Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)

Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)


  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV


Title: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session!
Format: PSN (3.98 GB)
Release Date: November 2, 2018
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Original MSRP: $49.99 (US), £49.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E10+
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

It’s been over a decade since the Taiko series saw a release in English. In fact Taiko Drum Master for the PlayStation 2 released in 2004, fifteen years ago.

The Taiko series never went away in Japan, seeing new releases on pretty much every platform under the sun but Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session finally brings the series back to North America.

Truth be told, the series hasn’t changed a whole lot in the intervening time. The basic gameplay remains largely the same: drum along to popular and classic songs. Specifically, the games have the player playing a taiko drum (or wadaiko), a traditional Japanese drum.

These drums are often hit in two different ways to create sound: one on the center of the drum (the don) and one on the rim of the drum (the ka). Taiko no Tatsujin pretty much only uses these two types of notes to create the gameplay.

There are a few variations of these two types in the game, such as a drum roll or a note meant to be hit with both hands instead of just one, but those just expand on the don and the ka.

Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)

Don’t assume that this is an easy rhythm game because it only has two “buttons.” This is truly an “easy to learn, tough to master” type game, as the simplicity makes it pretty quick to pick up but the hardest songs are brutal even to a rhythm game veteran like myself. There’s definitely a lot to aspire to here.

Since the idea of drumming is pretty universal, the way the game progresses is quite natural. The note charts are very well put together and typically make a lot of sense, even when they’re adding taiko drumming to contemporary pop music. With four difficulty charts per song, there should be something for all skill levels. Again, this just makes the game all the easier to jump into… but it’s even easier if you’re playing on the drum controller.

It’s rather unfortunate that the drum controller that was released in Japan isn’t being sold overseas, as the game has infinitely more appeal with it. The gameplay works without it, with a few different controller setups available in the options, but it’s much better with it. Fortunately I have the controller and it does work with the North American version of the game, but if you’re importing the controller you might as well bundle it with the game which, surprisingly, has English menus even in the overseas versions.

Also on the unfortunate side is the fact that the PS4 version doesn’t seem as full featured as previous entries. Some past games have had RPG modes or missions or such. Drum Session pretty much just has Free Play and an online mode. There is an unlock system that breathes a little progression into the game though. Performing certain tasks will fill out bingo cards, and by completing lines on the cards you’ll earn coins that can be spent on cosmetics.

Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)

Well, they can be spent on randomized pulls of cosmetics. Which, to me, makes the system more frustrating than if there was just an in-game shop. Instead of being able to buy what I want, I have to just get random drops of items and hope I like them. Sure, there are a lot of good ones but when I see a cool costume online, I’d like to be able to get it without praying to RNGesus.

Despite that, I do like how the bingo card system gives a carrot to chase. Each song has its own card which can have single play goals like getting a full combo or using a certain modifier, or goals for multiple plays like a cumulative score. Unlocking all of the squares also opens up a second, harder bingo card. It’s not much content but it’s something beyond just playing the songs.

Speaking of the songs, that’s one of the ways Drum Session differs the most from the last attempt at localizing the series. While the PS2 entry added new songs for the English market, the song list in Drum Session is entirely unchanged from the Japanese version of the game. Fans of other overseas rhythm games should be pretty used to it at this point and there’s still some recognizable songs for those who don’t play many games like this.

Because it’s a direct carry-over, the song list skews pretty heavily towards the Japanese market. The list is split up by genre and the one it starts you off with is the ‘pop,’ which is all full of j-pop songs. Some may be recognizable to anime fans, like “Zenzenzense” which was prominently featured in Your Name or “Gimme Chocolate” by Baby Metal, but some are a little less well known, at least to me.

Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)

Other genres featured in the game include: vocaloid (e.g. Hatsune Miku and friends), anime, video games, classical, and some Namco/Taiko originals. There are definitely some songs anyone would recognize, especially classical songs like the William Tell Overture or some video game stuff like the Pac-Man Theme, but again there’s a bit more focus on songs popular in Japan like anime theme songs. Two amusing inclusions are from American movies, namely “Let it Go” from Frozen and a song from Zootopia, but both are the Japanese versions so good luck singing along.

Overall though, the song list is enjoyable with a pretty good mix to play. The only other major aspect of the audio is the sound effect that plays while drumming, which can be changed to a few different sounds or disabled entirely if you don’t care for the default taiko sounds.

The Taiko series has a pretty set-in-stone art style at this point and it’s a cute but effective style. During the game, notes scroll right to left, a major departure from the vertical scrolling in most other rhythm games, and outside the note area are a bunch of characters dancing to the music. Do well in the song and more characters will show up, eventually leading to an explosion of color and background as the characters really get into the dancing.

Some songs are even ‘versus’ songs and you can choose to play against a virtual opponent. These are usually related to the song, so if you’re playing the theme from Pac-Man, you can choose to play against Pac-Man himself. For a pizza, he sure can play the drums.

Of course, you can use the cosmetic unlocks to change how Don-chan, the anthropomorphic drum who is all over the franchise, looks. Give him a costume to look like Hatsune Miku or have Tekken characters hanging out with him as a little buddy. There’s even a color editor to change each of the major colors in his design.

Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)

There’s a hint of online features even when you play the free play mode, as there will be a few songs listed with someone from your friend’s list. The game will let you challenge some ghost-data from those friends to try to better their score. The song then plays out similar to the versus songs, where you can see/hear your friend’s drumming on a track below your own notes.

The actual versus mode is pretty similar in that there’s no true versus component and you’re instead playing against ghost-data from other players. However the online mode tracks your wins and losses and tries to match you against similarly-skilled opponents.

On one hand, I kinda liked the online mode because it includes some more cosmetic stuff to chase. And with timed events, Namco seems to be cycling the rewards to keep players coming back for more. But on the other hand, once you jump into a match, you don’t get any say in what song you play or what difficulty the song is set to. While I haven’t had too many issues with the game giving me songs that are too hard, I do sometimes get stretches of songs I don’t like as much.

I’ll mention it here because it’s an annoyance but it’s not part of the base game: the way Drum Session handles DLC is early-era-PS3, as in very bad. None of the DLC songs are listed in the PlayStation Store proper and you have to navigate the in-game store to buy them. And then, you have to buy them one at a time, going through several different screens before getting back to the list of songs again. The DLC covers the same general range as the base game but you can get more if you want some specific songs like the K-On! theme or “Senbonzakura” by Miku.

Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! (PS4)

I’m super happy that the Taiko series has finally made the trip over the ocean again. While this game is less localized than the previous entry, I don’t think that’s as much of a detriment in today’s worldly culture. Even if you’re not a weird anime fan like me, you’ll find some catchy tunes and solid gameplay on display here.

One down side is definitely that the drum controller didn’t book a ticket with the game. While the game is perfectly fine with a DualShock 4, you really only need to map four buttons anyway, having the peripheral does add that extra dimension to the fun and accessibility.

The lack of additional modes is also slight disappointment that’s only partially made up for by the bingo card missions and cosmetic unlocks. Overall though, Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session is a pretty good experience. With a high ceiling but low floor, it can appeal to all skill levels of fans and should be a fun time for everyone. Just brush up on singing along to “Let it Go” in Japanese, so you can confuse your young kids, nephews, and nieces.


* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.




Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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