Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity falters in many aspects, but it makes up for it in charm. Though the fan game deviates from the standard bullet hell formula of the mainline games, a lot of what makes the series so great is retained. As a dabbler of the long running franchise, I’ve always felt that the games' main draw is the cute and quirky cast of characters. Scarlet Curiosity maintains the general feel of the Touhou games despite an unavoidable lack of polish and shift in genre. Simply put, the game is a top-down action RPG with a dab of platforming and Touhou characters.
You play as the head of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, Remilia, or as her polite maid, Sakuya. Remilia’s boredom results in one of the two characters trying to solve a strange mystery. Playing as either of the two doesn’t affect the gameplay much as their core moves are very similar. The real reason to play through with both characters is to see how each of them interacts with others.
For me, the highlight of the story is the character dialogue. The events of the story hold very low stakes, and are even a little bland. However, the dialogue feels at home with the mainline Touhou games. The characters are written very true to their personalities. Playing the story with both characters added more to the game’s charm factor due to how differently Remilia and Sakuya act.
Scarlet Curiosity definitely gives vibes of being low budget. The levels feel too realistic resulting in a huge contrast with the cartoony anime aesthetic of the characters. Also, the character models look rather dated, holding back the game even further. The character portraits lack polish, but I’ll let that slide since it lines up with the arguably shabby art that the mainline games have always had. The game’s music is an absolute highlight as it takes a variety of songs from the games and remixes them.
Mechanically, Scarlet Curiosity focuses on hack and slash combat. There are spells, which provide a burst of damage after charging up the spell meter by dealing damage. The game also provides an array of skills, which cost skill points that regenerate over time. The combat is simple, yet effective as it was fun to just take down hordes of enemies, while slowly leveling up and gathering loot. Scarlet Curiosity provides a shallow, but engrossing feedback loop that kept me playing for hours.
Loot can be obtained mainly through defeating enemies, opening treasure chests, or breaking golden vases. They are always in the form of a weapon, armor, or accessory, and they have random stats tied to them. It’s a very basic formula that works in the most simple way. Often times, I would explore every nook and cranny to find all the loot. Despite the simplicity of the loot system, I was hooked for the majority of my first playthrough.
The game is segmented into numerous levels filled with many recurring foes. More often than not, it was easy to just run away from them because they didn’t really follow the player. After my first playthrough, I ran past most enemies whenever I caught up to the level of the enemies in each area. Most encounters don’t even feel challenging so long as you make use of the right skills. The levels usually have some 2.5D platforming, but it was rudimentary at best.
The highlights of Scarlet Curiosity’s gameplay are the various boss fights. They provide the most engaging experiences, while clearly calling back to the franchise roots. Though the bullet hell dodging is much easier since players can jump over bullets, bosses keep players on their toes with a multitude of powerful, hard-to-dodge attacks. However, the game still leans towards the easy side as long as you avoid playing the new Bullet Hell mode.
Both Remilia and Sakuya have skills that are arguably overpowered, not by the damage that these skills do, but by how they make the player invincible for a decently long time. The invincibility frames and low cost of some of these skills made them the optimal way to play. Regardless, most combat encounters are on the easy side and even if they were hard, it wouldn’t matter all that much as death is not very punishing.
Dying in games is always a tough mechanic to implement properly. You might punish the player too much or too little. In this case, the latter is true, and all you lose is the borderline useless in-game currency and maybe a little progress. The only use for money is to buy items from an item store that usually has nothing worth buying. Even then, you could just farm money if you ever run out as the game lets you leave levels whenever. Despite the game’s glaring issues, there’s just something special about it.
Scarlet Curiosity is the video game equivalent of comfort food. It is an experience with little substance, but I still wholeheartedly enjoyed it. It’s a game that’s clearly has flaws and lacks polish, but the good parts outweigh the bad. Overall, Scarlet Curiosity is a game that I would primarily recommend to fans of Touhou or those interested in getting into the franchise.