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Why does Bushiroad keep killing off Love Live games?

Three Love Live mobile games have died in the past year despite the series’ ever-growing popularity both in Japan and worldwide, but why?

Love Live games: Distressed Honoka, worried looking Ayumu, and grumpy Rina-chan board outlined in white and pasted on a blurred SIF2 screenshot

The start of my year was filled with excitement because, after years in development and a year of release in Japan, Love Live School Idol Festival 2: Miracle Live (SIF2) was finally getting a global launch. Love Live is one of my favorite anime series of all time, and the original School Idol Festival game is what started it all. I was excited to return to the original rhythm game style of the first game and celebrate my favorite series’ tenth anniversary alongside tens of thousands of global fans.

Then the fated announcement finally came, and it caused so much outrage online that it broke containment of the Love Live fandom and spread to the rest of gaming Twitter. School Idol Festival 2 would launch globally in February 2024 as planned, but the Japanese servers were shutting down and so would the global servers after just three months. I was heartbroken and angry, but mostly confused. Where has this decision come from? Is the Love Live franchise in trouble?

To properly set the scene for you, I’ll have to give you a brief history of Love Live. This isn’t just another case of a popular anime getting a spin-off videogame that inevitably flops – Love Live, from the very beginning, has had videogames at its core. It started as a multimedia project in 2010 which mainly consisted of mobile popularity contests to decide which of the group’s nine members should be the center of each song. The first free-to-play rhythm game, School Idol Festival (SIF), launched in the same year as the anime series, tying them together forever.

Every Love Live mobile game that Bushiroad has released globally has had a large player base, because, for one reason or another, the Love Live fandom is one of the most dedicated I’ve ever seen or been a part of. Heck, I got into the original series of Love Live over five years after its initial launch and still found a thriving community to chat with and a mobile game full of active players.

Love Live games: A screenshot of an Eric Andre Love Live meme from Reddit, pasted on a blurred SIF2 gameplay screenshot

On its tenth anniversary, Love Live as a franchise is even more popular than ever globally and in Japan, so what’s going on? School Idol Festival 2’s delayed launch and near-immediate closure was actually part of a larger trend. Bushiroad shut down the original SIF mobile game in 2023 after nine long and happy years of gameplay, and then also shut down Love Live School Idol Festival All Stars (SIFAS) a few months later. By the Japanese SIF2 closure date in March 2024, Bushiroad had killed three Love Live games in the space of one calendar year. The fandom has understandably lost a lot of faith in Bushiroad, as you can see from this spectacular meme.

So, if the franchise is alive and well, could these decisions come from the rhythm game genre? All three SIF games were free-to-play rhythm games, after all. Personally, it’s hard to see this as the reason for Bushiroad’s decision, given the success of other rhythm games like Project Sekai, Ensemble Stars, The Idolm@ster series, and Bang Dream both in Japan and worldwide. As a story built around music, the rhythm game genre suits it perfectly, and it could be said that SIF pioneered the rhythm-game-slash-visual-novel live service game model that games like Project Sekai employ to this day.

Love Live games: Three screenshots of Link! Like! Love Live! pasted on a blurred SIF2 gameplay screenshot

I think that, despite the fandom’s love for Love Live’s rhythm game roots, Bushiroad is trying to take the series’ games in a new direction, transitioning first in genre and then moving platforms to a premium console game series. Link! Like! Love Live!, the Japan-exclusive ‘idol raising’ mobile game, was the first title in this experiment. It takes some of the (admittedly less popular) idol training elements from SIFAS and combines them with an animated visual novel story following the students of Hasunosora Girls’ High School. Even without a global release, the Hasunosora girls have built up quite a fanbase, once again thanks to the tireless work of Love Live fans who have created fan translations of the game’s entire story so far.

Yohane the Parhelion, Love Live Sunshine’s fantasy isekai spin-off anime (this franchise is weird, I know) recently got two games of its own, both of which were PC and console releases rather than mobile games, and both of which have drastically different genres. Blaze in the Deepblue is a pixel art Metroidvania and Numazu in the Mirage is a deck-building roguelike – two genres that we’ve never seen before from this series. Both games have a very positive rating on Steam, and having played them myself, they’re both incredible.

Love Live games: A screenshot from Yohane the Parhelion: Blaze in the Deepblue

Bushiroad’s announcement of an upcoming Nijigaku visual novel game for the Switch feels like the final nail in the coffin for Love Live’s free-to-play mobile beginnings. What’s even stranger is that without the landslide success of SIF and SIFAS, the Nijigaku girls and subsequent anime seasons and movies would not exist – Bushiroad formed their group through popularity contests for minor characters held in the SIF app. It all feels very inelegant and I can see why many Love Live fans feel betrayed and ignored by the higher-ups, despite dedicating so much of their lives to this franchise’s success.

I don’t think this is the end of Love Live. This fandom is unkillable, and based on these questionable but likely not ill-willed business decisions, it seems like Bushiroad is simply doing its best to keep this ten-year-old series alive in the ever-changing landscape of videogames. If the Nijigaku visual novel is anywhere near as good as Blaze in the Deepblue or Numazu in the Mirage, I’m sure I’ll love it to pieces. This isn’t the end of my favorite franchise, but simply a new chapter in its life.

If you want to get involved in a thriving mobile rhythm game, check out our Project Sekai cards, Project Sekai characters, and Project Sekai events guides. We’ve also got an adorable Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge review for all you frog lovers.