After diving head first into the Danmaku (bullet hell) storm that is the Touhou universe, I feel like I’m starting to understand its world and characters more and more. Each of these fan made games creatively presents its twist on characters and gameplay that serves as a good reminder just how much Touhou means to these developers. It may take time to understand exactly the whys and hows of these titles, but the rewards are worth it.
With Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity, this is no exception; Developer Ankake Spa has taken the source material and made a story that is both enjoyable and fun in concept. By creating a new 3D world and focusing on action RPG elements, they truly had their work cut out for them.
Scarlet Curiosity stars two of the more popular characters in the Touhou franchise. This includes the vampire Remilia Scarlet and her maid Sakuya. Players are able to choose which character’s story they want to play through, but both offer the same amount of monster killing action. The story not surprisingly begins with a silly premise where a newspaper article guides the heroes to begin their journey. This quickly devolves into a much grander adventure for the vampire and her maid.
The character’s campaigns are fairly similar as the player visits the same areas and fights the same bosses. However, the difference in fighting styles do offer a change of pace during each playthrough.
Sakuya uses ninja like attacks such as throwing knives and launching quick attacks while her master, Remilila, proves that using brute strength is the easiest way to take down enemies. I enjoyed playing as Sakuya because her swift combos were more effective in taking down bigger groups of enemies.
Each stage has a different theme and multiple paths that end up leading to the exit. While other paths that lead to loot and items exist, they host much more powerful enemies. I enjoyed the discovery of finding treasure chests and seeking out every dead end as to not leave anything behind. This — coupled with the multiple paths — definitely makes the level feel less like a straight line to the boss. Additionally, there are some platforming elements where players can jump across gaps and rooftops.
The more interesting stages remove the map and make you find your way out of the level or turn the camera to make it a sidescroller. This adds much needed variation to what could be a repetitive mess. Albeit, maps and enemies are often reused, so after the middle of the game you’ve pretty much seen all the Scarlet Curiosity has to offer. This wasn’t really too big of a problem because the combat was satisfying enough for me to still be invested in the gameplay, even after the repetition became more noticeable.
Often times, it’s possible to just hack-and-slash your way to the boss as the enemies are not very difficult. However, Remilia and Sakuya seem to do everything except block, so often I would suffer a loss of HP at almost every encounter. However, this didn’t cause many issues since the maps are littered with healing orbs and other items to help you survive.
The first few bosses of Scarlet Curiosity do not represent the increase in difficulty of the later encounters. The simplicity of the earlier stages made the game feel boring with no real payoff even after taking down the end boss. However, towards the middle of the campaign you must use all the skills developed in order to survive even more menacing final encounters. Unfortunately this is where the game becomes fun. I say this because it’s upsetting to think that gamers new to the series might not stick around long enough to discover these later battles.
Scarlet Curiosity has some simple customization features that don’t require too much understanding. Weapons and Armor are found by defeating enemies or finding chests. I should mention that each item acquired should be examined because even though you have ten aprons or knives they each have their individual stats.
Additionally, you can equip special skills that drain a certain amount of mana to use, but they are essential for taking on some of the later levels. Specials can also be equipped; these attacks need to charge in order to be used so they should be saved to use when you need them the most. I would often use them in the middle of a horde of enemies or when a boss was an inch away from death to get the most use out of them.
The simplicity of equipping weapons and leveling up makes this a game that’s easy to pick up and master. This also appeals to the JRPG nerd in me that craves the search and grind for the most powerful weapons. Even though it’s possible to jump past enemies on the map, I still faced them all in order to prove my strength.
‘Launching skills’ shows Scarlet Curiosity‘s true Touhou spirit; some of these more powerful specials fill the screen with dazzling, but destructive danmaku that fans expect from the franchise.
The bosses also have their dazzling bullet hell attacks which are so awesome and beautiful that at times they come off as distracting. Furthermore, each boss had different attacks and themes which made each fight feel different. I might come off as a bit of a masochist because even after dying 10 times in a row to these bosses, I was still eager to jump right back in and try again.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is a game that is definitely made for fans that already know what to expect from Touhou doujin games. With that said, the game allows Western fans to spend some quality time with two of the more popular characters, but offers little beyond that in terms of story. I ended up enjoying the game more after the first few hours and I hope that players new to the series stick through the simplistic beginning and discover what this game has to offer.