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At least it delivers on its title...
- 11/23/2019 11:50 PM
- 535 views
Touhou Fantasy is a traditional 2k3 RPG. It’s using some scripts to fancy things up, but it’s still the same basic experience. As the name implies, it’s a combination fangame of Touhou and Final Fantasy, as well as a few other classic RPGs (like Phantasy Star and Mario RPG). How much you get out of the game may depend on your familiarity with its constituent parts, but you can play it without knowing anything and still get something out of it. What exactly that something is, well...lemme tell ya.
Let’s Talk About Graphics!
These are all over the place. You get a mix of RTP, Touhou/FF rips, and god only knows what else. The style clashes noticeably and there are many things that don’t appear quite right. You can look past it, but you’ll have to really try. The best visuals you’ll see are in battle, where the skills being used mimic actual Touhou bullet patterns, and the battlers have some dynamic, high-quality sprites. They still clash with each other, but they look good individually!
You’re bound to encounter a lot of visual quirks over the course of play. There are many things that seem off, or look fine until you’ve walked partway into them. Tile passability is often a guessing game. There are flowers you can walk over in some places, but not others, and that’s just one example. In some dungeons, there are parts of lava you can walk through and other parts you can’t, while the sprites are exactly the same. Sure, it’s used to hide secrets, but it’s kinda nonsensical. I noticed things with transparency issues, bumped into invisible objects/NPCs, and all manner of other optical bugs.
Let’s Talk About Audio!
The sound effects are, like the graphics, a mix of RTP, FF, and Touhou. You’ll probably recognize all of them if you’re familiar with the source material. However, I’m kind of assuming here, as I know nothing about Touhou and have very little knowledge of FF (I’m a fake fan of RPGs). Some of it is used more effectively than others. There are times where it feels like the sound effects just don’t fit with what’s going on, especially anytime a character drops a bead of sweat in a cutscene.
As for music, I don’t know for sure where it all comes from. There were a lot of mentions in the credits, and it’s mostly of the EDM persuasion. On the one hand, it’s enjoyable music and a lot of the tracks stuck with me. On the other, many places felt kind of tone deaf in the way that the music doesn’t convey a sense of atmosphere. Some tracks, you could mix and match to any area of the game for how little difference it would make.
However, I have no complaints about the battle music. This was handled in a very interesting way. The default battle theme for random encounters changes every time you set up your party. Whoever you choose as the leader determines the theme you’ll hear while fighting, so that was a cool touch.
The game has an alternate music mode you can switch on or off at any save point. I don’t know what impact this has, as I turned it on at the start and just left it like that.
Let’s Talk About Story!
As you may expect, it’s a crossover tale between FF and Touhou. By some unknown means, Pandora’s Box finds its way to the realm of Gensokyo (ie Touhouland). The unsuspecting owner of a curiosity shop opens it and unleashes hell across the world, becoming the antagonist himself as he’s possessed by Pandora. After that, it turns into your run-of-the-mill power level anime as new threats crop up all over the place and the stakes just get higher and higher. Personally, this sort of thing doesn’t really do it for me, but I understand why such things are popular.
Now, it’s here that I have to point out I couldn’t take away much from this plot because of how little I know about Touhou. There are only two things I really understood going in: Touhou is primarily a bullet hell series, and it has three million characters (who are 99.9% anime women). You meet approximately two million of these characters over the course of the game, so if you don’t already know who they are, you won’t have time to get to know them. This story is seriously being crushed under the weight of its enormous cast. I can’t tell you more than a few things about anyone that appeared, and all I can remember are the anime stereotypes they follow (of which there are assuredly plenty).
That said, a lot of this just feels too convenient to me from a storytelling standpoint. The whole thing comes across like an excuse to make as many arbitrary fights happen as possible. Mind control is rampant, possession occurs regularly, it’s never clear who’s truly a friend or a foe, and you end up fighting most of your allies before they join you anyway. That roughly summarizes the first half of the game. There are about a dozen villains active at any given time, and I’m not even exaggerating that number.
I don’t think much more needs to be said for context. If that sounds like a mess to you, then you have the right idea. I couldn’t even tell you the order of events or why they happened the way they did. Part of that is due to the game’s length, and the other part is due to generally poor presentation. The dialogue is full of typos. The cutscenes are weakly choreographed. I’ve worked in this engine before and I know it’s capable of better. There’s a significant lack of care behind everything that happens, and you’ll be relying on your imagination to make it even remotely compelling. This is where the cast truly shows its burden, as it’s nigh impossible to get invested in the struggles of 50 characters at once, especially when they barely have any emotional complexity. The tropes go about their business, say their tropey lines, and everything is just utterly predictable. Parts that try to be sincere fall flat because of the presentation issues. When your only reaction to someone being thrown off a cliff is “Aw, she was my Goombario” you know something is wrong. While there is some character death, and it doesn’t pull a Disney to save them all with the power of love or whatever, it probably won’t hit your feels too hard. Personally, I think the Touhou universe could stand to lose a few people.
Let’s Talk About Gameplay!
As before, it’s pretty common 2k3 fare: world map exploration, dungeon delving, treasure hunting, random encounter fighting; just bog-standard RPG formula all the way through. However, there are a number of systems in place to help spice things up, and the most obvious of those is the battle system itself.
Before we get into that, I want to discuss the adventuring aspect of it. Mapping in this game leaves a lot to be desired. Some areas look much better than others, but in many parts, it’s rather bland. There are places you can go where the entire screen is filled with the exact same tile. Locations seem to vary between too wide open and claustrophobically tight. Tile errors abound and areas can be hard to navigate, or break an event sequence when you find your way through a spot you weren’t supposed to.
At the start, it’s hinted that you’ll find treasures lurking in/on common objects, and that checking everywhere is worthwhile. It seems to abandon this idea pretty quickly, as treasure chests start showing up frequently and hidden items just cease to be. Maybe there’s a chance they continued to exist, but I gave up looking after a while.
Getting back to combat, I wish I could say the game handled it better; it can be very rough at times. For starters, the game’s default setting is “Active” which means that enemies will ready their actions the moment their ATB gauge fills. If you’re choosing your own move from a menu when that happens, they’ll use their attack as soon as you’re done. If that attack incapacitates or kills the hero you were choosing for, they don’t get to make their move. The game feels extremely unfair in this mode, so the biggest favor you can do yourself is to switch it to “Wait” mode right away in the menu. But that’s just a feature and not a true reason why this game struggles.
As RPG monsters go, the enemies in this game are very threatening. They move quickly enough and hit hard enough to cause real issues for your party. They often inflict status problems that are difficult to deal with, putting you at a huge disadvantage. There are times where these statuses are legit out of control. You’ll be hit with party-wide attacks that leave everyone unable to move for 50 turns while the enemies laugh at you. Typically, you’re better off just hitting F12 to reset than wait for a battle to sort itself out. Sometimes, you encounter notorious monsters who are mini-bosses in their own right. Getting caught by them unprepared usually means you’re done for. Things are very RNG-heavy and it can bone you over out of nowhere. It’s quite disheartening.
"Yeah, that's game."
Against these frustrating odds, you have a massive gang of Touhous (they’re all different fantasy races, but they just look like anime girls to me, so I call them all Touhous). Apart from the very beginning when you can fit them all in your active party, you have numerous people coming and going throughout the adventure, and in general, you have a staggering number of options for how to approach your problems. However, in spite of the sheer variety the game puts at your disposal, you may find that a lot of things aren’t really viable. The game expects you to play a certain way, and you’ll get dunked on if you just go in willy-nilly.
It’s most difficult at the start when you have the fewest options and enemies don’t care about your feelings (as if that ever changes). You have to rely on special attacks almost exclusively to get anything done. Regular attacks are complete garbage; they do little damage and miss very frequently. Even characters with their attack stat maxed are better off using skills instead of swinging their weapons. But at the very beginning, you don’t have the MP to back up constant skill use, you don’t have the HP to tank what your opponents are dishing, and you lack the funding to buy enough healing items. You have to scrape yourself up a few levels to even stand a chance.
By the way, the creator told me this game can be beaten without grinding or leveling up at all. I didn’t believe them, and neither should you. It might theoretically be possible, but I don’t think it’s that coherent, and even the dev admitted they need to fight for money on occasion. This game has undergone some changes during the course of my 125-hour playthrough. I can only hope you’ll find it in a better state than I did, after all my griping about its balance issues and such. The dev took some things into account and ignored others, and one in particular is worthy of note.
The bosses in this game yield no experience when defeated. I asked why this was early on, and the only real answer I got was “because FF did it.” You can call that a game design choice, but I don’t think mimicking a successful franchise counts when you don’t consider the impact on the game itself. The thing about this game is that the playable roster is enormous. At any given time, you have 15-20 characters to work with. There are also segments where you’re forced to use certain parties, so you could find yourself in a very tight spot if you neglected to maintain any of them. With such a huge amount of heroes to support, gaining boss XP could be a real boon toward keeping the party ready.
But that doesn’t fit with the dev’s vision, and they insist they can’t rebalance it for boss XP. If I had even a shred of doubt that a low-level run were actually possible, I might cut them some slack. Personally, I don’t see how that could ever be the case, so they’re effectively clinging to a poor design decision for the sake of novelty, and it comes at the player’s expense. The funny thing is that being over-levelled doesn’t make that much of a difference. The HP/MP you gain from it is the only tangible benefit, because the skill system is balanced such that your best damage options will always just be the correct elements. Everything else is utterly ineffective.
Speaking of skills, this game has an astonishing number of them. Most of the Touhous you can work with get ten or more, and very few have less than eight. On top of what they cast in battle, they all have secondary commands with unique effects (most of which I forgot immediately). A lot of skills are elementally aligned, so if you know what works against your current target, you can put the hurt on them decently well. Chances are you won’t know what works because there’s only one character that can scan (and she isn’t always available), and you can only derive so much from a glance at these enemies. They come from a variety of other games, Touhou and FF alike, so maybe you’d know their alignments if you had outside knowledge to bring in, but honestly, that doesn’t count. In many cases, you just have to know what to use in the first place, which makes it very trial-and-error.
Since leveling is only good for more HP/MP, your primary source of growth is through upgrading skills. Most skills have a level value starting at 1. You can find or buy scrolls for each character to upgrade the skills and make them stronger. You can’t skip any steps; you have to learn level 2 before you can learn level 3, and so on. Each new level replaces the one you had before it, so you can’t use weaker variants after upgrading. This system is fine in theory and creates some very interesting options with how you choose to invest your money and effort. However, it has one fatal flaw that is completely unrelated to its gameplay applications.
See, this is kind of a tech issue with 2k3. For this system to work, you use the skill-teaching item from the menu, and it triggers an event that checks your current skill level. It will then either teach the new skill while removing the old one, or tell you that you can’t learn the skill yet (if the requirements aren’t met). It makes sense, but the trouble is that you have to use all these upgrade scrolls one at a time from the menu. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were all at the top, but no. They’re almost at the very bottom of your inventory, and this game has A METRIC TON of equipment. Every time you go to upgrade skills, you have to scroll through the entire body of your collection to get the upgrade items, and use them...one at a time. It’s taken me over an hour to do before.
If that isn’t bad enough, because of how these items work, you have no easy way of knowing what skills your character already has. In the shop menu, it shows as if all the characters can use them because they’re event-triggering items and don’t actually teach the skills themselves. If you don’t know which level of skill you need next, you have to put the character in your party and check it yourself, which is a whole process on its own that can only be done from save points. If you happen to buy the wrong level by accident, all you can do is sell it back for half price. Some of these items are very costly, so you have to make sure you know what you’re doing before you buy. The whole thing is extremely unintuitive and a huge time waster.
Getting back to the actual combat, it’s tolerable in Wait mode like I mentioned earlier. Enemies will still pull fast ones on you, and you should make sure to save your game at every opportunity. You never know when you’ll encounter that one wrong enemy formation and get wiped by some nonsense you had no control over. There was one early dungeon I had to repeat more than five times for this exact reason. At least the game is good about putting save points before bosses. Speaking of, this game has a lot of gimmicky boss fights that make things quite tricky. Some gimmicks are more manageable than others, but going in HAM isn’t usually a viable approach. This is the kind of game where you need pre-knowledge of what to do, as having the wrong Touhous for the job will spell your inevitable doom. For all the skills they have, they aren’t versatile enough to turn things around when they’re faced with something they can’t handle. Your safest bet is to save beforehand, try the battle, then reset and bring the right people for it. The game is just too unforgiving for anything to work consistently...except for one girl who gets a special mention.
"Believe it or not, the monster is the one who should be frightened."
About midway through the game, there’s an optional party member you can recruit from a shop. Her name is Keine. She uses History skills, which basically means her attacks do set damage based on specific criteria. For example, her first attack does a calculation with her experience level and deals damage based on that. Another derives its power from your stock of healing items, and you can get its damage over 1800 just by buying enough of the right things (most characters struggle to break 1k without using a costly attack). These skills can miss, but their damage is irresistible, and they hit the entire enemy group at once. There’s also a piece of equipment she can wear to ensure they always hit, and she has a passive ability that shares experience with the rest of the party. You can’t ask for a better partner in your group. No matter who else you’re traveling with, you might be able to swing something as long as Keine’s around. She only gets more broken as time goes on, so pay attention to the skills she learns and you can really make the most of things.
All that said, game balance is mostly out the window in this. Enemies are too fast, hit too hard, their status problems are too potent, and if you don’t know exactly what to do about them before you even see them, you’re gonna have a bad time. The game isn’t impossible, and it can be fun to figure things out sometimes, but the absolute grind of it is annoying at best and insufferable at worst.
If I’m being honest, I can’t really recommend this title. If you’re a big fan of Touhou and Final Fantasy, you’re bound to recognize plenty of what’s inside. It may be more of a special experience for you. To me, it was overwrought, confusing, and excessively buggy. There were glitches I encountered simply because the dev hadn’t bothered to test those things themselves. What frustrates me most is that I see the potential that this game has. It’s buried under multiple layers of grit, but it’s there. The finished package feels like a rough draft, and it needs substantially more thought, care, and effort to truly shine.
Looking back on it all, I kinda feel generous giving it a...
2/5 “A functional game with serious issues holding it back.”
"I'm afraid you pissed her off."
125 hours? Sweet jesus!