Touhou Genso Wanderer is another installment in the series of Touhou titles NIS America brought forth to the west on the PlayStation platform. It is an interesting addition to the franchise, with its roguelike gameplay, visual novel cutscenes and colorful cast of Touhou characters.
The game opens with a cutscene which falls into uncanny valley territory, reminiscent of those FMVs from decades long gone. Thankfully, after this brief mishmash, Touhou Genso Wanderer appears to have a far higher production value than usual for a doujin title.
Basically, you are Reimu Hakurei and when you catch Rinnosuke Morichika playing with his golden ball (?) it slips from his hand and turns him into some kind of 90s Sunday cartoon villain. Shortly after, a mysterious tower happens to materialize out of nowhere and needs a closer inspection by Reimu herself.
Story is told through VN-like sequences with cool effects and polished visuals. This part of the game tries to introduce characters, but at the same time it kind of gives off that goofy vibe that Neptunia games are known for. It seems like the developers tried as hard as they could to make sense out of this roguelike story, but without taking it too seriously. This is especially evident in towns, where you can talk with a number of randomly placed NPCs who bring a bit more liveliness into the game. Their quirkiness comes alive as each Touhou character is a goldmine of funny character traits.
Touhou Genso Wanderer, unlike many doujin titles, starts off with a comprehensible tutorial that does a decent job of introducing you to all the rougelike intricacies you need to know before you embark on your adventure. This is especially useful for the newcomers to the genre, as seasoned players will feel right at home from the start.
Touhou Genso Wanderer employs all the features you would typically find in this type of game, with some interesting additions. Our favorite shrine maiden Reimu explores floors of the dungeons of increasing difficulty, fighting off numerous youkai in Touhou mythos while her stomach growls. You need to take good care of her or her HP will start to drop. Reimu will be joined by Futo Mononobe, who got expelled from a dojo for her poor sage skills. She seems desperate to get some training, but so are you who, starting at level 1, really need to grind your way up the dungeon floors in order to get a chance at the boss. Each time you die, you reset from zero experience, but with all your possessions intact. This isn’t all that restricting when compared to other games in this genre.
Aqua Style did a pretty good job at giving this title its Gensou look and feel. You can pick up some pretty amusing weapons and gear including umbrellas, hats and all sorts of wacky objects. My favorite being Kogasa Tatara’s tongue-sticking purple umbrella. Your weapons level with you, but you can also level them up yourself at the village shop or combine them with other weapons for further upgrades.
Reimu can do quite a bit of melee damage and this is what you will use the most. She can also unleash a special attack in the form of 4 firing shots in total. To replenish this super gauge, Reimu needs to collect the familiar P points which are scattered around the map and can be picked up from fallen enemies.
Your partner can cast spells and help you out quite a bit, as you can use her as a shield between you and enemies. Other than that, instead of giving you full control over the other player, there are only four behaviors you can order your partner to follow, but mostly you’ll want them to stick around in case you get overwhelmed by enemies.
Some enemies are outright unfair, and, accompanied with very rough spikes in difficulty, this can be pretty frustrating. There are numerous traps which can damage even the items in your inventory, spoiling your food or cursing all of your items. Specific enemies will turn into ghosts, which can be quite dangerous around other enemies. If you let a ghost escape, it will possess an enemy, making it much stronger, and then it will proceed to kick your ass back, sort of like revenge for killing them. The first time it happened to me I was totally unprepared and didn’t even figure out what had occurred until much later. But that is all part of the charm of roguelikes.
Preparation is key if you want to survive the brutal dungeons. You will need to make use of preservation gaps which grant you more inventory space and protect your items from spoiling or curses. There are shops in most safe points and, most importantly, a really helpful trio of cheery kappas. They will help you warp around and will give you the ability to fuse items and also mix ingredients in order to make numerous useful items.
Beating the first 38 floors took about ten or so hours, which is fairly short for a dungeon crawler, but there is some extra content afterwards. When you beat the game, you will unlock a new partner, Satori, new dungeons to explore – one of which offers a lunatic difficulty mode with all sorts of restrictions for hardcore players – and, finally, more story segments with the new character.
The only true gripe I have with this title is its lackluster menu and cluttered HUD design. You can’t equip both your weapon and armor at the same time, and when you try to mix ingredients you are only permitted to create one item, after which the game kicks you out of the menu. It seems this is because of restrictions of the dungeon crawler system, so each of these actions is counted as one turn, but this shouldn’t apply to safe spots.
The visuals look polished, especially the visual novel parts. The core gameplay graphics look cute and colorful and the chibi style really suits Touhou’s colorful cast of characters. On the other hand, I felt that Touhou Genso Wanderer was lacking in the music department. Compared to all the great soundtracks in Touhou’s long history, we pretty much just got serviceable soundtrack at best, consisting of some uninspired remixes and not really that interesting original tracks.
Touhou Genso Wanderer is fairly accessible to newcomers. And, while the game falls among the shorter in the genre, the added bonus content after you beat the game for the first time is a nice addition. Touhou and dungeon crawler fans alike would enjoy this title, but at full price it might not be for everyone.