+Accomplishes the amazing blending of multiple genres
+Highly fun and addictive to play
+Levels offer variety, beautiful views, and charming songs to experience
–Enemies sometimes blend into the environments
–Can be easy to lose direction of where you need to go
–For some the game could be an easy hit or miss
Lately it’s almost odd to see as many bullet Hell games as we have. Just recently we got a chance to play that missed chance with Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet, which could have offered a rather large opportunity, but failed to do so in the end. Next up is a second chance for the bullet Hell genre, but luckily? This latest entry does an amazing job at several feats, but in a rather interesting way for fans to enjoy.
But before I begin I want to disclose the fact I’ve never heard of the Tohou series until now. Thanks to XSEED Games that’s no longer the case. We here at Blast Away the Game Review have now become familiar with the famed Touhou franchise that captivates fans around the world. This entry is only the second one to come here to the West, and with what it is, it’s actually one that we can now say how we feel about a franchise of this prestige. As some of you may see this as a sincere apology, it’s anything but that since it was interesting to approach a game franchise that left me scorned with the spin-off fighting title.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity Is Surprisingly Fun
As one would expect, a game of this kind is unique, and because it’s one from the East, it makes it all the more interesting to see due to how unknown this series is in the West. To begin, Touhou: Scarlet Curiousity is surprisingly and astonishingly fun. It’s a captivating title that manages to blend multiple genres together in one. With its combat fluidity as balanced out as ever, the game flows gracefully between Bullet Hell, RPG, Adventure, and even brawler hanks to the unique presentation of the games core mechanics by the developer. In my earliest hours of gameplay, it was hard for me to find the story as captivating as it could be, but later in I found myself hooked and unable to quit.
Our story presents itself as a tale that takes on the adventure between Remilia, a 500-year old vampire that could easily be a tween, and her maid Sakuya. Sakuya of course being tasked with keeping care of this rather powerful and bored vampire that she just so-happens to know rather well. While all would seem well for Remilia, all is not as well as one would think. Living together proves this true for Sakuya who lives within the Scarlet Devil Manor in a place known as Gensokyo (Tokyo anyone?) and more often than not finds her mistress wandering around the colorful wildernesses nearby. With fantastical creatures such as fairies, wolves, lively plant life, and giant bugs running awry, Remilia has decided to wander off to see the world around her.
While many of us are familiar with Remilia’s every-day problems, many of us get to take a glimpse into a common occurance we all know rather well: Boredom. Alleviating it for Remilia involves her taking off into the wilderness near by, however, for her it’s not an experience like one we know where we can alleviate such issues with video games, movies, and music, but instead for her it’s an adventure. Unfortunately for us, her adventure includes her need for finding a challenge that would be noteworthy and make her legend famed. Fortunately for her, this happens quickly as a rather large monster has been seen in the areas around Gensyoko, which includes her Scarlet Devil Mansion being left in ruin, which she returns to almost immediately upon this discovery. Their new adventure is no longer about curing Remilia’s boredem, but instead takes the twist of becoming a full on adventure.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity Perfectly Blends the Genres
As one would expect, the game is all about both Emilia and Sakuya. Both of these characters come with several features that are unique to them. Each have their own spells, their own equipment, and even their own approach to the story itself. Underneath those two features, the game drives deeper into core mechanics than any other game I’ve played, which is a wonderful thing for Touhou: Scarlet Curiousity. In the beginning we first get to see the game as a top-down dungeon crawler with core JRPG mechanics in it. However, things go a bit deeper as the game quickly goes into a transitive change where it goes from the aforementioned genres to blending in two more: Bullet Hell and Hack-and-Slash.
With these genres blending together so perfectly, traveling through each forest, each town, and each maze comes in with amazing designs. The game will appeal in a top-down style where players are looking down upon the world around them and in the next section, the game could quite easily transform into a side-scrolling title. While it sounds like the game would eventually starve players of something to do, it manages to divert players from this with switching between those formats only to bring in an all-new interesting twist: sometimes the zones become tricky mazes and puzzles to complete. While aggressively fighting enemies seems it would be wise, this isn’t always the case as sometimes using ranged attacks is best, and can quite easily set up enemies to be dismissed with a rather powerful combo counter. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a rather humorous appeal to the game with a “5 HIT!” counter quickly goes up to a “100 HIT!” combo counter? I know I sure as heck did and chuckled every time I got to that point.
While all this sounds fun and all, something underneath it does seem a bit problematic, and can be a bit of a pain. While you could be like myself, and enjoy combat, the biggest issue is getting hit by enemies that can cancel out your combos. However, in turn, it’s quite easy to get these combos back up, which provides player with a new approach to their combat situation. The biggest change of pace is the games boss fights, which come out of the box as a bullet Hell experience. Projectiles are quickly unleashed across the screen in a vast array of colors and shapes. While these sound fun to look at, these will quickly remind players that they need to move as quick as possible to carefully avoid them, and will then send players screeching players into an abrupt halt in order to smack the enemy a few times. These fights can take a decent amount of time as enemies will find their health bar degrading rather quickly before the enemy dies if you don’t approach the fights with some care.
The biggest problem I faced here was the contrast — or lack thereof — of the enemies to the environment, sometimes creating moments where I would unfairly lose my combo counter to an unseen fairy or sneaky frog. The combo counter increases gold and experience gains, so these losses are about more than just losing the high score. Still, the combat throughout each level never presented much of a challenge, being more fun and relaxed than most bullet hell games. Finally getting to the end of these stages presents the real attraction of Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity. The boss fights are a true exhibition of Touhou’s bullet hell roots, seeing patterns of brightly colored projectiles that must be carefully avoided in order to get in close enough for a few brief attacks, slowly whittling down their health until victory is yours.
And Here’s the Problem in the Game
While the combat is enjoyable, and I’m adamant for others to experience it, there’s a large and overly glaring issue a the forefront. Playing through Remilia and Sakuya’s story didn’t see much variety within the game. You see the same paths, same levels, same fights, and ultimately you see the same story at hand. The only change to make this work? Changing names in the narrative where the writers deemed it necessary.
While this can be considered a minor nuance, it brings the question forth: Why not write a unique story for both? After all, isn’t the idea to give us two sides of the same story, but one from each view? Well, that’s not the case. It makes the story feel artificial as we pick from both characters to experience a new story, but instead get the same one, which could have had a lot of potential in exploring each characters unique motive. However, completing the story with one character opens up a bonus dungeon and an alternative ending for players to enjoy, which would have made the alternative narrative a bit more enjoyable in the long run.
Okay, okay, the Game is a JRPG After All
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity
Developer: Ankake Supa
Publisher: XSEED Games
Released: Available Now
While many of the encounters could be seen in a bullet Hell fashion, it’s hard to call the game a true bullet Hell title due to its underlying JRPG mechanics. Players will find themselves grinding out enemies in order to level up, obtain new gear, and even hunting down hidden treasure to provide themselves with a leading edge against their foes. While I didn’t find the mildly letdown of a story bug me, I did find myself more interested in the overall progression of both characters. Downside? They aren’t all that different from one another. Both fight almost the same, they both almost itemize the same, and they both approach tactics to each enemy the same.
While picking fights with these minor sprites can seem fun, the game does find itself growing dry on the enjoyable experiences after the first time through. The most enjoyable part was seeing the flashing “bullets” going across the screen and seeing the spectacle of magic flowing across the screen when new spells are integrated into a players combat. Their most usefulness utility is when boss fights present themselves for players to enjoy. Whether it’s sending Remilia’s shadowy like tendrils into the ground to dispatch enemies or even her “spiral of death” as I endearingly call it.
Like any JRPG, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity finds its most enjoyment in exploring, the beautiful animations, and the boss fights due to the fact many underlying itemization options such as shops and spell equipping seem minor. However, purchasing and discovering items seem minor due to the fact most of them offer the same bonuses with little effect.
However, if you can look past these small flaws, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is rather enjoyable, charming, and quite unique among many of the PlayStation 4’s franchises that are already here.
Our review is based on a full release version that was provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter, Google+, and or you can find him on PSN with RaivynLyken.