Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity

Gensokyo is a magical place, filled with many different mysteries and strange characters. It is a place where humans and monsters live together, but separately. The world fits almost within the description of a mythical, feudal era Japan. In Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity, you can play as either the vampire Remilia Scarlet or her maid Sakuya Izayoi.

For any fans of the Touhou Project, this is a great highlight considering that they are two of the most recognizable faces in the series. For any newcomers to the franchise, be prepared to meet a lot of new faces and learn a lot of backstory, otherwise you might have a bit of trouble keeping up with this game’s story. Whether or not it is worth going through that trouble is debatable though, since the story really isn’t all that interesting, and even then the gameplay has a tough time truly making up for it. Worst of all, the addition of a $20 price tag might leave you feeling a bit cheated out of your money.

The most important thing to get out of the way after making such bold and horrifying statements is that Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity isn’t a bad game, but it’s not really a good game either. It’s just not what you would expect from the franchise. Admittedly, this isn’t a fair statement to make since the series is what they call in Japan, a “Doujin” game. Doujin games are similar to indie projects in North America and Europe, however in this particular case, it is circle of different people or small companies that have free rights and access to the characters, settings, and stories of the official titles. This means that anyone can legally publish a Touhou game using its assets, and this game has indeed gone through with those trials and tribulations. I went in knowing quite a bit about the series having played a few of the games over the past seven years, and this time the game is a bit different than normal. I welcomed the change of pace that this entry had to offer. Unfortunately change has its pros and cons, and as such, creative authenticity is generally sacrificed in most categories of the game.

While most of the games in the series are shoot-em-ups that could be classified as “bullet hell” styled games, this one takes its form as an action-RPG. The majority of the game is spent running through an area, defeating large amounts of enemies, leveling up, grabbing new equipment, and defeating a boss. It’s a rather repetitive formula that persists throughout the entirety of the game. I was rather disappointed with the lack of challenge that the game presented me, following a very repetitive pattern of mashing the square button and jumping around to win. Scarlet Curiosity fails to hold up to the difficulty standards that the rest of the series set for it many years ago, and that made the game seem much more boring in comparison. The only fun I could get out of the game was seeing what different abilities the two characters would unlock as they progressed, but most of the time the new abilities weren’t that cool or useful anyway. Other than that, a few of the boss fights had me on the edge of my seat as I tactically pondered various methods in order to figure out how to defeat them. These moments barely came though, so the monotony of the rest of the game really outshines them.

My biggest problem with the game, other than the fact that it is ridiculously easy, is that it loses its entertainment value fairly quickly. The developers tried to mash together so many different genres of gameplay that it fails to bring justice to any of them. It’s not all bad, though. In the beginning, the gameplay is new and fresh. It’s flashy and different from any of the other games in the series. It’s even a bit charming at first, but it falls into the great big blue without a single piece of treasure to find. The stages near the end are a bit more fun, but it desperately tries to reinvent itself by throwing in bullets, beat-em up elements, platforming, stats, and everything else that it forgets what it truly is and it definitely shows. I feel almost as if I should have enjoyed the game a bit more, but unfortunately the actual act of playing the game wasn’t all that satisfying. Perhaps they could have fixed this by adding more modes or bosses, or maybe a time attack challenge, but ultimately, the game isn’t all that rewarding to play.

The story is very uninspired. It is quite clear that the writers wanted to please all of the existing fans by including everyone’s favorite characters, but unfortunately this leads to a lack of development in both the plot and the characters. Quantity over quality. To start off the story, Remilia is feeling a bit apathetic, and without much to do, she attempts to find some fun outside the walls of her rather boring abode. Unsurprisingly, adventure comes her way when the Scarlet Devil Mansion is destroyed. The pair quickly set out to investigate the situation in attempt to find out what exactly happened to their beloved home. And several thousand hordes of enemies later, we find ourselves no better enlightened than we were an hour ago. It is normally pretty interesting to see what the developers do with the characters, but unfortunately there is no reason to care about what the characters are doing without decent plot structure.

Fortunately, the visuals are quite a bit better than I expected them to be. Most isometric beat-em-up games in similar styles typically end up looking fairly poor in cell-shaded 3D. Most of the characters look pretty good, and the design of each of the areas fit very well into the world of Gensokyo. Some of the enemy design choices could be a bit less bland and repetitive, but the variety we did get wasn’t terrible. Not all of the enemies seemed to fit into the levels that they were placed in, but they got most of them in the right places. The true flaws that can be seen in the design are simply the levels themselves. Either I found them to be too linear without much exploration, not very rewarding for your efforts to go out of your way, or just downright annoying to traverse with bog and clog of various unnecessary design choices that artificially make the levels longer. The game looks pretty good most of the time, but it’s really hard to care about those beautiful aspects of the game when everything seems so tedious.

If you’re a fan of the series, the next few words will not be a shock to you. The music in Scarlet Curiosity is absolutely fantastic. While most of the Touhou games consist of arranged versions of the original score, and this is no exception, it works very well in adding a softer, more relaxed feeling to it. It’s certainly not the best when put into comparison with the rest of the scores from the other games, but I can’t help but feel that this particular iteration has a very unique sound to it. These pieces honestly make the feeling of mowing down tons of enemies a little bit less maddening. It’s hard to describe how much of a difference a rearrangement can make to the ambiance of the music that you’re hearing, but listening to this game’s tracks can certainly make anyone- fan or newcomer- appreciate it.

Ultimately, what can I say about the game that hasn’t already been said? It’s repetitive, unrewarding, and confused. It is being faced with the option of playing a game where you mercilessly beat on all of the enemies that block your path until you reach a subpar boss battle and have to repeat the same process in the next level, hopefully getting to something a little bit better. While it does get better, it still suffers from the same design issues that cannot be fixed. This is the story of Remilia and her faithful assistant, Sakuya. It’s not exactly fun, but it’s mildly entertaining for at least a little bit of your time. With such a demanding price tag though, there is very little reason to pick up Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity.

Most of my time is dedicated to tearing apart games and movies, then telling you what I think about it. I've been a gamer since birth, practically born with a controller in my hand. I've always spoke my mind, so critique was a natural fit. Twitter: @Jsrf38