Thirteen is a lovely number. It’s traditionally associated with luck, it’s also the calling card of a certain suck-worthy RPG, so that in mind, what does the Touhou series have to say now that it’s hit its thirteenth game?
What? You came here for plot? Okay, so last time, Byakuren Hijiri, the Buddhist monk/magician who advocated peace and fairness between humans and youkai, came to Gensokyo on her airship/temple. Apparently, she and her cohorts weren’t the only ones to come over. Buried in the graveyard of the Myouren Temple is the Dream Palace Mausoleum. And now a flood of divine spirits have been erupting from the grave, grounds to go kick someone’s butt in Gensokyo. Buried deep within is the immortal Taoist saint Toyosatomimi no Miko finally released after many centuries, who due to her sealing, holds a grudge against Buddhist monks, like Byakuren. After beating her face in, we get taken back to the Myouren Temple, where Nue Houjuu has welcomed an old fellow youkai friend of hers to Byakuren’s place, Mamizou Futasuiwa, ready to muster youkai legions against Miko.
Maybe ZUN’s been hinting at it for a while, but I feel like he’s skirting around some kind of huge conspiracy for the (fourteenth?) game. The long and short of it seems to be the setup for an all out brawl between humans, youkai, Taoists, Buddhists, and the various factions of Gensokyo
Four playable characters, this is a real fan’s treat. Barring Reimu and Marisa as expected, Sanae Kochiya enters the fray again. Makes sense, since she’s ZUN’s most recent “favorite”, she got to be in UFO and got plenty of recognition in Touhou Hisoutensoku. This time around, the surprise is a fourth playable character, a first since Mystic Square many years ago. The “new favorite” this time is Youmu Konpaku (sorry Sakuya fans), and she even has a nifty shot. She can’t fire in focused movement. Instead, Youmu charges an attack where if you release the focus button, she’ll let loose three high damaging slashes, an unconventional but very fun character to use.
I’ll say this now, but ZUN’s characters may need time to warm up to the crowd. Though this time, the characters don’t feel as inherently distinctive. (j.e in Subterranean Animism, you could point Satori and Utsuhou out in a crowd anywhere and instantly have an idea of their powers) This time around, Miko, whose power is the ability to listen to ten people speaking at once, has a pair of headphones, that’s great. The early bosses an Extra stage boss looked distinct too, like Yoshika Miyako the jiang shi. However, when you get to mid-game Seiga Kaku, Futo Mononobe, and Tojiko Soga don’t feel as instantly memorable. Their designs look much more understated and unassuming. The bright side is that as these three get more exposure to fans, they’ll flesh them out. (Already, Seiga Kaku has a million Sega references coming her way)
Of all the Touhou games, this certainly feels like the easier of them, much to the point where in the early stages you can fly up to a boss and shoot them point-blank. Then there’s also the Trance mechanic. See, when you destroy certain enemies they’ll drop besides your usual power and point items, a blue or white spirit. Collecting them fills a gauge at the screen’s bottom. Once all three wisps are filled, you can press the “C” button to enter Trance Mode, a duration of time where your shot will be extra powerful and life/bomb spirits will count for double. The other way to enter Trance Mode is by dying, where as long as you have one level of Trance stocked, you’ll go out with a bang. So it’s a desperation mechanic that contributes heavily to your score.
To offset the relative ease of the game, gaining lives is much more difficult. You have to collect eight glowing purple life-spirits to get one life initially, and then to gain another life, you’ll need ten, twelve, and so on. Even getting the extra life/bomb pieces is more difficult. Unlike previous games, in Ten Desires you’ll only suck up the power and point items when you fly up to the Point of Collection but the life/bomb pieces will stay where they are and gradually fade away. ZUN officially stated that he did counterbalance the difficulty by making lives harder to gain so “it feels more like you’re dying” and given the ghostly nature of this title, it makes sense. You just have to be extra cautious with your lives.
Fans rejoice, though, since Imperishable Night, ZUN has brought back his spell practice mode. It’s always been in my opinion, a great practice tool and another challenge. To be able to capture every spell card, practice certain problem spots, and take on the special Overdrive spells; the equivalent of Last Word back in Imperishable Night.
ZUN has this subtle ambiance in his more recent entries. But when first popping in the demo months ago and hearing Yuyuko’s new stage and boss theme, there was a certain epicness to it. Though I felt like the game really starts mellowing itself out in the latter half of the game, but when you consider the characters those songs belong to, it’s to be expected. Subterranean Animism was the last game I felt like had a “hot” feel (pun intended) whereas Undefined Fantastic Object and Ten Desires have a less pronounced immediate-impending-doom feel. He also has a lot more techno vibes in this entry. Heavy bass gives a certain rhythm that takes the listener on an interesting jog. And as a gimmick for this game, ZUN composed a “Spirit World edition” for just about every track, a mix of the song that plays when you enter Trance Mode. Some may say it’s simply the bassline of the song separated from the original and dubbed a new song, but I regard it as a nice ploy that when mashed together with the original, creates a slightly richer than usual song.
I’d say Ten Desires is a nice entry. While it seemed short-changing initially by the easier bosses, the game makes up for it by being less forgiving with careless loss of life. The characters are for the most part, as memorable as always, with a bit of a lull in the middle. In the soundtrack department, I look forward to what the circles put out. In the grand scheme of things, Ten Desires doesn’t have the frustration that came from UFO chasing back in Undefined Fantastic Object and stacks rather well with other more cut-and-dry entries like Perfect Cherry Blossom or Subterranean Animism. For a thirteenth game, ZUN gives fans what they want, new characters, new songs, and a quirky new mechanic of the day. Given the lower difficulty bar, I wouldn’t say Ten Desires is good for a newbie given it’s slightly easier level, but experienced players dive right in. All in all, if you enjoy Touhou, you’ll enjoy the delightful business as usual.