Tearing Down the Note Track Highway in DJMAX Respect V

There’s a lot to be said about getting all fancy with the musical interaction, whether that be arcade setups with multiple spinning discs and light-up buttons or hopping into VR to wave away the notes.  Every game wants its own unique stamp on the genre but DJMAX is more about refining the basics to their purest form and then going insane from there.  The screen holds a note track in the middle, with a video playing on either side to fill in the extra space, and each song has several different courses of varying difficulties to tap the music away to.  The series comes by its gameplay honestly, having initially come out over fifteen years ago, and in that time it’s only grown the fan-base while getting more polished with each new iteration.  Now the latest version has migrated from PS4 to PC in the form of DJMAX Respect V, starting off in Steam’s Early Access with a huge library and plans to grow even bigger in the coming months.

One of the hallmarks of the series is its dedication to taking care of as many types of players as possible.  Speaking as a complete newbie to the series I’m appreciating the generous library of four-note songs with multiple difficulty levels to choose from, but series veterans and the truly hardcore have eight-button songs and a mad barrage of notes to play with.  The major change to this version of DJMAX is the ability to play with a standard keyboard, meaning there’s no shortage of buttons and everything can line up just right.

The way the tracks work on the four-button songs is notes stream down from the top of the screen in standard Guitar Hero/Rock Band style, and the A S ; and ‘ keys are used to type them away.  Sometimes a warning will pop up on the left or right of the screen meaning a side-note is coming and the appropriate Shift key takes care of it nicely.  Five-button mode adds the D and L keys, both of which trigger the middle note so you can use whichever hand suits you best, while six-button mode gives those keys their own individual notes.  There’s no seven-button mode, but eight-button adds another set of extra-wide notes triggered by the C and , keys.  It takes a bit of practice to get to grips with the larger button layout, but the huge library of music means there are enough easy songs to keep the frustrations of learning manageable.

“Huge library” is maybe a bit of an understatement.  The current song lists tops 150 tracks already with more on the way by the end of the Early Access period, pulled from the series’ long history plus the developer’s other games like Tapsonic Bold.  The music runs from light pop to heavy techno, easy listening, jazz, electronic and while I haven’t seen any classical yet but that’s probably just a matter of time.  Each song has multiple difficulty selections for the different button modes, providing an incredible number of charts to practice.

At the moment there are two different game modes, Air and Freestyle.  Freestyle is the straightforward list of tracks in alphabetical order, plus multiple ways to trim the library into a more reasonable size.  Air is more of a random broadcast of songs and you can choose to play or hang back and listen as the mood suits you.  Instead of being in the center Air’s note track is pushed to the side, giving room for messages from other players to pop up and fade away.  It’s not a chat room but rather a display of notes of encouragement and less helpful information, and if you decide to join in the game instantly switches to auto-play mode.  It’s a nice feature, but the real draw of Air is the way it removes the need to leaf through the library to find just the right song.  Choice is lovely, but so is being able to sink in and play without all that extra thought.

The current plan calls for two more gameplay modes: Mission and Online.  Mission Mode will be a series of song challenges, while Online is the major feature that truly sets this version apart from the PS4 edition that it’s based on.  Online was in the PS4 version, but the two-player head-to-head mode is being joined by an up-to-eight-player free for all.  Details are a little light on the full feature-set but a big part of it will be both casual and ranked online multiplayer.  A side effect of this is the anti-cheat software XIGNCODE3, which doesn’t have a particularly stellar reputation as either secure or easy to remove, plus means there’s no offline play even in single-player mode. Whether or not that’s a dealbreaker is your call, but it’s best to know before installing.

While there are still major features on the way, the current version of DJMAX Respect V is easily one of the biggest and most varied music games available, taking full advantage of its legacy to enhance its library beyond all reason.  The PC menus are stylish and well laid out, and even when I found the keyboard commands to shuffle through the menus a little inconsistent the on-screen prompts were always clear as to which button does what.  Since its launch last week the game has received several patches, stomping bugs and latency while adding a few quality of life improvements.  DJMAX Respect V is packed full of rhythm-gaming content that’s welcoming to both new players and series veterans, easily earning its reputation as one of the top music titles around.