As a fan of the bullet hell genre, I’ve always had an interest in the Touhou franchise. I’ve spotted enough nods and in-jokes relating to the series by now that it’s beginning to feel like that exclusive club I’ll never be a part of.
This was something I hoped would finally change with the PC release of Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity. I was wrong. If I wasn’t certain that other games in the series offered much better experiences, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity would’ve easily turned me away from the franchise altogether.
The Touhou franchise, also known as the Touhou Project, is a series of Japanese bullet hell shooters developed by indie studio Team Shanghai Alice. Developed by Ankake Spa, Touhou: Scarlet Destiny is an enhanced version of a fan game originally released in 2014 in Japan as Touhou Koukishin ~ Adventures of Scarlet Curiosity. The game aims to blend Touhou’s bullet hell style gameplay with that of an action RPG, similar to Nihon Falcom’s Ys series.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity has you play as either Remilia Scarlet or Sakuya Izayoi as they go on a hunt to find the person who destroyed Remilia’s mansion, mostly to alleviate Remilia’s boredom. If you have any questions about the characters or terminology mentioned in Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity, this game was likely not developed for you. The game assumes that you’re well-versed in the lore of Touhou and makes no real effort to introduce it to newcomers. A much more pressing issue with the game’s story is that whether you’re familiar with the series’ characters or not, it would have no effect on just how dull the game’s story is. Nothing of note ever really happens during it’s plot, and it wasn’t long until Remilia’s boredom became my own.
Even as an enhanced version, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity shows its age. Worse than the game’s visuals, which look like they’re a few generations old, are the game’s bland and often reused sound effects. For a game being sold at $20, it would’ve helped its case a lot to ditch the seemingly royalty-free sounds and music.
While the idea of a bullet hell inspired action RPG might sound great, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity’s gameplay is bad enough to make you think otherwise. Much like the game’s story, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity’s combat is dull and repetitive. In addition to a basic combo string, players have access to a variety of skills and spells. Despite all the special attacks available however, none of them ever prove to be more effective than your basic combo. This means you’ll be doing a lot of button mashing as you plow through enemies with the same repeated attack chain. Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity also goes out of its way to give you plenty of equippable weapons and items which replenish health to make sure you always have the upper hand. This is even true when it comes to boss battles where it felt like losing was actually more of a challenge.
For a series with such a respectable history in Japan, I’m worried that Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity will leave a negative impression on potential fans of the series. While almost any game in the Touhou series can serve as a great example of masterful bullet hell gameplay design, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity doesn’t showcase this at all. At the same time, its dull action gameplay won’t keep anyone interested either. I’m still optimistic about one day being able to get into the Touhou franchise, but this game has certainly made me less eager to try.