Touhou mania on Western consoles continues after the arrival of Touhou Genso Rondo and Touhou Scarlet Curiosity last year. I suppose it’s possible at this point there are newly-minted Touhou fans who aren’t even aware of the series’ bullet-hell shooter installments. The appeal’s easy enough to see: you’ve got an appealing setting and cast of characters in games that are typically presented with rounded edges so anyone can enjoy them.
Genso Rondo presented a Touhou-flavored take on fighters, Scarlet Curiosity was a sort of top-down adventure game and now we’ve got Touhou Genso Wanderer for the roguelike fans out there. That should cover just about everyone, right?
When Touhou face girl Reimu Hakurei encounters a possession-related crisis, it comes down to her to solve the problem with a companion in tow. That’s…that’s pretty much the story. If you aren’t already familiar with Touhou lore, don’t expect Genso Wanderer to hold your hand, as it introduces characters left and right who might be fan favorites but won’t be relevant to anyone but the hardcore. Anyway, you’ll run around in randomly-generated dungeons, kill stuff and grab loot, repeat until satisfied. Nobody said roguelikes needed deep and convoluted storylines to work; in fact, sometimes attempting to slap an involving plot onto one of these games can backfire a little, as many people who’ve played the bizarre PS2 and Wii roguelike Baroque might tell you.
You’ve probably experienced the gameplay here before in some form or another, perhaps via the iconic Shiren the Wanderer or the pocket monster spinoff Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. Dungeon exploration is easy to get a handle on, but it’s very difficult to master; you have to keep track of both your health, which can be difficult to recover in a prompt manner, and a constantly-decreasing hunger meter that pushes you to play efficiently. Adapting to what the game throws at you is key both in terms of dealing with monsters and using the items you find.
Genso Wanderer largely doesn’t stray from these roguelike basics. The most obvious change is the addition of danmaku – “bullet hell” – a term usually referring to the seizure-inducing shooters that make up the majority of the main Touhou series. Here they’re special attacks fueled by power charges that you pick up while exploring. The addition of danmaku means that you’ve always got ranged and area attacks available so long as you can afford to pay for them, which is a nice touch. It certainly doesn’t make the game much easier, though, and you can expect to get murdered by Touhou-themed baddies early and often throughout the game.
You come into a game like this expecting death and that’s exactly what you’re going to get. Genso Wanderer starts off fairly easily but takes off the gloves before long. You’ll die from running out of food. You’ll die from enemy attacks that were more powerful than you expected. You’ll die from being overwhelmed. Staving off death will only be possible by learning to use the game’s various mechanics and unusual items to your advantage; tricks such as keeping food hidden in containers to keep it from being stolen, for instance. That’s what this sort of old-school dungeon crawler is all about, after all.
Your inevitable death will be visually and aurally appealing at least. Genso Wanderer goes for a unique spin on the Touhou style, which might make some characters look a little different than you’d expect; even Reimu seems a bit edgier than usual. Gear appears on your characters when equipped, which is always appreciated. Music and sound are decent if not memorable, and there’s some minor and inoffensive voice acting as well. One other thing: as mentioned, Touhou diehards are bound to recognize all the various characters that pop up and the many in-jokes used throughout the game, but those who aren’t intimately familiar with the series could stand to do some Wiki diving before playing.
It’s certainly not an easy game and it’s clearly meant for fans, but Touhou Genso Wanderer does what it needs to do to fill its niche. Prevailing over impossible odds is what roguelikes are really all about, after all, so the difficulty isn’t quite the issue here that it is in sister game Touhou Double Focus. As for the laser-focus on fans, well, isn’t that what this whole Touhou push is all about? If you know and love these characters, there’s a fair chance you’ll feel the same about this game. If you don’t, you might still want to check out this roguelike if you enjoy the genre. It’s also worth noting that physical copies come with Touhou Double Focus on its own disc, which isn’t especially inspiring on its own but is certainly appreciated as an extra game.