It wouldn’t exactly be a stretch to say that Japan is the home of some of the largest and most devoted fan bases when it comes to “geek culture.” These fan bases vary from just about everything from games, music, manga, and anime. Over the last few years, there have been few fandoms as big as Vocaloid, Kantai Collection, and of course, Touhou Project. While Touhou Project previously never had much exposure outside of Japan, it seems as though 2016, and it’s sequel 2017, look to be changing that. The first of three upcoming Touhou Project titles is NIS America’s Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet. Rather than the average Touhou game found in Japan, Touhou Genso Rondo mixes elements of fighting games with the traditional shoot ’em up gameplay. But is this Touhou a worthy contender, or did it jump the shark somewhere while crossing the pond?
It’s always been said not to judge a book by its cover. In the case of Touhou Genso Rondo however it isn’t exactly a bad thing. As with just about any Touhou Project title, whether it be official or fan made, Touhou Genso Rondo is the home of some beautiful character art and design. In-game, this art can be found in just about everyplace from various menus, to character select screens, to each girl’s respective Spell activation cut-in. While the player characters in battle are represented by 3D models, it’s the 2D art the easily becomes the face of the game.
When it comes to the 3D design, Touhou Genso Rondo takes somewhat of a step back. The character models of Reimu and friends look straight out of the PS2 era. Interestingly, the graphics look more like Tales of Legendia than anything else. While the somewhat antiquated 3D design doesn’t take too much from the game, it is slightly disappointing how forgettable the character models are, especially considering their 2D inspiration. With that being said, the 3D designs shine most (quite literally) when it comes to the spells and attacks. As per Danmaku fashion, each girl has a plethora of abilities to choose from in combat. These vibrant attacks can quickly fill the screen as well as steal the attention of players and their audience alike.
As pre-existing fans likely already know, Touhou Project was originally and is still majorly a series of “bullet hell” games. Describing Touhou Genso Rondo as such however would only be half correct. In terms of game mechanics, Touhou Genso Rondo stays true to series’ fashion. Each battle is a ballet of bullets as the players enter the stage. Unlike most the series, however, Touhou Genso Rondo is arguably a fighting game. In this sense, it plays something like a “boss rush” mode. Rather than the characters facing a plethora of enemies and obstacles filling the screen, they have but one opponent.
In terms of “bullet hells,” Touhou Genso Rondo adheres to series’ tradition. Despite only ever showing two characters at a time, the plethora of attacks filling the screen make sure that there’s never a dull moment. With the absurd range and speed of characters, it is easy to feel overwhelmed at first. Interestingly however the game is surprisingly balanced. Despite how it may feel sometimes, no character seems to really have a clear advantage against every other foe.
While the game is certainly fun, it does feel somewhat scarce when it comes to content. The game’s main feature is a barebones Story mode that seems cliché even for a fighting game. Aside from that, however, the only other modes include an Arcade Mode which feels like a boss rush, a Boss Rush that feels like a sudden death, an overly simplified tutorial, and a simple multiplayer for online and offline play. While the game is undoubtedly fun, it all feels more like a separate mode of a game and than a complete product itself.
As described above, Touhou Genso Rondo plays one part bullet hell action and one part fighter. This hybrid of game genres makes the game one that would feel right at home in an arcade setting. Perhaps knowing this, the composers of Touhou Genso Rondo seem to have found the music that too would feel right at home in such a setting. These uplifting tracks have a way of exciting the player while somehow complimenting the sound of the bullet storm raining on both sides. Considering the sheer number of attacks being launched at any given time it’s impressive that the Soundtrack doesn’t only work, but sounds pretty darn good even against all the background noise. The only real fault can be found in a few of the sound effects such as the victory fanfare. For some reason this sound sounds distorted and sounds like nails on a chalkboard when compared to the sweet sounds of played notes and fired bullets during the battle itself.
Overall Touhou Genso Rondo is a fun game and is a good introduction to the Touhou brand. The amusing characters and chaotic battles can easily take the attention of players and spectators alike. While it isn’t a traditional bullet hell game such as its predecessors, it is still an engaging game to enjoy with friends and strangers online.
HEY! HEY!! LISTEN!!! gives Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet for PlayStation 4 8 shrine maidens out of 10.