When NIS America announced that they will be localizing Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet for PlayStation 4, there was a large number of excited gamers. Being a fan-made game and with limited amounts of Touhou titles released in the West, Genso Rondo has to set the bar as a unique and fun experience for current and new fans of the genre.
Genso Rondo at it’s core is a one-vs-one fighter. Players control female characters who’s classes consist mostly of fantasy-like archetypes. There are a total of 12 different characters to chose from, each provides a different playing experience. There are also 2 unique characters named, Flandre and Yukari, who will be offered in the North American version of the game — however, they were not available during pre-release coverage, so they aren’t considered in this review.
The controls are very simple, but can’t be compared to any traditional fighting game that I can think of. The battles are set in a circle ring, leaving players to freely move around the arena. That being said, there’s multiple ways each girl can be controlled, and depending on your play style this could dictate which face buttons will get the most use.
Each girl has the ability to launch large amounts of bullets from their body using mana. These attacks can be used in sequence to chain together massive combos that fill the screen with colorful bullets. Players also have the chance to fill a gauge that allows them to use a “spell.” Once activated, the spell changes the field to an overhead perspective where players can use their ultimate attacks. Each character’s spell is different, but I felt that some aren’t as powerful as others, although they are all very intimidating. If found on the receiving end of the spell, you can either wait till the enemy’s mana runs out or shoot them.
Additionally, there is also hand-to-hand combat mechanics. This triggers when characters get close to each other, allowing them to kick and punch to gain the upper hand in the fight. However, there’s always a possibility that the enemy will counter depending on your speed and timing.
I quickly found my favorites after a few matches with each girl, but I never felt like the battles were unbalanced or broken. Strengths and weaknesses are made clear after discovering what kind of move sets you have at your disposal. Something that is a bit more difficult to get used to is the lack of impact you feel when your character gets hit. Most fighting games interrupt attacks or force your character to be staggered after getting hit, but during Genso Rondo the only way you’ll know that you suffered damage is when you see your HP meter decrease. This becomes annoying when you think you’re dodging every bullet on screen, but then realize that half your HP is depleted.
Moving the characters around the map felt smooth and responsive. When on the defensive I could easily weave my character through a hell storm of bullets and utilize the melee attack to cut through the attacker’s bullets, which offered me a chance to return the attack. Similarly, even though the offensive move list is relatively simple, consisting of main and sub attacks, it does take time to master.
With that said, the combination system is not that easy to learn. Although it’s possible to just mash buttons, it’s clear from the beginning of a battle when you’ve been out matched. Learning character’s cool down time and spell attacks are essential to excel in battle. After some time, even I was able to launch an endless stream of attacks with out waiting for my attacks to recharge.
The game offers an online and offline VS mode. During this review, I didn’t spend any time playing the online mode due to the lack of available rooms and people playing. However, I did spend a few hours playing with friends locally and I must say there is nothing like showing off your skills and defeating human opponents. Additional modes available are “Boss Mode” and “Arcade Mode.”
Arcade Mode pits you against enemies that increase in difficulty after each victory. On the other hand, Boss Mode might need some further explaining because technically there are no bosses in this game. Each round begins with a character launching their special spell attack. You must avoid the screen full of bullets while attempting to defeat the character. After doing so, you move on to the next character. It pays to try and remember each character’s spell in order to have an idea of the barrage of attacks that are headed your way.
After all the bullets have cleared the screen, Genso Rondo has a story mode for each character. Interestingly, the stories don’t try and stand out too much or keep the player from the action. After choosing a character the story sets itself up with an illustration and you’re thrown into the action. I found some of the stories to be a little silly and others quiet engaging.
The story develops further between matches. Although these scenes are entirely skippable, it’s interesting to get to know the character’s relationship with one another and where they fit in the large Touhou universe. Furthermore, “Story Mode” can be completed in about an hour for each character, depending on how many times you lose. However, there are no save points during a character’s story. Unless you want to start over, once you begin you wont be able to save half way through and play something else.
Each character has their own unique theme that provides excellent background music while the bullets rain on the screen. Since each one is different, I never felt like I was hearing the same song over and over again. With that said, I did find myself choosing favorites and wanting to hear those as many time as possible.
Genso Rondo’s 3D character models aren’t anything to brag about. They resemble character models that could be found in PlayStation 3 games. However, where Genso Rondo shines is the unique and beautiful danmaku created during each battle. Every attack launched is a brilliant display of color that can be distracting in all the best ways. Even with all this action on the screen, I never encountered a dropped frame during my time spent playing the game.
Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is a great introduction to the Touhou universe and an excellent way to spend time playing with friends. The simple controls make it easy for new players to pick up and have a good time, but it also caters to the more hardcore fanbase by adding a deep learning curve to each character. Don’t let the fact that this is a fan-made game make you think it’s lacking in content. Genso Rondo makes it’s mark on the Touhou universe. While paying homage to the official works that came before it, the game provides a new and exciting approach to the fighting game genre.