A game as well known as this one will be the perfect game to use as a baseline, depending on how it reviews.
First off, let me say that I personally really enjoyed Touhou 13. Yes, I am going to be a little hard on it, which is why I am supplying the disclaimer. I pre-ordered Touhou 13 from J-List, and I even bought one of the Touhou shirts (the cool one with Marisa on it).
Touhou as a series has an overall high quality. The production team does a good job on every element. The gameplay is fun, the music is varied and interesting, no element really lags behind any of the others. The notable exception to that is the story, which, in every Touhou game, will see a fan made translation. Until then, however, the story may as well not be there for how understandable it is, being a different language and all. It should not be forgotten that Touhou as a series is primarily a bullet hell type of shoot ’em up (shmup.)
Before the fans who have played every game get rabid, I do realize that the development team is actually one person. Which, really, is quite motivating (and impressive.) A game of the quality of Touhou is entirely made by one man who always has an alcoholic beverage with him in every photo of him.
He also seems to be undernourished.
Okay, now to really start the review. The plot is, well, I don’t speak Japanese, so I can’t understand it. However, it is a shooting game, so any and all plot is really justification for why you should fly around and shoot things. To be more precise, it justifies the moral actions of flying around and shooting things. Without the moral justification, we could be the evil people attacking the good people (not going to happen in a Touhou game) or we could all be morally grey people. Give people no reason to care, and you end up with Grand Theft Auto.
The four playable characters are:
Reimu Hakurei, a shrine maiden with detached sleeves. How on earth do those not fall down her arms? She has the easiest attack to use: hold down z and cards fly out and seek out the enemies on the screen. She can get up to four things with symbols on them that follow her around and also fire enemy seeking cards. She can also power up her cards to several streams of cards at once. Press shift to focus, and the cards from you and the … things will all clump together, yet bend far enough to still mostly track an enemy.
Marisa Kirisame seems to be a typical stereotypical witch (she is so stereotypical she was made from a printing press plate. Hooray for onomatopoeia!) I did not play this character, so I can’t say what her attacks or focus is like, or how she plays.
Sanae Kochiya is another playable character. By my vow to not wikipedia the story and characters, I cannot state how she plays, acts, attacks, etc etc. I’m not even sure what she really reminds me of.
Youmu Konpaku is one of the more interesting characters. She is half human and half ghost, with her ghost half residing outsider her body (that thing behind her that isn’t a broom.)
She is a bit harder to play than Reimu, due to the fact her attacks do not seek out the enemy. She fires bullets straight forward, and the ghost following also shoots a bullet stream. She can gain a total of four following ghosts, so either she suddenly became 1/5 human and 4/5 separate ghosts, they are somewhat illogical once you know the character description. Her focus attack is also most likely the hardest to use. While Reimu has a focus that essentially boosts the power, Youmu has a focus that charges up an attack that you then need to get close to deploy. Of course, it is powerful enough to be worth it when pulled off, but hard enough to pull off that you will most likely just dip in and out of focus to dodge things, instead of charging up an attack.
So, how is the gameplay? Well, for starters, Touhou 13 was quite fun. It has the fun of the older arcade games: not very long, but you will want to play it again and again. Easy mode is simple enough that someone who doesn’t like bullet hell can enjoy playing, and for the hard-core bullet hell fans, there is lunatic mode.
In fact, that is why I delayed my review: I did state I had pre-ordered it, so it arrived some time ago. I just wanted to beat Lunatic enough that I delayed until i did. And really, that is a point in its favor: the harder modes have enough reward for the risks in them to be worth it. You get more continues, giving you a better chance of making it further on your first try. In fact, I highly suggest playing on Lunatic if you like dodging bullets and shooting things. It provides a good challenge, while still providing enough of a safety net to get you fired up about doing better next time once you fail.
Touhou 13 pulled off the perfect blend of play-through fun and re-playability. It is as fun the first time as it is the 30th time. However, it will be less fun if you decide to marathon run it until you succeed.
Compared to other bullet hell type shooters, and even regular shmups, Touhou 13 is of much higher quality and of greater fun. Remember Galactica or whatever is was called? I suck at it. I still suck at it. Touhou 13? I don’t rock at it, but I can beat it. Touhou 13 still retains most of the visuals of the old arcade games it draws its inspiration from, so your windows 95 computer can likely run it. It literally requires that little system power, in an age where the latest visual novel (such as Sonicomi) requires 3.0 Ghz or more to run.
A SHOOTER requires less power than a VISUAL NOVEL. However, it shows in Touhou 13. The visuals do still retain the pixelated visuals of old arcade games, and level design is at best, missing. While each lever is harder than the last, the difficulty curve is rather steep, due to there being very few levels in the game. Touhou isn’t the innovator in bullet hell. They do make up for it with lots of complex bullet patterns, but it still doesn’t disguise the fact that it was made by one person, without any of the insight afforded by a team. A small team of developers made Ikaruga, which is not only harder than Touhou, it is also overall better. Ikaruga has less levels than Touhou 13, but each has been perfectly designed. And by perfect, I mean that Ikaruga, the origional Deus Ex, and Portal (the first one) are the three games with the greatest level design of all time.
Touhou doesn’t do great. However, it does do good, which is good enough.
The biggest issue or benefit to Touhou, depending on your perspective, is the fandom. Touhou is made by one person, and that is one person over many games, which is bound to cause continuity errors in the canon. Zun can’t get them all, but the fandom has been happy to ‘fix’ it for him. I don’t know the errors. I played Touhou to have fun, not to see if the characters grew or shrank in height between games. Touhou is full of memes, which be definition are only funny to people who spend all their time lurking on the internet. And as to what the fandom produces, it would be shorter to say the one thing they don’t produce: yaoi. As nearly every character in Touhou games are female, you can guess where they go with that. Touhou even has a convention dedicated solely to it. Calling the true fans rabid is an understatement. Touhou is essentially a religion to a lot of the people that have interacted with it in any way.
Yes, there are Touhou fans that only have interactions with the fan media, and do not actually play or enjoy the games.
Now, if you like the games, you like the games. If you want to see yuri about the characters, just join the Touhou religion. This is my biggest bug about Touhou: the fans quite often are the kind of ‘you don’t love it as much as I do’ or the ‘I am much better at it than you’ types of bragging. Which is why I am somewhat ashamed to say I liked the game: either the fans will jump on me and talk about how much better they are at it, or berate me for not liking it enough, or some other useless complaint.
If I like a game and want to engage with other fans, it’s to celebrate a shared interest. I don’t ant to start a match about who is the bigger/better fan.
Score: 4/5 good
Pros: fun and simple, with lots of replay
Cons: there are much better shooters, and much better bullet hell games. Innovation? the only difference between the latest one and the newest one is some of the mechanics. the basic mechanics remain unchanged, and the visual appearance was ripped from a late 1980’s arcade machine. Also, the fandom.
Verdict: if you like Touhou as a game, you probably already have it. If you don’t, then you likely don’t. If you are on the edge, I would suggest one of several things: if you like the sorts of stuff the fans produce, just go for the fandom. Don’t bother with the games. If you can stand the fandom and want a bullet hell game, then get Touhou 13. If you want either a really good bullet hell or really good shmup, or just can’t stand the fandom, buy almost any other shmup game. Hellsinker, Ikaruga, Rez, Child of Eden, etc. are all good.
Touhou 13 is almost $35 from J-list. You can get Touhou 13 the Ten Desires here.
There is leterally everything in the fandom. Figures? Check. Yuri? Check. Artbooks? Check. Doujin with story? Check. Shirts? Check. All other Touhou goods from J-List are here, if you want them.