This week we’re delving into something quite a bit different from my usual fare. I haven’t mentioned this but I used to be a pretty big Touhou fan. And again, I haven’t mentioned this, but I’ve been on a huge retro game run recently. I’ve been playing some classic Megaman and Castlevania games, but when I heard of this marriage between Touhou and Castlevania, I had to give it a shot. Koumajou Densetsu, or as I’ll refer to it, Touhouvania, is a series (only 2 so far, but hoping for more) of Touhou spinoff games by the company Frontier Aja. I’ll be specifically covering Koumajou Densetsu II: Stranger’s Requiem, which is the sequel to the first game, also by Frontier Aja.
Like I mentioned, this game is a sort of marriage between old-school Castlevania titles and the Touhou franchise. There are a few aspects of each this game meshes together really well, which is really cool. The gameplay is your basic classic Castlevania-style gameplay, with a mostly linear level and a boss at the end of each level. In Stranger’s Requiem, you play Izayoi Sakuya and have access to a whole host of attacks. There are your sub weapons, which, unlike classic Castlevania titles, you choose at the beginning of the stage instead of finding throughout the stage. These use a resource called “souls”, which you can get from candles and from every enemy you kill. In addition, there’s a magic bar which is used for flying (I’ll get to that in a bit) and your special dagger attack. In this respect it’s a bit more like Symphony of the Night, which has both the sub weapon system and the magic bar system. Besides that you have your normal attack, which is a knife, and you have access to a back step maneuver (which can be linked into a knife throw). That about covers the basic move set.
What makes this game quite fun to play is how they incorporated these classic Castlevania elements with something Touhou’s known for (other than the cute girl characters), the danmaku, or curtain fire. This is the what makes Touhou part of the bullet hell genre of shooters, where enemy bullets more or less cover the screen and you have to navigate your way through them. A few of the normal enemies use this method to attack, but where this game really shines is how the bosses will use pretty tough danmaku patterns on you. And this is where another of Sakuya’s skills comes into play, flying. This drains your magic bar and you move fairly slowly, but it allows you to suspend yourself in mid-air, or move around a little bit, and it’s essential to dodge boss danmaku successfully. The usage of danmaku in the boss fights makes them refreshingly challenging in a very different way than classic Castlevania games, giving this title its own fresh take on the genre. In addition, longtime fans of the Touhou series will likely recognize the danmaku patterns the bosses in this game use.
I’ll admit, the plot of this game isn’t really anything too special. There’s a cut scene in the beginning that shows Remilia being stolen by Yukari, and of course Sakuya as the loyal maid must go rescue her. So you set off on your adventure. I think part of what makes this game enjoyable are the recognizable characters and how they interact with other characters. This will happen at the end of a level, after you beat a boss, and it’s generally pretty humorous. I can’t really comment on the characters themselves, as they aren’t new or made by this company. Nor are the characterizations different or novel in any way. But if you’re a fan of Touhou, I think you’ll enjoy the characters and their interactions with each other.
The art style of this game is awesome. It uses a style similar to Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow, which I thought were awesome. To see characters I already know redone in this style, and quite well is definitely a treat. Of course, that’s just for character portraits. As for the graphics of the game itself, it looks remarkably similar to Aria of Sorrow or Symphony of the Night in terms of character models and sprites. In fact, a few of the enemy designs are more or less lifted from those games. Not that it’s a bad thing, of course. In this context it’s more of an homage than a rip-off.
The sound design of the game is great too. The game is fully voiced, which is incredible. I don’t mention this very often, but the voice acting talent gotten for this game is amazing, too. I don’t know very many Japanese voice actors by name, but looking through the list for this game I recognize more than half of the voice actors, which is fairly impressive. Just for an example of the kind of talent in this game, there’s Sawashiro Miyuki, Aya Endou, and Kitamura Eri. And many more of course, but those three names alone are pretty remarkable considering this is a doujin game spinoff of a doujin game. Besides that, the music of this game is also quite good. Thematically it feels like those old Castlevania title soundtracks, which is good. And most (if not all) of the tracks are great.
I normally don’t do this, but I want to cover some extra things about this game, because it’s so good. There are 3 difficulties in this game, easy, normal, and hard. Normal mode took me about 3.5 hours, so it’s not a ridiculously long game, but it’s quite fun and hard mode seems like it’ll take much longer. Besides that, after you beat the game you unlock the Extra Stage. This is incredibly difficult with tough enemies and at least 4 mini bosses (I haven’t gotten much farther than that so I can’t say more) which hearkens back to Touhou games. They gave you a ridiculously difficult extra stage after you beat the normal game as well. In addition to that, there’s 3 omake or extra scenes you can watch, which are just short humorous visual novel sequences with the characters having conversations. They’re pretty entertaining, and I enjoyed them. One last thing I want to mention is that Frontier Aja is a brilliant company, because they released a patch that actually translated this entire game into English. No unofficial patches or anything, and completely free of charge this Japanese-based company released a patch that translates the game to French and English. I thought that was really amazingly cool of them, and opens up the game to a way bigger audience.
– It’s in English (and French and Japanese)!
– Music is great, voice acting is great too
– Recreates the old Castlevania style in terms of gameplay quite well
– A wonderful art style reminiscent of past Castlevania titles
– Gameplay is fun and simple
– Cool extra content
– The game, while fun, probably isn’t as accessible to people who are unfamiliar with the Touhou series.
– The plot is fairly weak
– The game is expensive if you’re someone in the US looking to purchase it (~$50 I believe)
Developer: Frontier Aja
Publisher: Frontier Aja
Available on: PC
Release date: December 30, 2010