Touhou Gensou Rondo: Bullet Ballet is a 3D fighting arena game developed by CUBETYPE and published by NIS America. It was first released at Comiket 82 in 2012 and now in 2016 we get to play it for the first time on consoles and as a very first Touhou game to get properly localized for the western audiences (Touhou Double Dealing Character we reviewed last year was not translated).
Touhou Gensou Rondo: Bullet Ballet is a unique bullet hell game with a fighting game twist. The game plays like an arena fighter where you fight your opponents one-on-one. Unlike in typical Touhou games, both players go at each other using a barrage of bullets. But that is not all as if you get close enough to your opponent you can manage to get a good whack at them with your melee weapon. Which, as you might have guessed is as satisfying as it sounds. Of course, there is a chance they might block you and return an attack, so watch out! In the game’s very own words this is quite savage for a danmaku title.
Your typical battles consist of two rounds (or three depending on if there is a tie) of constant bullet hell action. There are a number of playable modes available. Arcade is your typical no-fuss just beat-as-many-opponents-as-you-can action. You can also start a match versus a computer opponent of your choice, as well as play against real-life opponents on the same console. Of course, there is an online multiplayer option as well so you can try your skill against opponents around the world.
The controls can get a bit confusing, but there is a lengthy tutorial that really goes in depth and covers pretty much everything you need to know to start playing. The only gripe I have with this tutorial is that its tiny white text on a bright background can be really hard to read.
You have your normal attacks with medium firepower. And there is a charge gauge that has various uses. Charge attacks, spell attacks, special melee and damage reduction are all dependent on it. A surefire way to win a battle is to learn how to control your charge consumption and also when to use up your defensive attacks. The enemy just launched a spell attack, so what do you do? Do you use up your bombs and charge to repel their attacks or do you try to skillfully avoid as much of their attacks as possible and save up for your own special attack later down the line?
The best way to recharge your charge gauge is to graze bullets. You know, that tricky technique that involves narrowly avoiding bullets in the hope you won’t screw up in the meantime.
Bombs are also fairly useful and provide you with canceling attacks and are also used for spell attacks. You might be wondering what is a spell attack. This is a special mode in which you have an opportunity to shower the opponent with an even bigger barrage of bullets, resembling boss battles from the mainline Touhou games. This is especially entertaining as it puts you in shoes of the boss character as opposed to your typical danmaku hero. The game even has a special boss rush mode where you go up against one on one magical bullet battles with opponents of varying difficulties.
As with most Touhou titles, there is a cringe-worthy storyline, with its random sense of humor. But it is kind of cute in a way, and I’m sure Touhou fans will appreciate it has that same flavor in the official games. All the characters have their quirky personality on full display here and it can be really funny at times.
The game stands out with it’s colorful and well-drawn character portraits and the same could be said for its 3d models which are chibi versions of Touhou’s most known and beloved characters. The soundtrack consists of remixes of Touhou’s well-known themes mixed in with some other tracks which don’t really stand that well on their own, but overall it fits in with the game but maybe that is the issue as it doesn’t have many stand-out tracks.
The only downsides are that the game is fairly short and that story mode has an uneven difficulty curve which transitions to ridiculously easy to impossibly hard in the span of a couple of opponents. On the other hand, you might be tempted to finish the game with all the characters, which would drastically prolong gameplay time as there are 13 playable characters, of which four are PlayStation 4 exclusive (Yuyuko Saigyouji, Aya Shameimaru, Flandre Scarlet and Yukari Yakumo).
All in all, if you are a Touhou fan and even if you just like doujin games in general, you will find that Touhou Gensou Rondo will provide you with hours of fun, especially considering the number of modes and available characters. And not to forget that this is the first time any Touhou game was released on a console and at the same time the first officially localized game for the western markets, so the success of this title might mean that we can expect more Touhou games around the corner.