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[Let's Play] Touhou: The beginner's guide to danmaku

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Retired User
So, welcome to my let's play of Touhou. Although this thread will cater to the (hopeful) beginners, veterans of the games are free to stay and chip in as well. I myself am relatively new to the series, having only managed to complete Perfect cherry blossom(Well, almost, challenging Yukari at the moment) and Imperishable night, so if I say something wrong, feel free to correct me.

Now, some of you may wonder, What the heck is danmaku? Ok, remember those old 2D airplane arcade top down shooters where you flew your airplane or spaceship around dodging bullets and blowing stuff up? Well, multiply the number of bullets on screen by about a hundred. That's danmaku- Literal translation "Curtain fire", also known as the Bullet Hell genre.

For a visual aid, go ahead and watch this video here.(Not mine, also the non boss sections are fast forwarded, so don't pee yourself)

You back? Ok, pick your jaws off the floor. The good news is that's it's not as impossible as it looks, merely extremely hard. This is due to several reasons: The hitboxes in such games tend to be extremely tiny, being only several pixels in width. That changes things from "BLATENTLY UNPOSSIBLE" to merely Nintendo Hard. You also get bombs, or in this series, known as spellcards(More on those later), that clear the screen of bullets for you for a few seconds. Finally, the boss shown in that video is the Bonus Boss from Imperishable Night. The earlier bosses on normal mode tend to be far more manageable.

Now, to zero in a bit: What is Touhou?

Touhou is a series of danmaku shooters made by Team Shanghai Alice. Which consists of one man, known as ZUN.

He does everything, from the music, stage design, coding, art, and pretty much everything else involving the official games on his own. This has a drawback or two, mainly that the official art pretty much sucks.

Luckily, fandom makes up for it in spades.

Touhou stands out among other Danmaku shooters with certain things. The first, every character in the games is a young female(Or at least take on the appearance of one, for those who are Really Seven Hundred Years Old). No exceptions. Be they Vampires, Spirits, or even lunar aliens.

Secondly... every single game has absolutely mindblowing music, before you even start to count the fan remixes. Have a few samples.

UN Owen Was Her?
Plain Asia

And now, try out some remixes for them.

UN Owen Was Her? Remix
Necrofantasia Speed Metal Remix
Plain Asia Remix

For more listings, go ahead and visit the TvTropes Crowning Music page, and you'll notice practically every piece ever composed by ZUN is on that page.

There are as of now, 12 games in the series, with the first 5 having been developed for an older platform or something. However, as of game 6, the series has effectively undergone a continuity reboot, with most of the characters and events of the first five games never being mentioned again.

The plot of Touhou revolves around Reimu Hakurei, Shrine Maiden of the Hakurei shrine. A bit lazy, but quite friendly with people and spirits, and she's more or less responsible for maintaining the balance between the human and spirit world. Occasionally, someone decides to mess with the laws of nature in some way (Sun obscuring mist in ESOD, stealing spring in PCB, and corrupting the moon in Imperishable night, for instance), and it's up to her or one of her acquaintances, who shall be introduced later, to fight their way towards whoever is causing said problem, and beat the crap out of them, before inviting the instigator back to a tea party. No, really. Everyone who Reimu defeats ends up being her friend, much like Nanoha. Some of these have even become playable characters.

Now, the game I shall begin with is Imperishable Night, the 8th game in the series. This is widely considered to be the easiest game to beginners for several reasons: Firstly, you are able to start with vastly more lives than in any of the other games (Believe me, you will still need every one of them). Secondly, that this game has a much more lenient deathbombing system, which allows the player to bomb within a narrow margin of getting hit to save their own lives. Previous games had a window of 0.1 seconds, Imperishable Night has a window of about half a second to almost a full second, depending on character chosen, although at the cost of two bombs instead of one. Thirdly, the bombs in here are much more powerful against bosses than in the previous games, with a single deathbomb able to cut through a bosses entire healthbar for a particular spellcard.

Now, basic how to play info. Z shoots your bullets, X fires off your bomb(spellcard), holding down shift slows you down and alters your shot type(this is known as focus), and arrow keys move you. That's it for controls. Holding down the focus button also makes a circle appear in the center of your character. That is roughly the size of their hitbox.

There's something known as autocollection as well: Flying above a certain point of the screen while at full power will automatically collect all items on the screen for you. In this game, if you're not at full power, you can focus once above that point, and it will collect as well.

Red item drops are power points, and they serve to upgrade your shot strength, and it caps out at 128. When you die, you lose around 15 points, though you can recoup back twelve by recollecting them. Collecting enough blue item drops will eventually grant you extra lives, with the amount you have to collect to get a life up listed under the power and graze counter.

Gameplay through stages is as follows: Generally, you fight your way through armies of weak mobs, who are there to serve as fodder and punish the careless. There may or may not be a mid boss, but once that is done, and you clear the stage, the boss arrives. The boss fight generally consists of alternations between "Non spellcard moves", which tend to be generic bullet spam, and "Spellcards", which are heavily and intricately patterned and last much longer than the nonspellcards, and give a point bonus should you complete it without dying or bombing. Of course, newbies should not bother about such things, and just focus on survival.

One key skill that players should carry throughout all games is the concept known as "Streaming". Some enemies in the game, instead of spraying randomised patterns, keep up a concentrated stream of fire aimed directly at you. Now, were you to attempt to run around the screen wildly during such a barrage, it would typically end like the picture on the right:

Now, what you want to do against these enemies is to strafe as slowly as possible without getting hit. This herds the bullets into a tight cluster, buying you a whole lot more time to kill the enemies or survive the boss barrage. In the event that you need even more time, what can be done is to make a quick jerk forwards in the direction you are streaming, and begin streaming it in the opposite direction. The above left picture is the exact same situation but with streaming done right, and you see all the yellow bullets being herded into a nice tight group.

One slightly more advanced mechanic of Imperishable night is the Time system. Beginners can feel free to skip this section, although this becomes necessary to unlock some extra spellcards to battle against later, and even plays a role in whether you can continue. Every stage has a time counter, below the power and bomb bar. There are several ways to acquire time points. The first way is simply to shoot while unfocused. The bar on the bottom left of the screen generally indicates how much time you're spending focused or unfocused, and collecting time points will push the bar further towards whichever side you are on at the time of collection. when the bar slides to the left (Human side) enough, which happens at 80%, any bullet that hits an enemy will give you one time point.

Secondly, some enemies deploy familiars, represented by flying spell circles. While unfocused, your shows will impact and destroy them. Nothing inherently wrong with that if you're just trying to play through, as it stops those things from shooting at you themselves. However, when focused, your shots go directly through the familiars and impact their boss, which can be important for some bosses that surround themselves with familiars. When an enemy is slain, all familiars they control also explode, and for every exploding familiar you are handed a certain amount of time points.

The third method is simply to capture a spellcard; that is, survive a spellcard without either bombing or dying. Bear in mind, you LOSE time points when you die(Or deathbomb, for that matter), so better to bomb than be killed if you can't dodge in time. This method gives the largest amount of time points.

What are time points good for, then, you ask? The game starts at 11 pm, and ends at 5 am regardless of how many continues you have. Completing a stage takes one hour, and continuing takes half an hour. However, if you manage to fulfil the time point requirement for a certain level, you only half an hour passes on that level instead of one full hour, buying you more "time" to finish the game. In addition, fulfilling the time point requirement for the level will unlock a "Last word" Spellcard, which is a bonus card that doesn't allow you to bomb, but will not penalise you with a life loss should you fail to pass it. Finally, it's semi important when facing the true final boss of the game, but that's a topic for later.

Anyway, I've rambled on long enough. Onwards to the character select!

In this game, unlike the previous 3 games, your characters work in pairs, with the human side taking over when unfocused, and the youkai(Spirit) side taking over when focused. The plot of this particular game revolves around the occurrence that something is corrupting the full moon, and whichever heroines you use enact a spell to freeze the night, buying them time to fix the issue, hence the name, Imperishable Night.

This is border team. I've already introduced Reimu. Her partner is Yukari Yakumo, a youkai whose power is the control over boundaries. What exactly does that mean? In gameplay terms, doesn't matter, everyone fires bullets in some way or another. In story terms? Control over boundaries. Think about that in the most abstract way possible. Realise that she has control over every single one of them. Boundary between life and death? Boundary between the underworld and the real world? Yeah, you don't want to pick a serious fight with her.

In gameplay terms, Border team has the smallest hitbox among all the teams, which is 4x4 pixels as compared to the 5x5 used by everyone else. Border team also has the longest deathbomb window, and a couple of really good shot types, with Reimu's homing type shots and Yukari's ability to have half her shots automatically lock on to the opponent.

This is magic team, consisting of Marisa Kirisame and Alice Margatroid. Marisa is the Badass normal in a world full of superpowered spirits and maidens, and also the second main character of the series. While everyone else is born with superpowers or has them bestowed upon themselves in some way, Marisa, the ordinary magician, just works her butt off to match their power levels the old fashioned way. She's also a thief collector who goes around stealing borrowing precious things, her reasoning being that as an ordinary lifespanned human in a world full of long lived spirits, they can just take back their stuff after she's dead, so they shouldn't mind. Interestingly, this also shows up as a gameplay mechanic, with several of her spellcards being modified variants of what other people have used before.

The other thing Marisa is famous for is her signature Master Spark. What is that, you ask?

Best summed up in the words of ZUN himself: Freaking huge magical laser. This has a rather impressive effect when it's actually being used, but we'll cover it when we get there.

Also, laser is not difficult.

Alice Margatroid, unfortunately, is someone who I'm not too familiar with, so I can't give you guys any more info besides that her main skills revolve around the control of all her dolls.

Gameplay mechanics: Despite Marisa's impressive resume, as a playable team... well, Magic team kinda sucks. They have terrible shot types, with next to no spread. Their abilities are that they can autocollect items without being at full power(Pointless, as focusing lets you do that anyway), and a large hitbox for item collection, (also pointless given the autocollect feature). They have a faster speed than the other characters, which can be both good and bad. There are two partially redeeming features though. Bombing with Marisa will unleash her Master Spark, which is the most powerful and longest lasting bomb in the game. There is also a mechanic/bug dubbed the Malice cannon, which I will go through while playing the stage where I have to play as Marisa, but basically doubles their attack power if used right.

Scarlet team consists of Remilia Scarlet and Sakuya Izayoi, who are the final and 5th bosses of ESOD, the 6th game in the series. Sakuya is the loyal maid and servant of Remilia, and storywise, is unique in her attack types: she doesn't use magic to attack, she throws knives. Loads and loads of knives. Her magical ability is to stop time, and some people have tried to handwave her hyperspace arsenal by joking that in the middle of combat, she simply stops time to pick up all her knives, and carries on throwing them. Remilia is a vampire... and that's about all I can tell you, unfortunately, since I haven't completed ESOD yet. In ESOD, she was the one responsible for releasing a scarlet mist to block out the sun and allow herself to move around during the day, but once she was defeated, she settled for the much more mundane solution of... using an umbrella.

Gameplay mechanics: While unfocused, the falling speed of items slows down a lot, presumably due to Sakuya's time manipulation skills. Handy sometimes, but sometimes a hassle too. Depends on the situation. She also has a large hitbox for grazing, and if you die with bombs remaining, one of the bombs is released for you to recollect instead of being completely lost. Sakuya's shot type is ok, has a decent spread, but Remilia's is... unique, and can't really be explained without showing it on a video.

Finally, we have Ghost team, consisting of the half ghost swordswoman Youmu Konpaku(Don't question how someone can be half a ghost, it's not worth the trouble), and her mistress, the ghost princess Yuyuko Saigyouji. Both of them were the 5th and final bosses of PCB, the previous game. Youmu is the loyal servant of Yuyuko, much like Sakuya is to Remilia, and her sword has been self professed to be able to cut through anything. Well, Almost anything.. Soccer balls seem to be a problem in particular. Yuyuko is the ghost princess of the underworld, and again, I'm not too familiar with her story, so there's not much I can tell you about her, aside from the fact that her boss fight is absolutely stunning to watch. I'll eventually get around to doing Perfect Cherry Blossom and show you guys then.

Also, she has absolutely hilarious dialogue in this game.

By the way, if any more knowledgeable people here know more about this series than I do, feel free to step in and feed us the info. I for one would like to know more.

Gameplay mechanics: Similar to Remilia, Youmu has a unique shot type that has to be seen to be explained. Yukuko has the best spread among all the shot types, and it also does good damage. Because Youmu is a half ghost, the human side of the bar only goes to 50%, making it easier to collect time points. Whenever completing a stage, if you have 3 bombs or less remaining, you will instantly be credited one extra bomb.

Well, that's the introduction to the series. For my playthrough, I will be attempting to meld both video and text posts together, so just be ready to keep both open as I try it out.

A word of warning: I'm not an expert at Touhou, not by a long shot. So far, my resume consists of clearing Imperishable night on hard, Imperishable night's extra stage, Perfect cherry blossom on normal, and the first bonus stage of perfect cherry blossom. (Working on beating Yukari as the moment). As a result, all the playthroughs will be initially be on normal mode for now (so I don't rotally embarass myself), except the extra stages, since to play them is lunacy in itself. :p I will be using border team on my playthrough, until the time comes to switch and show you guys some character specific bosses, at which point I will switch to magic team.

Whatever you do, don't play on easy mode! Doing that leaves you unable to unlock the bonus stage, and in some games, even the bosses mock you and the game ends there. Or so I've heard. Also, only kids play on easy mode!

Remember... more posts in this thread encourages me to update faster! :D
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Validated User
Awesome. This looks interesting. I'd always wondered about the Touhou craze and characters. :D


Pervy Catgirl Fancier
Validated User
...Watching someone do a Let's Play of a bullet hell shooter is going to be...interesting. There's a few more then 12 games if you count the various official spinoffs, like Scarlet Weather Rhapsody or Shoot the Bullet. The first one you're doing...that's the one with Wriggle, right? I adore Wriggle. :D

Alice is mostly known for her huge, fancanon crush on Marissa. Her's was the 'Precious thing' Marissa stole. In terms of canon, she's a rather introverted youkai that likes to avoid people. Her powers are, as you mentioned, based around the control and manipulation of dolls.

Remilia Scarlett. Goth Loli vampire about sums it up. It's said the 'Scarlett' in her name comes from the stains on her dress after she feeds. She's a bit more mellow these days and doesnt kill humans. She's head of the house, has a powerful, if unstable, younger sister who she keeps locked up in the basement. Lots of servants.

Youmo is also Yayuko's gardener. Her power is one of speed. While it looks like she also manipulates time, she's apparently moving so fast time's dilating around her.

Yayuko is known in fan canon for being a huge glutton. She's one of the nicest characters in the series, and is friends with Yukari from a long time back.


Nuclear Energy Advocate
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I don't think I'm a Touhou fan, but I certainly dipped my feet in it. I agree with the claim that the music is awesome. In fact, I suck at danmaku and don't have any great love for it and still very rarely played it. If it weren't for the music, and the awesome awesome fan remixes and the merely hilarious, I wouldn't even notice Touhou.

Now, whenever I hear people talk about Touhou, the words "Erin, Erin, help me Erin" echoes in my head.

Current favorite remix: Bad Apple
And here's some of the cool things people in the Touhou fandom do.

Agrias oaks

Holy Knight
Validated User
Subscribing to this thread!

I say try the Marisa/Alice team, thats the way I beat 8, and I feel they'resot forgiving of teams for the game. If you're taking suggestions, that is.


I think I'm a Drow now
Validated User
Heh, this should be fun. I just don't have the reflexes to play games like this, but they're normally fun to watch, and the fandom is kinda funny - like you say, the offical work is kinda crap, but some of the fan stuff is just beautiful. I'm also kinda surprised that there's no anime of it yet. If Black Rock Shooter can get one (she doesn't even have a background, she's just a character from a music video!) then a group of moe-loli's that fight should be a shoe-in.


Pervy Catgirl Fancier
Validated User
Not counting all the fan produced animated vids and projects, huh? :) There has been anime, actually. It was fan produced, and actually had some decent star power in it. Zun asked them not to do it again; For some reason, he doesnt seem to like the idea.

I have to admit, half the fun of the entire Touhou thing is the HUGE fanbase and what it comes up with in lieu of official material. I think something like 90% of all known 'facts' on characters is just commonly accepted fan canon.


Pervy Catgirl Fancier
Validated User
Bad Apple's a great song, but I got a bit burned out of it with all the variations.
And then I saw the version that had the lyrics translated. Ugh.
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