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Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity (PlayStation 4) artwork

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity (PlayStation 4) review


"Curiosity bored the Rob."


More than 20 years ago, a one-man developer going by the name of ZUN began a series of bullet hell cute-em-ups called Touhou Project. Not only were a ton of these games made, but the series gained a lot of popularity. Fighting games were added to the mix and, due to ZUN being pretty cool about letting others play with his material, all sorts of fan-made works hit the market. We're talking games, anime, music, art, you name it. All in all, this is a pretty huge collection of material, considering I'd never heard of Touhou Project before this year brought PlayStation Now into my life.

Now, if you look up Touhou Project on Wikipedia, there is a brief line in the "Reception and fanworks" section stating that ZUN announced a collaborative project with PlayStation to bring some of those unofficial fan-made games to the PlayStation 4 and Vita. A couple of those titles made their way to PlayStation Now, with one of them being a good bit different from what a person might expect from reading that first paragraph.

Published by XSEED Games, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is neither a bullet hell nor a fighting game, although elements of both could be said to be included. Instead, what we have is a simplistic action-RPG that falls into the zone where us reviewers say that it's interesting and does have potential, but just isn't all that good.

No, no, I'm getting ahead of myself. First the synopsis and THEN let the criticism fly. In this game, you can choose between two Touhou characters: the youthful-appearing vampire Remilia or her devoted maid Sakuya. You'll start out investigating newspaper stories concerning mysterious monsters and then things will get personal as someone or something launches an attack on Remilia's mansion, leading you to track down the perpetrators in order to exact revenge. In something I did find amusing, it's very rare that enemy characters have any actual hostility towards your heroines -- you'll just wind up picking fights with them because they're unwilling or unable to answer questions, they're bored or due to some random misunderstanding.

Much like a fighting game, most of your attacks, regardless of character, will be short-ranged; although they can be supplemented by various skills and spells. Bosses often work as a combination of that and bullet hell games, as they'll often flood the screen with projectiles, forcing you to maneuver between their attacks in order to get within range to perform your own. In fact, I'd say a number of those confrontations came close to kind of redeeming this title for me, as they could get pretty challenging. Especially late in the game and in the post-game, when you can't count on the game providing jars containing healing items.

The thing is, other than some of those boss fights, this is a really toothless game -- definitely nothing like what one would expect knowing its derived from a bullet hell series. Those jars containing healing items litter every dungeon, so it was a pretty rare experience that I'd find myself in danger of death at any time outside of boss fights. And if I died, all that would happen is that I'd lose some cash and go back to the last checkpoint to trudge through a land cleared of monsters until I got back to that point of demise.

And losing cash usually isn't a problem because the way enemies and treasure chests throw equipment at you, you might think these l'il anime girls fell into Diablo. Clear a dungeon and, after you've unlocked access to the game's shop, you'll be able to sell tons of items. I think the only time in this game I worried about cash was after getting through a hell world loaded with obstacle courses that were very reminiscent of those found in the first God of War's Hades stage. Get knocked into lava by rotating blades enough times and your girl's wealth will be a shade of what it originally was!

But at least that world provided a challenge and wasn't boring, which is more than I can say for the majority of this game. Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity only has a tiny variety of enemies, so you'll CONSTANTLY be fighting the same fairies, snakes, birds, mushrooms, plants, frogs and wolves. And, yes, I just listed off about 90 percent of this game's bestiary without even needing to bloat that sentence to comical proportions. My most used strategy was to simply charge into an enemy while hitting the attack button. Maybe the larger fairies could take a good bit of damage while spewing orbs at me, but with the prevalence of those healing items, it's not like I had a reason to care about a few bumps and bruises obtained from my "mindless aggression" strategy.

When it comes to the actual levels you'll be exploring, you'll have this mixed bag that ranges from positives mixed with negatives to stuff that is devoid of positives. Take that hell world that I've mentioned repeatedly. It's fun and tricky, offering both a lot of combat and a fair amount of platforming challenges, as well as one of the tougher boss fights. It also is the second part of a marathon series of levels. You'll start in the geyser region, beat its boss and fall into hell. You'll then go through that large area and beat its boss, only for her to send you to another area that you'll also have to clear. If you don't have the time to get through all three of these places in one sitting and use the "exit level" option to go back to your mansion to save, guess what! You'll have to start from the first area and walk through everything, including rematches with those bosses.

Or I could bring up how every area starts to blend together -- regardless of whether it's a forest, lake, village or mechanical base -- when you fight the exact same enemies in all of them. Or I could mention how both the early-game dungeon in your mansion, as well as the massive basement used for the post-game dungeon, give you multiple floors with virtually the exact same layout to trudge through. The only thing keeping this game from getting unbearable was that, other than bosses, it was so easy that it was the perfect "turn brain off" thing to do when I didn't feel like playing something that made me use reflexes, think or push myself in any way, shape or form.

And I can't exactly recommend Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity based on that. I guess it was a somewhat tolerable diversion, but it also was loaded with missed opportunities that left me unsatisfied upon concluding it, primarily because the worst of the bunch slapped me in the face at this one's conclusion. After beating the final boss and seeing the credits, I decided to tackle the post-game dungeon. I went through a vast place that could best be described as 19 levels of utter tedium mixed with two really fun boss fights. Upon finishing it, I went back to defeat the final boss again to get the "true" ending, leading to hilariously anti-climactic battling due to all the additional strength I'd gained. After beating up everything again, though, things seemed to get interesting with a foe becoming truly super-powered in a new cutscene to set the stage for an epic final battle! If only...that scene didn't end until the confrontation had been resolved, leaving me mutely watching the credits roll again. Game completed? Yes, and I deleted it from my hard drive, as well. My advice is simple: If you don't install it, you won't have to also delete it out of disappointment!

2/5

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 17, 2020)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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