meidos: (Default)
mあddy ([personal profile] meidos) wrote2013-07-12 03:28 am
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What's Touhou?

I wrote this forever ago on my LJ so I'm gonna repost it here since the images are dead.



Sometimes people ask, "What's that weird Japanese game thing Touhou about?" and I get all excited and want to tell them about it. However, I'm awful at on-the-spot explanations for any series I adore so much! So I'm going to make this public journal entry to explain it and link people to it, I guess.

Here we go!



Touhou, in its most basic form, is a bullet-hell shoot-em-up ("shmup") PC game created by Team Shanghai Alice, consisting of a single member: ZUN. The series was started when ZUN decided the current market of shmup games weren't hard enough for him, so he made extremely hard games in order to combat this. The games are very, very hard. Many experienced players will scoff and say they're easy, but strictly speaking? They are difficult.



These are examples of a few boss fights! Here's the same image with the player's hit box more or less outlined in a blue box. Any time your hit box hits a bullet's hit box (which varies, but usually consists of the entire bullet sprite), you die. You have three lives and six stages of the above!

However, ZUN does give you a few hands up. There are varying shot types, and each shot type comes with a "bomb," which you have three of at the beginning of each life and can earn more through points collected during the game. Using a bomb, in most cases, clears the screen of bullets and also damages any enemies on-screen (except in some rare cases during boss fights). The game consists of, as said, six stages with a stage portion where you shoot down smaller enemies who shoot simple patterns at you, sometimes a midboss with harder patterns appearing, and then a stage boss who fights with both nonspell and spell cards. Nonspells resemble the stage portions, usually simple patters fired at random. Spell cards are different. Each boss has a set number of them, and they range from complicated to simple, beautiful to terrifying!

Once you complete the game on normal mode without dying, you unlock an extra mode. This mode is usually considered much harder than the normal game, the stage portion being much faster and intense and the extra boss having a larger number of stronger spell cards. Truly for skilled players! But you can warm up on Easy Mode before you dive into that (there are four difficulties: Easy, Normal, Hard, Lunatic, by the way).


That's the basic summary of the gameplay: move through the six stages while shooting down smaller enemies and bosses at the end of each stage. Many people play the games simply for that. The gameplay is a total blast, despite its intense difficulty level. The other reason most people play, though, is the huge cast of characters! As of writing this, there are 144 characters in these 19 games, CDs, and books. The majority of the cast is female, with only about four male characters (and two of them aren't humanoid in any way - a turtle and a cloud).

The characters are all, simply put, jerks. The dialog of the game is somewhat difficult to follow at times, since it's mostly the characters talking at one another and trying to sound better than the other. Some exemplary lines include "Don't take them." "I'm gonna take 'em;" "In that case, it'd be troublesome if you developed a heart disease;" and my favorite, "Now, bitch, get out of the way!"

The main two characters are Reimu Hakurei, the self-proclaimed "Shrine Maiden of Paradise," and Marisa Kirisame, "an Ordinary Witch." They are both human, excelling in some form of magic. Reimu has mastered the use of the Hakurei yin yang orbs, two to four orbs that rotate around her and fire her shot, while Marisa focuses in magic dealing with star-shaped projectiles and beams, such as her infamous Master Spark.

Games usually follow very similar plots: something happens that's not that awful, but after awhile, it gets on the nerves of one of the protagonists. They go through two stages with no idea what they're doing, but the third stage boss gives them some idea of what's going on. The fourth stage boss leads them further, the fifth stage boss is normally some underling of the final boss, and the sixth stage boss is, well, the cause of the mess. The seventh game, Perfect Cherry Blossom, follows this closest. Someone is stealing the spring of Gensokyo, and winter is lasting too long and it's cold, dammit. As either Reimu, Marisa, or Sakuya (the fifth stage boss of the previous game), you beat up a snow woman and a cat before stumbling across a youkai magician who leads them on the right path. They run into a trio of musicians guarding the entrance to the netherworld, burst through the border of the netherworld, and meet the gardener of the dead and beat her up, too. Then they find the final boss, the princess of said netherworld who is collecting the spring of Gensokyo to force a youkai cherry tree into bloom. The protagonists beat her up.

The end.

So, the plots are sort of the background in many games, an excuse to fight, really. They all take place in the mystical land of Gensokyo, the land where fairy tales and myths go once people cease to believe in them. The world is filled with youkai, Japanese mythical spirits and creatures ranging from oni to tengu to gods. There's also a human village. No idea how that got there.


The popularity of these games stemmed from both the gameplay and the characters. There is a massive (Japanese-centric) fandom for this series - it dominates most Japanese-centric image sites like Pixiv and the Boorus, has an insane number of fan videos, and its soundtracks have been remixed into every genre you can think of, hard rock to jazz to country. Being such a huge fandom, the talent is absolutely incredible, and an entire convention (Reitaisai) was created in Japan solely for the selling of Touhou doujinshi back in 2004 and has run yearly since; ZUN releases the trial version of the new game at this convention every year.

The many forms of fan work has led many to believe that Touhou is an anime at first glance, much to the chagrin of fans. But really, it's hard to blame them when videos like this are made:



The enigmatic creator ZUN is also popular among fans, a known alcoholic who has admitted to making many of the games while heavily intoxicated. He always appears in the same way, wearing a flat cap and fans will approach him at Comiket where he sells the full copy of his games with cases of beer for him. People include him in fanart, too.

Anyway, I could honestly keep going, but it's like 3 am. This is an incredibly basic layout of the Touhou games and series. To get more information, I suggest scouring the (very neatly arranged!) Touhou Wiki. The downloads of the games are easy enough to find (though if running anything other than Windows, I suggest also searching "Playing Touhou on (Mac, Linux, etc).").

Also, Easy Mode will get you made fun of, but whatever man, no one has to know.

And now I leave you with infamous Touhou videos.





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