Review: Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is an introductory experience

The Touhou series is famous for its shoot-’em-ups covering various incidents in Gensokyo. These aren’t the games that have been localized and released on PlayStation 4s outside of Japan. Instead, we’re getting a series of spin-offs. NIS America brought over Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet, a versus battler where each fighter had bullet pattern attacks, while XSEED took a chance on Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity, a beat’em up with RPG elements and projectile-spewing enemies. While the former offered a better glimpse at the gameplay that made this series famous, the latter is more about nailing the spirit of its supernatural stars.

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity begins with two women who were originally often antagonists, rather than the more familiar and heroic Reimu, Marisa or even Sanae. Remilia Scarlet, renowned vampire and owner of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, is bored and her head maid, Sakuya Iyazoi, is left to find some means of amusing her. This leads to her collecting issues of Gensokyo’s Bunbunmaru Newspaper, in the hopes of finding a monster that would test her master’s abilities. While each woman goes to investigate a monster at the lake near the mansion, a real threat comes and utterly decimates their home, leaving only the library unscathed. What follows is a quest to investigate the monsters referenced in the paper, reunite with one another and defeat the mysterious foe that leveled their home.

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity was originally a doujin game prepared by Ankake Spa for Comiket 86 in 2014, and it shows.

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity was originally a doujin game prepared by Ankake Spa for Comiket 86 in 2014, and it shows. This is a very basic action game with light RPG elements, clearly influenced by Ys and Diablo. A world map features select points of interest that are tied either to Bunbunmaru Newspaper articles or storyline sightings, allowing you some freedom to choose the order in which you experience incidents. Once you enter a space, you may or may not have a minimap appear in the upper left screen. You will absolutely encounter screen after screen of rather basic and generic enemies, with bugs, crows, fairies, frogs, sentient plantlife and wolves acting as the most common mooks. Occasionally these foes or treasure chests will drop weapons, armor and accessories for either heroine to equip, boosting their strength, critical rate and item drop rate. They always offer experience that help the heroines level up, offering improved stats and new abilities.

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity

Fighting is an effortless and forgiving experience. Button mashing the standard melee attack is enough to get you through most of Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity’s basic encounters. Combos are easy to rack up, with the game allowing you upwards of ten seconds to find another enemy to assault and continue the chain. Which is good, since higher combos equal more experience and money. Projectiles are available in the form of special abilities. Basic abilities are only a necessity if the heroine is overwhelmed, a rarity in this game. Spells are something to save for bosses, due to their ability to inflict thousands of points in damage with a single blow. Unfortunately, only some spells allow you take a moment and aim at an enemy. Between that and a lack of a targeting system, I found it best to save the flashier moves for the biggest and sturdiest opponents.

The difficulty feels rather artificial. If you clear each level of enemies, you’ll have no trouble with Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity’s bosses. If you don’t, you will. It’s as simple as that. Standard foes are easy to eliminate, so long as you can see them. Remilia and Sakuya’s routes are as different as night and day. Literally, Remilia and Sakuya go through the exact same levels and face the same enemies, only with the former traveling at night and the latter during the day. I felt like Remilia was a bit stronger than Sakuya, in terms of attacks, and better at handling groups. With Sakuya, the main difference was that I was usually able to see the enemies. Enemies easily hide in the shadows of Remilia’s levels; crows and wolves appear out of nowhere and projectiles are suddenly there.

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity

The similarity makes replays feel rather unappealing. Yes, Remilia and Sakuya have different equipment and abilities. Sure, the dialogue is slightly different as they encounter various NPCs. The basics are all otherwise the same. Earning money feels a bit pointless, as Rinnosuke’s shop sells equipment you could collect for free when battling. You don’t need to beat both routes to unlock the post game dungeon, its extra boss and the true ending. Finishing one storyline, reaching the twentieth floor of the new area, beating that boss, then returning to the final level lets you play an extra menu and see the real ending. All in all, it’s at most a ten hour experience that you can do once and be done.

This is a good means of preparing for more important adventures, but don’t expect it to be an accurate representation of the Touhou experience.

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is adequate. It offers quite a bit of insight into both Remilia and Sakuya’s lives, since we see them react to various challenges and opponents. We get to meet a few of the supernatural folks inhabiting Gensokyo, from fairies to yokai. It’s best at setting a stage and building atmosphere, preparing us for this otherworldly environment, with the rudimentary battling giving us something to do as we near more memorable moments. This is a good means of preparing for more important adventures, but don’t expect it to be an accurate representation of the Touhou experience.

Score: 6/10
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Developer: Mediascape, Ankake Spa
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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