The flow of Touhou Project spin-offs continues. This month, NIS America has brought two of them westward, one of them being Touhou Double Focus. This is a brief, adorable Metroidvania title starring two of characters that are relatively well known in Gensokyo lore, but aren’t normally major players like Reimu or Marissa. That, combined with the manner in which its available, does a pretty good job of broadcasting the nature of this game. It’s a short, sweet affair that’s best enjoyed between other adventures, seeing as how someone could easily complete it in under seven hours.
Let’s start by setting the stage. Touhou Double Focus doesn’t waste time on exposition. The Book King, a magical book that should normally never been opened, has of course been opened. This has resulted in the merging of Gensokyo and the book world, bringing iconic characters into this imaginary world. Aya Shameimaru, a crow tengu who’s a reporter for the Bunbunmaru newspaper, and Momiji Inubashiri, a dog tengu, is her reluctant companion. The former wants to explore this new world for stories that will sell her paper, while the latter wants to get out. They’re forced to work together to find their way through and survive fights with familiar Touhou Project characters. That’s really all you need to know, as most of the storytelling involves the two heroines bickering and both positive and negative banter with assorted characters who’ve also been sucked into the book.
This involves going through a map made up of three different worlds. Aya and Momiji’s abilities were lost when they went from the real world to the book world, which means you have to regain all their lost abilities by rediscovering more books. While there are some generic skills, like cure spells and portal creation, that can be used by each girl, most are character-specific. Unfortunately, Touhou Double Focus is awfully vague about these skills. While games like Castlevania and Metroid make a big deal about leading you toward these important abilities, they’re just scattered about Touhou Double Focus. It’s very easy to not find what you’re looking for right away.
Which puts people in a rather precarious situation. On anything above Easy, Touhou Double Focus is a surprisingly difficult game. The gimmick is that you can swap between the two characters at any time, something that’s necessary since a character can only perform one to three of any kind of action before need to take a pause for an action gauge to recharge. This means each woman is appropriate to use in different situations. Momiji is a short-ranged fighter who can easily dash, doesn’t have controls that are as sticky, and is practically a powerhouse. Aya is a more agile flier, when the janky controls aren’t leaving her unintentionally and temporarily paused in midair, who uses ranged attacks. While you’d think this means it’s obvious when to use which girl, the game is fond of surprise attacks and situations where you won’t know you’re in danger and could die to an enemy until you’ve actually ventured into its path. Which means Momiji ends up being the default, since it’s easier to run, block, and maneuver with her.
This isn’t to say Touhou Double Focus is bad, just that someone might need to take some time adjusting to its quirks. You have to realize that just because a door has a keyhole on it, doesn’t mean you actually have to go searching for a key. That’s just a sign a boss lies beyond the door. You learn to be cautious when exploring new areas, as an unseen witch character could begin slinging spells. You develop instincts to know when you should be switching between heroines, so you can quickly guard with Momiji to block boss danmaku and swap to Momiji to use her powerful ranged attacks. When you start figuring things out, it becomes a pleasant jaunt. You might even wish the game was longer than it is, since the characters are adorable and it is a refreshing little thing.
There’s a comfort in having a game that doesn’t outstay its welcome. Touhou Double Focus is a short, sweet game that offers a brief challenge for a few hours, then sends you on your way. It doesn’t bog you down with expositions and dependency on knowing about the series, which means anyone could hop in and play. It can be as easy or difficult as you’d like, allowing some measure of control over your situation. It has a mechanic that, while it possesses an action gauge that can be frustrating, does encourage strategic thinking. It’s a fine, brief game to play between other games.
Touhou Double Focus is available for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.