Well. I've finished producing three of the girls in the game now (Mami, Takane, and Yayoi) so I feel I've played enough to write about it. Probably the best game I've played so far this year, and much better than its predecessor.
In the first game, you reached different idol levels by passing auditions and acquiring a required number of fans to reach the ultimate goal of becoming the top idol. You also only produced one girl, at first at least. In this game, there is a real focus on unity, which is why you're required to produce a group of 3. I think the whole theme is handled quite nicely. At the beginning there might be trouble and there might be a little bit of fighting and whatnot between the girls, but by the end of the game there is a strong unity and the contrast is really nice.
As I said, the goal in the first game was becoming the top idol. In this game there is something called the Idol Academy, which you must first be nominated for, and then win the grand prize at the end to get the good ending. There is a sales ranking show that is broadcast every week, for you to see how well your singles are selling. You have to enter into the top 20 by a specific point in the game to first be nominated for IA, then in order to win the grand prize you must be within the top 10 and have over 300,000 fans by the end of the game. These requirements are quite easy to reach, as you can get in the top 10 with your first single if you're good enough.
There is also 5 other prizes that can be won during the IA at the end of the game. Winning all 5, and the grand prize, nets you the 'true end', which I got during my playthrough with Mami. It seems to basically be the same as the regular ending, but with an epilogue of sorts. Getting the true end can be a bit more difficult. Japan is divided into 6 areas from which you choose to do your activities. The 5 prizes are each associated with a region other than the one you're based out of. In order to win a prize, you have to amass 100,000 fans in the area and then win the special FES match that pops up.
Anyway, all that junk aside, the game is great. Much, much better than the first. It feels very fluid, and the visuals are great. The gameplay is much improved to. Auditions in the first Idolm@ster were pretty boring. Now it is a rhythm game of sorts, with more mechanics to it. The 'memories' also don't play as much of a role in this game. In the first, I would usually just spam them whenever allowed, but in this I only find myself using them during FES battles, and only when I need to. There are only 3 types of training, dance, vocal, and visual. They are all also super easy, I've never not gotten a perfect on any of them, and 99% of the time I get perfect + bonus.
A lot of people complain about Jupiter in the game (probably people who haven't even played it) but really, they aren't that bad. In fact, I wish they had more screen time, as they are barely in the game. They are a typical boy band group, and their songs aren't that bad. Your idols aren't falling for them or anything, so there is really nothing to complain about.
I think there are a lot of 'fans' of the series who are complaining about the stupidest things. Yes, you can't produce Azusa, Ami, Iori, or Ritsuko. But so what? Big deal. Do these people not like the rest of the great cast or something? There are 9 other really likeable girls to choose from, and I think they are really missing out by not getting the game just because of a silly reason like that. I've also seen complaints about Takane's route, though I don't know why. It was pretty typical, sure there was some drama with a guy causing trouble to Takane, but it all ended well, there was no NTR or anything.
Now onto the obligatory tier list:
|Official Factual Tier List|
Mami is super cute. Like crazy cute. I don't get it. I wasn't even a fan of Ami/Mami in the first game. Even still I don't care about Ami that much. But Mami, how can she be so cute? Is it really just her new hairstyle that makes all the difference? I can't get enough of her...
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the game. 9.5/10. If you liked the first game, then you'll like this one.