generally do all right with Hard difficulty.
You need to reach level 155 to unlock the final μ’s story chapter. If you started the game today and played exclusively “Hard” songs, it would take about 6000 songs to reach level 155. They’re short songs, mind you, but even at three minutes or less there is a certain time commitment.
Fortunately, there are occasional 5x or even 10x XP events. Of course, if you want to spam a lot of songs during these XP events, you will be running out of energy very quickly and spending premium currency to recover. This could get expensive, if the game didn’t give you a persistent drip-feed of the premium currency for just opening the application and claiming your daily rewards every day.
So finishing the μ’s and Aquors story modes, like I did this week, really represents possibly the most time I’ve sunk into any game that wasn’t an MMO. It doesn’t FEEL like it, though. Most days I spent less than a minute in the app, with occasional binges where I’d knock out 30 or 40 songs in a day. Airports, in particular, were great occasions to just completely zone out and tap the screen to the accompaniment of cheerful tunes.
These two jpegs represent a staggering time commitment.
What elevates the game above the traditional predatory gacha nonsense is the fact that you don’t need to get the best cards to get to this point. As long as you are hitting notes, you can complete every song using a team of the 9 most common free cards, and you would hit level 155 at the same speed as a whale who had spent hundreds of dollars to deck out their group in all the best Ultra Rare cards
Still, those common cards wouldn’t LOOK as pretty… and that’s where they hook the whales.
Here’s a typical rare card. Despite the name, “Rares” are quite common and you can get these with non-premium currency. The “1360”, “3040” and “1000” values on this card represent its strengths, which translate to the score you will get when hitting notes when using this card as one of your team members in the rhythm game.
If you get a duplicate of the same card, you can “idolize” the card by mashing the two together and getting an idol version of the same character. The numbers don’t get any bigger, though.
Much cuter! Now let’s take a look at an idolized Ultra Rare card.
OH MAH GOD IT’S SO SHINY. AND THE NUMBERS ARE SO MUCH BIGGER.
Side note: this was an event UR, which means that I got it basically by logging in on the right day and playing the game, rather than spending money to get it from a random draw. Actual random draw URs have numbers that are EVEN BIGGER. If you want to chase the high scores, you want those big numbers.
Note also the “Level” and “Bond” here. “Level” is the card level, which you increase by feeding other cards to this card. So to get a level 100 UR card, I have shoveled an endless supply of lesser idols into Honoka’s gaping maw.
“Bond” is increased by using the card in your team, and the higher level cards have a higher bond cap. When you both idolize a card AND reach its bond cap, it unlocks a side story, some of which are pretty hilarious.
EVERY CARD HAS A SIDE STORY.
THERE ARE OVER TWO THOUSAND CARDS.
When I said “grind, grind, and more grind”, this is what I was talking about.
If you wanted to build up a team of the absolute rarest and prettiest versions of your Love Live! waifus, and get them to max level so their numbers were the highest possible, and just completely give up on life in general… you absolutely could!
To be clear, I do not recommend this.
Also, please do not lewd the Love Live! girls as they are in high school and you should have SOME standards.
You can lewd the third years if you must.
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