There’s an impressive array of Touhou games in Japan, and they cover many different genres. None are so prevalent as the shoot’em up, the category all main installments belong to. While Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is a spin-off that doesn’t exactly follow the same rules as the more traditional entries, it promotes many ideals found within the shooters. It’s a game where paying attention to bullet patterns, observing details, and displaying proper coordination and agility can be as important as beating down every opponent.
Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is a danmaku fighting game. This means a barrage of bullets is constantly coming at you, while you’re also sending out waves of projectiles. Your goal is to carefully and skillfully evade your opponent’s assaults, while similarly targeting them as best you can. Fortunately, you’ll automatically face your foe, which makes aiming a bit easier. Matches are sort, only lasting a few minutes, meaning you have to skillfully and efficiently handle every match.
Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet may not be a traditional Touhou shooter, but shares some similarities. Each of the nine immediately available playable characters, ten if you choose to get Aya Shameimaru, has her own bullet patterns and special skills. There are nine total sorts of main attacks, with additional Spell attacks when you have the enough of the charge gauge and a bomb available to use one. This allows for a level of intricacy and strategy you wouldn’t expect from a brawler of this type. You need to be constantly and consistently aware of how each of your attacks work, while also keeping track of opponents’ patterns. This way, you know exactly how to move.
It also rewards players for properly and delicately moving with finesse and rhythm, with energy and the opportunity to survive. You get three different sorts of movements: normal, dash, and slow moves. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. Normal is very basic. Dash is best for briefly and quickly evading a line attack that hits a specific region and doesn’t afford an opportunity to otherwise get out of the way. Slow lets you move very slowly, allowing for precise movements and improved grazing. The normal and slow movements might be the most important, since they allow a character to have bullets barely miss her, building up the charge gauge for charge attacks and spells. Dash is better for collecting power ups and bombs as they appear, to better prepare for attacks. After a few rounds, you find a rhythm. You learn delicate maneuvers that allow you to manipulate the flow of battle.
Recognizing and following the flow allows you to find the right moments to get close enough for a melee attack. While Touhou Genso Rondo: Bulllet Ballet is primarily a shooter with fighting elements, you can get close enough to trigger one of three more direct attacks. These follow a rock-paper-scissors pattern, with main melees beating sub melees, sub melees besting special melees, and special melees trumping main melees. Again, it’s about finding a time to strike, picking an appropriate move at the proper second, and hoping your decisions lead to your enemy’s vitality dropping. Repeated attacks can cause power-ups to drop, boosting your own character as a reward for getting in close.
Part of the intricacies also deal with the detail going into each character and ensuring their attacks flow well. Personalities really show through. I tend to use Alice Margatroid most, a young woman who has the ability to bring her dolls with her into battle to act as assistants and agents. This means more bullets and attacks stemming from each of them. Her basic pattern can be very direct, which means success often comes from also deploying the puppets appropriately so they’ll be shooting out multiple lasers with the sub attack or 360 degrees worth of bullets with the charge attack to compliment Alice’s more narrow stream. When her spell triggers, bullets fan out more and assault a far larger area.
It’s the sort of experience where the Story and Arcade modes give an opportunity to master movements and combination assaults, while Boss Rush and versus matches require more advanced tactics and experience. Especially when facing human opponents. A level of craftiness that can only be acquired through repeated play is needed for the more challenging affairs. There isn’t a training mode in Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet, to allow an opportunity to practice. However, Yuyuko and Youmu act as hosts during a Tutorial, explaining the proper controls and moves you can use. While it is informative, this is a game where I felt I learned best by doing. The Story mode’s first few matches aren’t too trying and gradually scale in difficulty. It actually works well as a more controlled environment for working out strategies with available characters, as preparations for more difficult Boss Rush and versus battles. There’s less pressure if you lose.
When people come to Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet, they’ll see some series staples. The focus on grace and movement is there, since you need to be aware of bullet patterns and know how to artfully evade every projectile. There’s also a sense of planning and aiming, since you must properly retaliate to defeat foes. It really is a dance, where rhythm and attention to detail will lead to success.
Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet will come to the PlayStation 4 in North America on September 6, 2016, followed by a European release on September 9, 2016.