The Touhou franchise has had plenty of fan games over the years. From Metroidvania to RPG titles, Touhou has been the source material for many developers. With 3rd Eye, the developer takes the series into the horror adventure genre. Looking like a mix between Fran Bow and a Tim Burton movie, 3rd eye brings Touhou into darker territory. As a double-edged sword, it has a clear identity of its own beyond being a fan game.
3rd Eye explores Koishi Komeiji’s mental struggle with her the past. Having never played the later Touhou games, I had no prior knowledge of her. Regardless, it didn’t matter much as the game never got too deep into Touhou lore and focused much more on the psychological aspect of Koishi’s mind. She delves deep into strange, haunting locales that blur the lines between dreams and reality. 3rd eye often distances itself away from Touhou’s distinctly light and comedic tone to tell a dark, brooding tale.
As a horror adventure game, 3rd eye immediately felt like the previously mentioned Fran Bow due to the psychiatric, nightmarish setting. Using Koishi’s third eye, the player can reveal the innermost thoughts of characters as well as make the environments look a lot more threatening and creepy, paralleling Fran Bow’s medication mechanic. Beyond the comparison, 3rd eye takes more simplified approach to the adventure game formula. Though the inventory system has options such as Use and Examine, they are often unnecessary to progress. Usually, just having the required item and interacting with the target object or character was enough to move the story along.
3rd eye’s simplified approach to the gameplay reduces the need to think through or really solve the puzzles. Most of the time, I felt like guessing solutions, regardless of whether or not I knew what to do next. Adding to that, some of the obstacles placed in your way don’t seem to make logical sense. This may be due to the abysmal English translation or a matter of game design. Along with possibly hindering the puzzle setup, the translation also results in the dialogue that feels very choppy and strange, which can be a pro or a con depending on how you look at it.
From my experience, though, the low quality of dialogue drastically damaged the experience. Often times, it felt amateurish and threw me out of the experience. The most glaring error in the translation effort was during two specific sequences where the player has to make important decisions that affect the story. However, the player’s options were not translated, which forced me to pick the choices at random. Along with that major issue, the dialogue just didn’t have anything that felt specifically Touhou.
Often, there seemed to be little reason for 3rd Eye to be a Touhou game at all. The story didn't tie too much to the series and the most direct links were the references and characters. Also, game’s character design and art direction were more inspired by Tim Burton’s gothic aesthetic rather than ZUN's distinct art style. Admittedly, the art is well-defined and any visual deviations are used to good effect to disturb the audience. The background music is often creepy and atmospheric, but the louder tracks ended up bordering on annoying.
Despite its various flaws, the game excelled in creating disturbing environments. There, Touhou aspect of 3rd eye came off more as a set dressing than anything of actual substance. The story tackles serious subject matter, but the translation makes it difficult to really get involved with what was going on. 3rd eye's gameplay works with a streamlined approach to the adventure game formula, eliminating a major portion of the puzzle solving expected in the genre. Regardless of the game’s issues, 3rd eye is worth recommending to dedicated Touhou fans or those who particularly like creepy, cutesy aesthetic.