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

  • You're evil. I watched an episode of this on a whim, and I've been wanting a rhythm game... I have to say that what I've seen of the story is a lot better with context, but it's more reference service than a plot, i.e., look at how well these characters are acting like themselves! Weren't they so quirky?!
    There are funny moments that deliberately invert a show scene, like the ones often pointed out on the subreddit for this game. (yes, there's a subreddit for everything.) Anyway, I can feel my summer slipping already. Oh well, not like I had anything to do before Rock Band came out. Edit: also, this game adapts really well to iPad. I wasn't even sure it was released for phones, it uses the space really well.
  • Wow... I had no idea that iMore, of all places, would be covering LLSIF. It is truly taking over the world by storm. :) I've been grappling with the question of "what is the best device/way of holding said device" recently. Being an iOS and Android developer I have a unique advantage in that I have a wide variety of test devices lying about, that I could experiment with. (Muahahah) At first I thought that my daily-driver device, an iPhone 6 Plus, was a bit too big when held horizontally. But I'm starting to get used to it. I've found that if I hold it with the home button facing to the right, that puts the speaker pretty much out of the way of my fingers, so I've never found myself muffling the sound accidentally. When held this way I use my thumbs to play, and on the large 6 Plus it is a bit of a stretch, but I think I'm starting to get used to it, though you probably couldn't tell this from my playing - I haven't yet managed to perform any way other than "pretty lousy" on normal difficulty songs (and for Hard songs, make that "abysmally bad.") I also tried it on a Nexus 5, which is slightly smaller than the iPhone 6 Plus. (4.95 inch vs. 5.5 inch) And that 0.55 inches really does make a difference. My thumbs could effortlessly reach any of the on-screen buttons. The only problem is that the Nexus 5's speaker is placed in exactly the wrong place, there is NO WAY to hold the phone securely and not end up covering up the speaker with some part of one of your fingers. I also tried it on a 4-inch iPod touch 5G, and using that device with my thumbs was effortless, no problem reaching any of the buttons; the only problem is that the 4-inch screen is a bit small and so things on screen are a bit hard to see. But more importantly the older CPU's in the older devices make the game feel a bit sluggish, and I do miss some notes occasionally, even on easy difficulty. (Whether this is because the slower processor caused the app to lag, or my playing is just horrific, I can't say for sure.) The new iPod touch 6G has a faster/more modern A8 processor (same processor as the iPhone 6 Plus, just running at a slightly reduced speed) and maybe the app would run better on one of these; I unfortunately don't have one so can't test that myself. I also tried playing on a tablet while handheld. Yeah, big mistake. Even a smaller 7-inch tablet like an iPad mini or Nexus 7 is way too big to play LLSIF handheld, unless, maybe, if you had INSANELY LONG SPIDER FINGERS or something. I think the best way to play on a tablet is, as you suggest, by sitting at a table and propping it up at an angle (using the iPad Smart Cover or any other case that has an angled position.) Some more pro tips: Check the Settings menu (Other -> Settings.) In particular, on the "Live Show" tab, turn "Pop-Ups" to either "Off" or "Mini"- the default setting (Full) is WAY too distracting. Choose "Mini" if you still want to see the cute pictures, but in a smaller, somewhat less distracting form, or turn them off completely if you want to stay completely focused. Also, the "Adjust Timing" button is your friend. Basically this allow you to SLIGHTLY adjust the timing of the game to account for minute differences in devices, reaction times, etc. This only allows for a SLIGHT variation in reaction time, it won't turn a horrible player into a Rhythm Master, but it might just help you hit your notes just a little bit better. Also in the "General" tab you might want to turn down (or turn completely off) the BGM setting - this only affects the background music heard when you're in any non-live-show portion of the app, it does NOT affect the volume while you're playing a live show.