"After playing Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle, you might wonder how the Touhou games have so many fans."
Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle doesn't have a lot going for it. It's a fighting game, but there's not a huge roster of characters. You're limited to just nine girls, actually. A tenth fighter taunts you from the character selection screen, but is unavailable unless you spend extra money on DLC. I headed to the eShop to see how much it might cost to make the investment, but apparently the content isn't even for sale quite yet. Maybe I'll check back later. And then again, maybe I won't. It actually feels pretty good to be able to say I'm done with the whole thing.
The title screen was so promising, too. It features beautiful artwork depicting one of the heroines, a shrine maiden named Reimu, standing at the edge of a forest and looking toward a mysterious mansion bathed in moonlight. Sadly, I played through every character campaign without ever seeing anything I liked better.
Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle features a variety of modes, but Story mode is definitely the main attraction. When you start playing, you're introduced to Reimu (who I understand is a recurring hero from other Touhou games). Some villagers are about to donate to the shrine where she serves, but one of them suddenly recalls vicious rumors that Reimu was recently seen attacking innocent people alongside a local vampire girl named Remelia. The peasants change their minds about the donation, and Reimu heads off toward Scarlet Devil Mansion to see if she can find the source of the nasty gossip. Soon, she discovers that the mansion's inhabitants have created a monstrous doll head--sometimes referred to as a meat dumpling--in her likeness. To restore order, she defeats it in battle and then returns home as the credits roll.
That's just one trip through the game, though. To discover the finer points of the tale, you'll have to make a similar journey another eight times, always defeating five foes before facing off against the final boss... which is usually the meat dumpling, and easier to defeat (once you get a feel for its patterns) then any of the other fighters. Not that I'm complaining. On those few occasions when the boss was one of the other girls, I could barely eke out a victory because damage output was upped to the point where a single well-placed strike could wipe out my entire life meter.
The story progresses with the aid of character portraits and text, like you would see in a visual novel. Two or three girls inevitably start arguing, and then one of them picks a proper fight. That's where you enter the picture. As one of the heroines, you run and jump, kick and punch, fire magical energy and cast lethal spells in best-of-three battles that settle all disagreements and leave you free to seek out new opponents. It's not all that original, but it mostly works if you can overlook the unpleasant fights around which the entire game is built.
As a match begins, the two participants are positioned along opposite sides of a wide arena. They run toward each other, hurling projectile attacks and usually either weaving back and forth to avoid attacks or leaping into the air and gliding around like gulls soaring on gusts of air. No one seems to move all that quickly. Sometimes it feels like your characters are floating in molasses (though you can descend more quickly if you don't mind draining a meter). But the air is often filled with magic bullets and arrows, and the ground level usually isn't much better, so at least there's enough intensity to keep things tense in spite of the awkward arrangement.
When I first started playing, I hadn't read the digital manual that is accessible from the title screen. I recommend learning from my mistake rather than repeating it yourself. The game looks simple when you watch the attract mode demo, but there is more complexity than is initially apparent. For example, you must fill in energy meter by canceling out enemy shots so you can unleash your most powerful attacks. And once the meter fills, you have to press the A and X buttons together to unleash the devastation. There is no tutorial included to make any of that obvious, so if you don't scan the manual, little details like that might escape your attention. Actually, there are a lot of little details to keep sorted. Definitely take the time to get things right from the start and spare yourself needless frustration.
If you get tired of the campaign, or if you just finally beat it all, you're still not done unless you want to be. There are those other modes to consider. Arcade mode lets you battle numerous foes in succession, and you receive a slight energy refill after each bout. The goal is to get as far as you can before you catch an unlucky break and have to start fresh. Score Attack mode is similar, except your energy is entirely refilled between one round and the next. Again, you keep going until you finally lose. Then your score is recorded and you can try again.
There are several varieties of Versus mode, as well. You can set up a single match against the AI, or split the screen in half to go up against your buddy in the same room. If you would rather face someone a little further away, that's also an option. I started by looking for an online lobby, but didn't find one. I had better luck creating lobbies of my own and then simply waiting for an opponent to appear. However, it seems that you must create a new lobby for each match, which to me feels like unnecessary busywork. I would rather find an opponent I enjoy playing against and face off a few times. Fortunately, it's also possible to protect matches with a password, in the event that you want to arrange some duels with a friend.
I already mentioned that battles are slow-paced, and I hinted that they can feel cheap. Well, I'd like to take this opportunity to reiterate that. Sometimes I would manage a nearly flawless victory, which wouldn't have felt so remarkable except that it was preceded by numerous rounds where I felt like I was playing much better and yet faced humiliating defeat. The AI sometimes likes to fill up its magic meter and unleash a nearly unavoidable attack that eliminates three quarters of your life meter in a split-second. Sometimes it does this twice per round, before you have time to fill your own meter even once. And sometimes, the devious foe may even begin a round by unleashing such an attack. I wish the developers had found better ways to ratchet up the difficulty.
Also, I wish the art design were more attractive during the battles. I have no real complaints about the images that appear to reward your victories, and the various menus look quite appealing. The duels, on the other hand, resemble something I might have expected to see at the very start of the PlayStation 3 era, if not a little earlier. I assume this is a side effect of the size of the development team (which consisted of around 15 individuals, including several composers), but that probable explanation doesn't prevent Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle from being one of the ugliest experiences available this console generation. It looks almost as bad in motion as it does in any screenshots you might see.
I'm thankful to NIS America for localizing games that might not otherwise leave Japan, but Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle feels like a waste. The project lacks the personality and the proficiency that would justify its MSRP at launch. It's a safe bet that when people look back on the Switch platform years from now and talk about the games that meant something, most of them won't remember this underwhelming venture. Not fondly, at any rate...
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 12, 2017)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
If you enjoyed this Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!