Touhou is best known as a wickedly hard bullet hell series, but beyond this canon material lies a world of fangames that take the series setting of Gensokyo to every possible genre. From fighting games to oddities like soccer and mahjong, the world of Touhou fangames is as is a sea that is both expansive and deep. This seemingly infinite well of games recently arrived officially in the West with the release of Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet and continues with the release of Genso Wanderer, a roguelike from the fan group Aqua Style.
These sort of games, which are defined by dungeon exploration and difficult gameplay, may be familiar to some as Chun Soft's Mysterious Dungeon series and the Pokemon based series that has been available in America. Genso Wanderer takes these concepts and runs with them to create a game that is satisfying but ultimately too hard for its own good. This is seen early on when the initial tutorial dungeon is a mere six floors deep, but the second is 32 and features a boss that may not be beatable for some time. This difficulty is offset by the fact that the player does not lose their items when they die, a common feature of rougelikes. In addition, you can strengthen your weapons and armor by fusing them together or by using certain spell card items. This allows the player to create and use a powerful weapon that can carry them through all but the game's occasional gimmick dungeons, where only certain game features can be used. This feature alone makes Genso Wanderer much more tolerable than most games in its genre and just a little more fun as you craft weapons for new features and attacks.
Genso Wanderer is also a healthy spring of obscure Touhou references and characters. The enemies, which are explained in game as clones of various people from Gensokyo, are taken all the way from Touhou 6: The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil to the 14th game in the series Double Dealing Character. This sheer variety of enemies is interesting and each of them fights in a different way based on both canon lore and fan theories. For example, Patchouli Knowledge, a magician known for having a weak constitution, constantly coughs, taking damage in the process, and can summon her assistant Koakuma when damaged. The bosses, all of which are original characters related to canon ones, are hard but beatable with a good combination of items and powered up weapons, but still provide a good challenge after diving to the bottom of a dungeon to get to them. In particular, the Hell's Raven boss's design is very cool, featuring hard rock background music to go with her fiery appearance in a combination that really gives a feeling of importance to the encounter.
The varied character art is good, but the game itself looks rather simple and feels as if it could run on a PlayStation 3. The non-boss music is also unremarkable (save for a few tracks like the Hell Raven fight) and serves more as something to listen to while you play, rather than setting the mood or anything like that. This is rather disappointing given that Touhou is known for its expansive music scene and yet no remixes of the original game's music made it in.
The game controls nicely, and it is rare that you'll end up moving in the wrong direction or whiff an attack and lose a valuable turn. This is all well and good, but once enemies begin to fill up the screen it can sometimes be hard to even more or attack properly. This is worst in the Pandemonium floors in which single rooms feature thirty or so enemies, making it extremely difficult to figure out what is going on or what to do. The fact that one of the game's bonus dungeon consists of nothing but these sort of rooms is a testament to stupidly hard this game can be at times.
In all, Genso Wanderer is a solid entry in its genre that will please Touhou fans with its content but might alienate more casual fans and those not into Touhou with its sheer difficulty and random shifts in dungeon length and boss strength. Those who enjoy difficult games might find Genso Wanderer to be a must have, even if some of the game is more difficult than it needs to be. But if you're not in either camp, it is best to look elsewhere for your first roguelike.
Touhou: Genso Wanderer was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation Vita.
Touhou is a game that thrives on difficult but fun gameplay, but may be to much for those not interested in the series.(Review Policy)
- Controls Are Sharp
- Good Art
- Varied Enemy Types
- Decent Gameplay
- Difficulty Ramps Up Too Quickly
- Ho-Hum Graphics
- Music is Mostly Forgettable