Love Live! School Idol Festival: Tips, tricks, and pointers for pop star beginners

In Love Live, you'll find elements taken from rhythm games, role-playing games, and trading card games. Introducing anyone else to this remorselessly addictive title seems cruel, so consider this your lone warning that Love Live's super-cute exterior masks a deep pit of singing management insanity that might take over your life. But, y'know, in a charming way.

Time for a breakdown

This game revolves around managing a singing club made up of high school girls who cover catchy pop hits, which means you have a lot of moving pieces to track: the stats and skills of each of the girls, the team dynamics, and so on.

In Love Live, the girl groups perform "live shows" together; you can perform songs at a variety of difficulties. When you play a song, circles fall towards each of the girls on the screen in time with the song's rhythm, and you have to hit the circles as they highlight each girl's face. Sometimes two girls are singing at once, sometimes you'll need to hold down a circle rather than just tapping it, and so on. These are typical rhythm-matching mechanics, and the songs will get harder and harder as you go.

Most other Love Live tutorials online revolve around team management — definitely an important part of the game — but almost no one talks about the intense difficulty of the rhythm component. As you can see from my screenshots, I am not yet a superstar at the rhythm game component of Love Live, and yet, I am compelled to keep trying. And as such, here are some of my favorite tips for making your way through sick beats and bratty schoolgirls to conquer all in your path.

Use your index fingers

Since you only ever need to hit two circles at one time, you could play the game with your thumbs: If you hold your iPhone sideways to do so, however, your palm may mute the speaker. Given that this is a rhythm game, and you need to hear the song in order to play it properly, this can cause problems. And even if you use headphones, you need to hold your phone securely in order to hit complicated rhythms, and the pressure of the headphone jack into your palm might be irritating.

There's much debate as to whether using index fingers or thumbs make the game easier, but I tend to score better when I use my index fingers. In my experience, it's best played while sitting at a table or desk with your iPhone propped up on a book or stand; this frees up your index fingers to play. I still occasionally hold my phone and use my thumbs, but I don't tend to score as well when I do so.

This is probably about the time to warn you that playing this game might hurt your neck. Take breaks. If you can't take breaks because the game has dragged you into its horrific maw, I also recommend trying not to hunch over too much.

Don't feel guilty about skipping the story

Love Live has a visual novel built into it, because apparently the game's creators didn't think it had enough going on already (!!!), but every aspect of the game's story mode is skippable. Ordinarily, stories are my favorite part of an RPG game, but I didn't find the writing in Love Live to be particularly compelling; I was pretty relieved when I found out I could skip all of it and just focus on the music. If you do fall in love with these characters, though, Love Live's story continues in both an anime and an upcoming movie.

Auto Formation is your new best friend

If you want to understand more about Love Live's confusing menu layouts, this guide by Arden Kehoe will help you through what each of the numbers and sections on the screen denote.

I originally wanted to play the songs without worrying too much about the specifics — but difficult songs can be cleared more easily and scored best with the right team members and formation in place. Arden's guide helped me understand why I was scoring low on songs even when I hit most of the beats: It was because of my bad team formations.

For example, I need at least a few of my team members to have high stamina because that way, I'll have more chances to do a terrible job on a hard song. Eli Ayase's member card (shown above) displays her statistics, including her Stamina, which is the 3 next to the green heart. If my girls run out of that green stamina bar at the top of the screen during a Live Show, they'll fail out and the show will be over.

It's also important to create at least three teams devoted to each of the three skills, which are Pure, Cool, and Smile. Pure is represented by a green sparkle icon, Smile by a pink sun icon, and Cool by a blue half-moon icon. Remember these icons, because they will appear again on the song selection screen. A song with a Cool icon should only be played by your Cool team, Pure songs by your Pure team, and so on.

Don't forget to apply the "Auto Formation" tool to optimize each group's order: Auto Formation will let you build your team according to any of the three Pure, Smile, and Cool categories. And if you want to build even more specialized teams, try using the "Change Position" tool.

"Practice" Mode, a.k.a. Schoolgirl Sacrifice Mode

The girls undergo "Practice" and "Special Practice" to level up, but the mechanics behind these modes are a bit... unorthodox. See, the process of leveling up involves combining them with one another in order to create, uh, more powerful versions of themselves. In "Practice," you select one main girl to level up, and then you select several other girls who will sacrifice themselves to make the main girl more powerful. The girls you select as cannon fodder will disappear, so make sure not to avoid sacrificing anyone you like.

Many of these schoolgirls are literally identical to one another; there are only so many types of girl at this high school. (Eventually they start running into their own clones, I guess?) Anyway, if you have two of the same girl, use "Special Practice" to combine them into one way cooler version of that girl. This is slightly less dark, because at least you're not getting rid of anybody... unless you believe clones have souls.

Don't think about it, okay?

Any more tips for beginners?

Those were a few of my favorite tips for Love Live; now, I want to hear from you. If you've become addicted to Love Live as I have, tell me your best tricks for beating songs! (Especially if you have any tips on how to get my fingers to tap those moving circles faster.)

Maddy Myers

Contributor emeritus at iMore, currently writing about games, movies, and podcasts at The Mary Sue. Former assistant Games Editor at Paste Magazine. Host of Isometric. Keytarist/singer for the Robot Knights. Follow her on Twitter @samusclone