I’m not familiar with Touhou past seeing plenty of art for it on the internet but, sadly, this game doesn’t make me want to delve into the series and I can’t say there are really any good points about this game at all. It’s frustrating, lacking content and simply not fun.
One thing I’ll give Touhou Genso Rondo Bullet Ballet is that it’s a unique approach to a fighting game and bullet hell elements are certainly not something generally found in the genre, but its execution is sorely lacking and an absolute chore to play. There’s a story mode for each character that lasts for a handful of battles and lets you learn more about each character, but there’s no strong over-arching story that really ties them all together. Maybe a Touhou fan will get more out of the character interactions than I did, but there’s very little dialogue in the first place. Other modes include arcade, boss rush and vs (both online and offline), although I’m left to wonder why anybody would wish to play them. It’s great to see the series officially come to the West and I have a huge amount of respect for NIS America for taking a risk on releasing this game, but it’s a shame that this release will likely not help to bring any of the other titles over, especially as the mainline games are traditional bullet hell shooters and not fighters.
The actual fighting itself is shallow and mechanically unsound, providing plenty of frustration in such a simple game. You can send out a variety of bullets en masse by using the face buttons, whilst the shoulder buttons are assigned to using powerful spells, boosting and slowing down, and turning for more accurate shots. Imagine playing Street Fighter against an opponent who constantly spams hadoukens but this time there isn’t much you can do to counter it other than spam your own hadoukens – this game is essentially hundreds of hadoukens being spammed at a rapid rate but hadouken doesn’t even require a quarter circle input.
It’s dull and I have more problems with it than just how mindless it is because the spell function is a pain, and so is the health system. After taking down your opponent’s health, they get to ‘extend’ which allows them to continue fighting until hit again – if your health bar has completely been diminished, that’s K.O, not a sign to continue. The spells give you or your opponent a bundle of health back and you have to survive whilst they attack you or damage them enough to break them out of their spell, then afterwards they get even more health – it feels inherently broken and I quickly became fed up with how much the AI would spam the spell system. There aren’t many games that can suck the fun out of gaming like this one.
Visually it’s very basic but the 2D art is nice and the 3D models have a cute chibi style, and there’s plenty of colour to see. I can safely say that it runs smoothly despite how hectic it gets on-screen which makes it that much worse that the game itself just isn’t worth playing. It’s simple and the 2D art rarely changes and the areas and abilities quickly become repetitive, but it’s not necessarily an ugly game – sadly, it’s not quite nearly one of the best looking games on PS4 which doesn’t really matter, but when a game is this bad I’d have liked to been able to highly praise the graphics at least.
There’s very little in the way of spoken dialogue and, unsurprisingly, it’s all in Japanese (don’t worry, the text is in English!) but it’s OST has a lot of techno and the audio is likely the best aspect of the game. There’s very little to say bar the soundtrack has some decent tunes and that the effects sound good if not a little repetitive, but it seems that Touhou fans will feel at home where music is concerned.
I don’t enjoy criticising a game so heavily and I hope that this still pays off for fans and NIS America as they’ve clearly taken a risk in releasing this, especially as only die-hard fans of the series are likely to pick it up, but I can’t say that this is anything other than an abysmal game. It has very little redeeming qualities and not only is it the worst game I’ve played in 2016 (it would have been a tie between this and Godzilla had it been 2015) but it’s one of the worst games I’ve ever played – and I’ve played a lot of video games. I can’t recommend this to anybody but if you’re a massive fan of Touhou, then you might (and I’m highly doubtful) find some enjoyment in it.