Highly Receptive to Fan Service
HIGH Crisp combat and solid boss design.
LOW An inscrutable story for all but the already-converted.
WTF There are now more Touhou fan games published in English than core releases.
Few things are as emblematic of contemporary Japanese game development’s odd side than the Touhou Project franchise.
The brainchild of a single developer, Jun’ya Ota (better known as “ZUN”) and his crew at Team Shanghai Alice, Touhou Project is the poster child for the way things can go viral in Japan’s subculture-driven gaming scene. The ostensible core of the phenomenon is formed by more than a dozen bullet-hell shooters that make up its main releases, but over twenty years have given rise to hundreds of independently-developed fan games.
Touhou Project fandom is among the most prolific in the otaku world with original anime episodes, merchandise, music, manga, and even dedicated conventions forming a scene of its own, andTouhou is defined by having its fringe as its center.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is one more to add to the crowd and given an able localization by XSEED. Unfortunately, even the best localization can’t make this game be a genuinely effective introduction to the rich, dense lore of the Touhou-verse. In fact, Scarlet Curiosity stars just two characters from the series’ massive cast of cute anime witches, demons, fairies and maids.
The game assumes players already know who the childlike vampire Remilia Scarlet and her faithful housekeeper Sakuya Izayoi are, rolling out quips and references that I’m sure are hilarious to the already-enlightened, but read to me like in-jokes I didn’t quite understand.
That said, there’s not much story to speak of. Remilia goes out on a monster-hunting adventure to prove herself a more competent mystery-solver than Reimu Hakurei, Touhou‘s main character and local shrine maiden. That’s right, Scarlet Curiosity is one of the very few Touhou Project titles to be localized, and it’s a fan-service title starring two side characters. It’s definitely an odd choice for such an obscure property.
If nothing else, Scarlet Curiosity is reasonably engaging. Remilia and Sakuya can take their considerable combat skills into the field, dashing apart scads of hostile woodland creatures in a real-time, isometric combat system reminiscent of Falcom’s YS titles. Sakuya and Remilia can unleash an array of special attacks, while dodging and moving with the best of them. They’ll need this agility, as enemies are inspired by Touhou‘s bullet hell roots, unleashing kaleidoscopic patterns of hostile fire. Bosses, in particular, can be a challenging delight to face off against, recalling the uniqueness of scrolling-shooter adversaries throughout gaming history.
At the same time, there’s no avoiding a certain aura of amateurishness about it. The graphics are clean, but aside from the smooth edges, wouldn’t look out of place on a late-period PS2 or early PS3 title. Combat animations are similarly limited, and enemies tend to blend into the simplistic environment a little too much, making some combat encounters more difficult than they should be.
There’s certainly an able amount of fanservice in Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity, but it simply wasn’t built to be much more than a knowing nod to a friendly audience, rather than a genuine ambassador for one of Japan’s most beloved gaming brands.
Disclosures: This game was developed by Ankake Spa and published by XSEED. It is currently available on PlayStation 4 and PC (Japan-exclusive). This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game’s rating is T, and contains violence, blood and mild language. The game features anime-style characters fighting fantasy creatures from a mainly top-down perspective. One character is a vampire.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game features Japanese voice acting and English subtitles. Audio cues are not critical to gameplay.
Remappable Controls: The game contains remappable controls for the face and shoulder buttons, as well as PS4 touchpad and stick options for certain input types.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes in the game.
Today he continues to write for a living while trying to turn his fledgling knowledge of Japanese into a marketable skill. He is Managing Editor of Japanese culture site Japanator and is a Contributing Editor for Destructoid. He has written for The Escapist, The California Literary Review, Esquire Magazine, and proudly holds the badge as the premier apologist for Star Trek Online.