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Touhou Review

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Jul 17th, 2017
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  1. In case you’ve been on the internet for awhile, but you’ve somehow managed to avoid Touhou, allow me to tell you about. Touhou is a series of games with a cult following of adult, mostly male players, where you play as little girls dressed in doll dresses and bonnets who avoid countless rainbow colored, slow moving bullets called danmaku(bullet curtain) being fired at them by other little girls to resolve conflicts in a magical place called Gensokyo.
  2. In this review I’m only looking at the main games, not spin offs or doujins or manga even if the creator of Touhou Project, Zun, had something to do with their production. I also won’t take fanworks into consideration when assessing the series’ overall quality. You’d think that would be a given, but the sheer amount of Touhou fanwork makes it the bulk of what, “Touhou Project”, is. When I first learned about Touhou, I didn’t even know that it was a game series because the tributes people made for it didn’t really indicate that and what people made was most of what I saw in relation to the franchise. If you search Touhou into the youtube search engine the first thing that pops up is an information video explaining it, so i’m not alone on this. It’s not as obvious as you would think if it’s 2009 and the way that you found out about it is a song from one of the games playing over a spasming stick figure. I know fans of the games might not like me calling it a franchise, but that’s what it is and that fact will connect to some of my criticisms.
  3. Gameplay
  4. Touhou is your standard bullet hell shooter. It’s not the first or best example of this type of game, but it’s definitely the most popular. There isn’t really anything much more to say. Every game has more or less the same mechanics, the only thing that keeps things fresh are the enemies. I actually like the first game the most because it doesn’t fit the mold that the would later be set in subsequent games. The biggest change in how the game plays was the introduction of the spell card system starting with the window games and frankly I couldn’t care less about that.(You’ll notice that the earlier games less formulaic in other ways too like the first game having a male boss and the pc98 games having non-humanoid characters that never get mentioned anymore because even the creator of Touhou can’t remember every character).
  5. Characters
  6. Touhou has around 160 characters. And none of them have a personality. Ok, most of them technically do,(while some literally don’t, look at the wiki) but they’re almost nonexistent in the actual games. In the manga they might have more to them, but again, i’m just looking at the games. Not even Reimu, who appears in every game, has much depth to them and the characteristics she’s described with are a tad contradictory. The secondary main character, Marisa, is actually more fleshed out.
  7. Now I know what you might be thinking, how are you supposed to cram in characters with actual depth into the type of game where you’re always fighting and there’s little room for extensive, dialogue heavy cutscenes?...The answer is you don’t. In other games of this genre the sprites on the screen are inanimate objects like planes and tanks for a reason, you don’t see the person piloting the attack helicopter and you don't have a conversation with them. This type of game can’t have a lot of dialogue, and the dialogue that Touhou does have is...unique. If it has little of what develops characters, it isn’t suited to have them. Some genres aren’t compatible with some elements. You wouldn’t put a grisly murder mystery plot into a simplistic puzzle game.
  8. Art
  9. The art’s really bad aside from the pretty patterns of the projectiles. The characters look awful and the backgrounds are sometimes just a solid color because every mansion has a long, blood red hallway in it apparently. I know that one person is making these games and not everyone's an artist, but the art doesn’t actually have to be bad. Zun could just hire an artist. There’s evidence and first hand accounts of Zun living a very lavish lifestyle so I doubt he couldn’t afford one. Or, he doesn’t even need to pay anyone and could just ask for volunteers.While at first it may seem like that would be, “taking advantage of his fans”, it’s really not. They would be honoured to have their art be in their lord and savior's games. Touhou fans are incredibly dedicated, they already make fan art that’s way better than what’s in the games and somebody even took the time to make a Touhou anime. Either Zun is just stubborn, or he doesn’t see a need to improve the art and I guess he really doesn’t. His fans will buy his games regardless of how good they look so if it doesn’t affect sales there isn’t a monetary incentive for him to make the art decent. You would still hope that Zun would care enough to improve the games when he has the means to do so though.
  10. Music
  11. The music is really good and it’s without a doubt the best part of the games. Touhou was originally meant to just be a music album and it shows in every other aspect of the games. Zun also apparently makes the music first and then everything else around it which is a terrible way of doing things. Every aspect of a game should be made with consideration for every other part. The gameplay would also ideally be the main focus. Uncharted does the same thing with set pieces and just like Touhou, the end result is mismatched and poorly thought out. The theme of a sailor based character(Chiyuri) doesn’t have much of a feeling of the sea and the theme of an engineer(Rika) doesn’t feel mechanical because those things can only be put in when they’re thought of in advance. Other than that, some themes sound a bit samey and many of the tracks just kind of melt into each other. I actually prefer some of the pc98 tracks a bit more because the limitations of the system forced Zun to make each song more distinctive, unlike in the window games where the same midi trumpets are used and abused over and over.
  12. Conclusion
  13. This word gets thrown around a lot, but I genuinely feel that Touhou is overrated. I don’t get why it’s so popular or why so many people love its uncountable number of dull, one note, poorly designed and drawn characters. I don’t get it especially, when you compare it to similar, superior games made for the pc98. Some guy told me once that people like it because Zun is a, “veteran”, part of the doujin community, but I have no clue what that has to do with crazed western fans or why people would like the games just because of who made them. Some of the music is nice and the games aren’t not fun to play, but they’re nothing special. Is it the cute characters? Is it the bizarre mismatch of cultural ideas and concepts? Really, I want somebody to explain it to me.
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