I Like Big Bows & I Cannot Lie
Touhou Genso Wanderer was just released alongside Touhou Double Focus, which was reviewed by our very own Kenny McKee. Click here to read his thoughts on the sister release title.
The Touhou Genso series seems rather beloved by its fans. As such, I was nervous about playing it. Having done so now, I’m even more nervous about reviewing it. Surely, Touhou Genso Wanderer is not the staple of the series, it being only the most recent incarnation. The big problem is that this seems to be one of the titles that made its way all the way to the west, and if this is one of North America’s first impressions of the series I don’t see it doing very well here for the average gamer.
Let me begin by saying that Touhou Genso Wanderer is a roguelike RPG. You play as Reimu Hakurei, the shrine maiden of Hakurei Shrine and longstanding heroine of the Touhou series. Lazy, selfish, and uninterested in the events of things going on around her, Reimu is tasked with cleaning up another incident that threatens to to tear Gensokyo apart. She is joined early on by Futo Mononobe who can accompany her as she ventures through randomly generated dungeons on her way to right the wrongs done by Rinnosuke. The game’s events begin as he is possessed by the powers of a magical golden ball unwittingly released by Reimu’s own mettling. His plan? Make clones of everyone in Gensokyo, for reasons that weren’t entirely clear. It might have been human sacrifice, but maybe it’s for a tax scam? Or perhaps he had plans to institute voter fraud? Again, this is really unclear. You get most of this in a really quick exposition dump as you attempt to familiarize yourself with the game, and it kinda all collapses in on itself from there.
My first impressions were annoyance as I was accosted by very long, interactive novel style cutscenes that seemed powered exclusively by female anime character tropes. The dialogue was strange and not very on point with descriptors of what was happening, but I chalked this up to a weird translation issue and powered through to the gameplay. After all, you can’t judge a game by its cutscenes.
Once you finally get into the gameplay, which takes a while, the first thing you’ll notice is that your screen is really busy. The HUD in this game is nothing short of a mess, lessened only slightly if you’re travelling alone compared to with your companion, Futo, whom you’ll meet once you get back to the Hakurei shrine. The major issue here isn’t so much the health or “tummy” bars, or even the equipment status bars that show those levels as you use them in combat, it’s the damned dungeon maps.
The dungeons in Touhou Genso Wanderer tout that they are randomly generated, and after a while this begins to show. There are rooms that don’t branch off into anything else, or corridors that lead to nowhere, wasting time as your “tummy” bar ticks down and kills you. However, as you progress the HUD draws out a map of all the rooms and corridors you’ve already walked through. This isn’t by itself bad. In fact, many games do this, but the HUD map is drawn so large for its normal setting that you soon are hard pressed to determine which part of your screen is the HUD and which part is the actual level you’re trying to play through. The HUD map is mildly transparent, but when that overlaps with item drops and your equipment status bar, you kind of just want to throw your hands up in the air. Granted, you can alter the HUD layout, but then things start to become unreadable and you risk venturing into migraine territory.
Progression through dungeons isn’t really difficult. You walk around until you find the glowing green pentagram that teleports you to the next floor, however, sometimes as you teleport, the room you end up in is the room with the teleporter to the next floor, eliminating any need or desire to continue exploring, especially if your tummy bar is low.
Speaking of the tummy bar, this is the only thing you really need to worry about in the game. Your health regenerates as you walk, unless it’s wiped in battle, but for every few steps you take the tummy bar goes down, meaning you need to find food or purchase it from one of the three shops you encounter along the way. Eating regenerates your tummy bar, but sometimes not often enough to matter. Different types of foods fill your tummy bar various amounts, and it’s up to you to find out at clutch moments which are useful and which are only delaying the inevitable. Drops on food items are pretty rare, so if you haven’t purchased or found any in awhile, or the ones you found have gone bad (WHY IS THIS A THING?) then you’re out of luck.
True to roguelike gaming style, starving to death, like dying in any other circumstances, starts you right back over at the beginning of the dungeon again. Shops don’t restock as often as you need so poor inventory management (of which you only have thirty spaces that share room with weapons, spells, talisman, and charms) will result in often critical failures in gameplay.
The dungeon designs never really change. The aestheticsgive you an illusion of variety for the first few playthroughs, but only add salt to the wound of disappointment with every repeat play as you struggle to get further and further. Walls are destructible in some levels, which makes for some interesting ways to fabricate shortcuts when you’re trying to avoid enemy encounters or just want to get to that teleporter faster. In the end, that little gameplay addition ends up being worthless as assuming you’re mining in the right direction (and discovering the opposite) just wastes more time and stamina.
Enemies themselves don’t vary much either. There’s no specialized way of defeating any of them that I could tell. Instead, enemies were simply re-skinned and only got stronger the further you got. Some enemies generated spirits when killed, and could run away to possess others, making them slightly stronger; but nothing that ended up making your runs more complicated than they already were. The only real trouble is when you get teleported into a room where you’re surrounded by enemies. If Futo doesn’t decide to randomly use her fire technique that wipes a room clean, you’re pretty much boned as you literally take it from all angles; and because combat is turn based (something that’s easy to forget), by the time you select a healing potion from your inventory it might be too late to apply it because you’re already dead.
Eventually, you will get to the boss fight for the first dungeon. If you’ve figured out what to do here, please contact me. As stated before Rinnosuke, possessed by the power of the magic golden ball that Reimu opened earlier, (insert “phrasing” jokes here) has made him evil. He’s created clones of himself just as he’s been doing of all the residents of Gensokyo, and you now have to fight them before you can get to him. However, every few seconds the screen is completely inundated with particle effects from spells he casts on himself. Approaching him depletes your health incredibly quickly as he begins to cast on you. Of course, since my inventory is filled mostly of red bean cakes and talismans I have very few spells I can actually use for him. I did enough damage where I got thrown back to the entrance of the room, where I was surrounded by new clones, and then promptly murdered.
After over thirty floors of dungeons, and then this, I put my controller down. I’m not the biggest fan of roguelikes but I’ve played Bloodborne and Demon Souls, and those games were more rewarding than Touhou Genso Wanderer in gameplay, even if I made slower progress in my playthroughs.
I really wanted to like this game, and to be fair there were parts of it that I really did enjoy despite its flaws. Touhou Genso Wanderer seems too easy as a standard roguelike, but if Aqua Style had tweaked the game and changed up the visuals as well as the enemy encounters, this could have been a nice, simple little standalone RPG. The chibi styled characters were cute, and I was highly amused that one of my strongest starter weapons was a giant, green banana. Weapon combos could have been better integrated, and the fusion/mix mechanic introduced late in the game could have been offered sooner with more information on just how exactly you should want to structure your weapons.
Overall the game lacks balance, instruction, and a general understanding of design principles. Often my only driving principle was to see how far I could get before something stupid killed me. My own skills as a gamer weren’t really being put to the test. More often than not death was simply the luck of the draw, which in a roguelike game is kind of cheap, I think.
The pricetag for a game that offers so little seems rather outlandish as well. Rumei and all of the characters are more or less unlikeable and two dimensional. They ran heavily off of anime tropes that might have been funny if I were thirteen again. The game gets boring, and because it’s a roguelike there’s no way to pause it and put it down unless you utilize the quick save system, which again, only delays the inevitable if you have no way to successfully manage your resources. With all that being said, I’m sad to say that I can’t in good conscience recommend Touhou Genso Wanderer for anyone outside of the anime fandom, unless if they’re a genuine Touhou fan.
Final Verdict: 2.5 / 5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) Vita; Publisher/Developer: NIS America; Players: 1 ; Released: March 14th, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $49.99
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy of Touhou Genso Wanderer given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.