Because I missed Touhou’s 20th anniversary…

Highly Responsive to Prayers and Story of Eastern Wonderland were both released to the public on 15th August, 1997. It’s been 20 years since then. And I missed the date. Damn. Since I can’t go without giving some kind of tribute to such a great series, let me re-post here a Reddit post I made upon reaching my fifth year as a Touhou fan, where I paid tribute to its brilliance. (Bear in mind this was in May prior to HSiFS’ release.)

I don’t remember exactly when I found the one thing that ultimately got me here. But judging by how long ago I put the first picture into my vast Touhou folder it was probably a little over 5 years ago now.

When people get asked how they got into Touhou, there’s a lot of different ways that come up. There’s the usual suspects. U.N. Owen. Bad Apple. Maybe something from IOSYS. There’s the great elements that come together to make Touhou what it is. The music, the games themselves and of course its lovely, lovely characters. My gateway to Touhou wasn’t quite as conventional as that.

My way into Touhou was a video on YouTube of a fangame, Touhou Soccer. You know, that game I won’t shut up about. The one I wrote a guide about last Redditaisai. I was just binging YouTube, as we all do, when my deep, deep search eventually led me to a video titled ‘An unfriendly game of Touhou Soccer’. Being a football fan, I clicked it on through curiosity. And I fell in love with it almost instantly. Not because of the girls, though their presence certainly helped. But because I knew exactly what the game was based on. From there, I slowly but surely got to know the girls in it and, well, I haven’t looked back.

Now, I had heard about Touhou before I properly got to know it. In fact, you hear that non-Touhou music playing in that video? Yeah, I’d heard all of that a long time ago, remixes of the Captain Tsubasa series’ music. (Although due to a similarly named team in that series, Toho, I had mixed that up with Touhou.) But mostly this I’d only heard of Touhou before because I’d seen it mentioned a lot on TVTropes – specifically the fact it seemed to be the hardest game ever devised in the history of history. Of course, I now know that not to be the case. But I’m glad I did know it before I went out and actually played the games. Not that it’s made me any good at them, of course. For all my five years of playing Touhou, all I really have to show for it is a grand total of one 1cc. And that was with MarisaB in MoF. Which is the single easiest way to get one. (Well, apart from Stage 4.) Mind you, I have at least cleared some of the games with continues. I’ve done MS, PCB – which was my first game, and should be yours too – and…erm…oh, actually, that’s it. I came within one spell of doing EoSD once, though. And I can’t actually remember if I’ve really cleared IN. The way the endings work there are just way too weird. And I could probably do DDC one day. I’d count PoDD and PoFV, but that seems like cheating. So, no, I am really not very good at Touhou itself.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the games themselves. If I just sit back and watch someone who can actually beat them, I can take in just how brilliant some of it is. Heck, even when playing it myself, it can sometimes give me just such a rush. I mean, recently, I’ve been as hooked as I’ve ever been on some of the PC-98 games, and even they, despite being some 20 years old, can still thrill so much. I mean, have you played PoDD recently? That’s just an awesome game to play first hand, and also, have you noticed the soundtrack to it? It’s almost…perfect. Some of its songs are incredible. There’s some gems in PC-98’s locker, that’s for sure. Listen to its songs. Some are really damn good.

But, of course, it’s the Windows games that it’s all about, really. Sure, EoSD looks very dated now, and it doesn’t seem to work on my laptop any more. But some of the stuff in the game is timelessly classic. It’s unforgettable. PCB is a magical game, too. There’s a reason I tell everyone to start with it (and it’s not because I did too). It’s because it’s the most original, defining game of Touhou. And it’s still capable of raising chills for me, even today. And, if you can look past all the complexities of IN, there’s a properly epic feel behind that too. I have my qualms with the game, but there’s no doubt that Stages 4 and 5 are thrillers in that game.

But surely the best period of the series’ history was 2007 to 2009. That new engine made all the difference. Everything feels fuller, more action-packed from MoF onwards. MoF just feels like an awesome game to play, more frantic, more lively. It’s terrific, but not as much as SA is. I can safely say Subterranean Animism is one of the best games I’ve had the joy of playing. Every single bit of it is perfect. Nearly every single part of the game, taken individually, is the best in the series, and it makes for the series’ crown jewel. While my personal favourite stage in Touhou is SA’s Extra Stage and its boss, Koishi, I reckon the greatest fight in the series has to be Reiuji Utsuho’s. You can’t believe that it comes from a game that’s nearly 9 years old now. Because it’s still jaw-dropping even today. In fact, SA is, on the whole. And UFO is another wonderful game, and even its gimmicks can’t bring it down. So all in all, three successive games which are among the series’ best. If you’re new to the series, get to them when you can. Because they are all terrific.

Then there’s TD. But let’s pretend it’s not there because I don’t want to lower the tone or anything.

DDC was the first shmup to come out once I’d become a fan, and while it’s never fully won me over, I now see it as a pretty terrific game on the whole. It feels pretty cool to play and it certainly has its epic moments, even if it’s not exactly the hardest game in the series. But with ZUN releasing games less often than in the past, I was wondering if perhaps I’d never quite see a truly, truly great new Touhou game in my time as a fan. I thought I might have come a bit too late, but in 2015 I got shut right up by the incredible Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom, an astonishing game. For all its many and varied flaws, the game itself just feels utterly incredible to play through. It’s as lively as any Touhou game has ever been, as mad, and as difficult as any game. ZUN went mad for this one and he made something special. A game that really encapsulated what Touhou was all about. Not only that, getting to play as all of Reimu, Marisa, Sanae and Reisen is as good a roster as we might ever see. And, whilst it took me a long time to warm to the music – no surprise there – once I did, I realised some of it was just phenomenal. LoLK has proven a divisive game, but I firmly believe it is amongst the very best in the series. However, it seems ZUN might have gone a little too mad with the game. HSiFS looks like it should be another strong game, but it’s clearly a lot calmer than the last game. Certainly, ZUN seems to have reined it back for this instalment. Hopefully it should still be pretty great though!

And let’s not forget some of the side games. My favourite of all is Soku, which is a great game to just sit back and play when I feel. But ULiL is another good side game too, and I even have that on PS4 now. AoCF looks like it should be a nice evolution on that, and will presumably bring closure to the aerial fighters, so hopefully that should be nice too.

But, as we all know, Touhou is so much more than just the games which provide the crux of the series. There’s the music, which obviously, is mostly very excellent. Except just about the only bit of Touhou I’ve never gotten into is the massive collection of remixes, weirdly. Obviously, there are several terrific remixes of different songs all around, and I’ve found some which I really love. But I’ve never found myself going all round searching and finding countless remixes from countless different musicians. Rather, my preferred way to listen to Touhou music is simply to sit back and listen to the original songs. Much as I’m doing right now, actually. (Reincarnation‘s on at the moment.) Of course, I can’t do justice to every single excellent song in the series, but I can at least point out some of my favourites. My favourite from the PC-98 era is a lot closer to call than it used to be, but I’d give it to Doll of Misery. It remains one of the most chilling songs in the series, and sounds epic as well. Honorable mention to Illusion of a Maid ~ Icemilk Magic, Vanishing Dream ~ Lost Dream, Maniacal Princess and Strawberry Crisis. From the ‘first trilogy’, as I like to call it (that’d be EoSD to IN), my favourite is Lunatic Eyes ~ Invisible Full Moon. It’s one of the only songs where every single remix I’ve heard of it seems to be absolutely brilliant. That speaks volumes about the song itself, which is clearly very excellent. By the way, my second favourite song of that era is…Cinderella Cage ~ Kagome-Kagome, from the exact same stage. Yeah, IN Stage 5 got a damn good draw on music, in my mind.

The ‘second trilogy’ (MoF-UFO) has my four favourite songs, and three of them come from SA. My favourite from MoF is Cemetery of Onbashira ~ Grave of Being, a song so epic I didn’t get tired of it even while having to hear it so often when playing the game in my attempts to clear it. But SA’s last three songs are my favourites from that game. Solar Sect of Mystic Wisdom ~ Nuclear Fusion is the perfect accompaniment to the stunning final battle. Hartmann’s Youkai Girl encapsulates Koishi’s astonishing fight to a T. But my favourite song in the series is Last Remote. It’s not just the fact it works well as a stage song, it’s the fact that musically it is just perfect. It’s perhaps the best song I’ve heard in any game, ever. And my favourite Touhou song of modern times is Pierrot of the Star-Spangled Banner. An absolute epic of a song that defines Clownpiece and her fight so, so well. Honourable mention to The Lake Reflects the Cleansed Moonlight, The Mysterious Shrine Maiden Flying Through Space and DDC’s Magical Storm.

And there’s all the little things with Touhou, too, such as the print works. Most of the comics are pretty great, but my favourite of all is Wild and Horned Hermit. All its stories are most interesting and it has that most lovely of art styles by Aya Azuma. And there’s other small things about Touhou that make it just that little more lovable. Gensokyo as a whole, an absolute fantasy of a world. The spell cards, some of which can astonish you in all manner of ways. Even the dialogue from the characters, which might be a dying art today, but which is a real source of amusement from EoSD to around UFO.

But if there’s one thing above all that I love most of all about Touhou, it is its numerous, wildly-dressed, and beautiful characters. After all, they’re what sold me on this series first and foremost. And since I first found them I’ve realised just what a difference they’ve made to me. Some of the characters are so good, they’ve redefined my standards of what’s possible from a character in any form of fiction, period. There’s something to like in a majority of the series’ characters, and in the case of the very best, there are several things to like about them. Make no mistake, some of Touhou’s cast really is truly, truly special.

Of course, not all of them are great. But when was anything in life ever perfect? What’s important is that there are far, far more characters I like than I don’t. And, of course, I happen to like plenty of the series’ characters. So I’ll give a small mention to the ones I think are the very best of the best. And beforehand I’ll give an honourable mention to this seriously good lot: Sakuya, Alice, Reisen, Aya, Satori, Koishi, Byakuren, and most of all, to Maribel and Renko. All seriously, seriously good characters, but not quite as good as this lot.

When I first got into Touhou, as I was getting into more and more characters, a few initial favourites came up. I was keen on Yukari, Remilia and Flandre, I took a good liking to Yuyuko especially and I really rather admired Sakuya as well, as indeed I still do. But the first character I really fell for was Yuuka Kazami. She’s just such so agonisingly pretty and yet also had a damn cool feel about her deep down. She remains one of my very favourite characters and my first year or so as a Touhou fan was all about her.

But there was one small problem. Due to the relative age of the game with which I got into Touhou, I never really got into any characters past PoFV (Touhou Soccer came out in 2006). So for well over a year, I didn’t know about nearly half of the series. Eventually, I went and took the plunge, and after finding out how terrific SA was in particular, one character stood out as a particularly outstanding person, and that was Reiuji Utsuho. Quite apart from also being another damn pretty character, there was more to her than her appearance. As I’ve already said, when I saw her fight in SA I was utterly smitten by that too and it made me wonder why the hell I’d missed out on this for over a year. And so ‘Okuu’ stands out to me as one of the most important characters in the series, the one who really made me a Touhou fan. Her brilliance inspired me to go on to further things with Touhou, rather than simply admiring it from afar. That’s how I found, for instance, this subreddit.

Over that time I’ve come to like all sorts of different characters more and more for all sorts of different reasons, but one I don’t think I’d have come to like quite as much was one who was there right from the start. As time has marched on, I’ve come to admire none other than the series’ very own protagonist, Reimu Hakurei, for her obviously pivotal role in Touhou. Yet it’s not just the fact you see her left, right and centre in Touhou itself, or the fact she is therefore its defining character. Because I’ve realised she is truly a magnificent character in her own right. She’s obviously a clearly flawed individual, but that gives her a genuinely human quality as a character – and not just because she actually is a human, within a sea of youkai. I mean as in someone who actually feels real. She’s a top-class character, and it helps that I am permanently amused by her snarky antics. Oh, and it also helps that she is, of course, really cute. Like, I don’t care what you say. She just is.

But even she’s not my favourite miko in the series. That accolade lies with my favourite character in Touhou, and probably in anything ever made ever. That’d be Sanae Kochiya. And the thing is, I’m still not quite sure how she became so. I actually found out about Sanae long before I cared to look into who she actually was, thanks to her sheer popularity. Five years ago I was a far naiver person than previously, and I thought going too lewd on something as simple as Touhou was just wrong. However, Sanae seemed to bring it in spades. Not knowing who she was, 2012 me promptly said “Is she just a fan-serviced version of Reimu, or something?”, and promptly wrote her off as a character. Oh how wrong I was. By the time I’d actually got round to finding out about all the characters, my views on Touhou had changed markedly and so my view on Sanae gradually softened to a point where I thought she was fine. And then…I dunno. Something musta just clicked because suddenly I realised that actually Sanae was really rather brilliant and I couldn’t stop looking for art of her and oh my god what is this feeling I don’t even. Since then, I’ve been smitten. Sanae is my favourite character in the series, and most of all I’ve put this down to her being about as attractive as a character can get. But it also helps that she is a genuinely very amusing person and a little bit silly all at the same time. She’s a great person, I think. And it helps that her shots in UFO and LoLK are really damn good! But yeah, Sanae is basically perfect.

But wait…how do we get to love all these characters most of all? If we just took them for what they were in canon we wouldn’t get to see enough of them all. But that’s where the true most important factor in all Touhou comes in. The reason it’s so great, is because its characters are so popular, that so many artists have come along, and given their take on what they think they should look like. And the answer is: mostly, they all look absolutely brilliant. The characters are the heart of Touhou that makes it tick, but all the fan art of them is the bloodstream that makes them work.

I’d gotten to know a good few artists from previous looks at art from anime I liked. But Touhou took my love of fan art to another level. I’ve discovered several artists so utterly brilliant, that it is their representations of each of these characters that I look at, and think “That’s what she looks like in my mind.” They take all these lovely girls and make them beautiful in so, so many ways. The magic of fan art has let me discover the likes of An2a, whose art you’ve doubtless seen before. There’s more genuinely artsy types such as Kirero, plain cute artists like Cierra and Shironeko Yuuki. There’s my personal favourite artist, Minakata Sunao, an artist capable of mixing coolness and beauty to the point of absolute perfection. And there’s all the fan favourites we know and love, too; the likes of Banpai Akira, Hammer and Ke-ta. All of these artists, and more, are, to me, the single most important contributor to the fabric of Touhou itself.

And all those artists are, of course, just like us, fans of this series. I’m proud to be a part of this fanbase, one which has plenty of wonderful people to go around. The loveliness of a great many Touhou fans would be more than enough to make me proud to be a fan too, but it’s not just about those who love this series like I do. Just as admirable, if not more so, are those whom are capable of creating absolute wonders in tribute to this magnificent series. And not just art – there’s musicians all around, game makers, writers…and more. I hope to be one with them soon, too. I’ve already written my fair share about all manner of things Touhou. And now I’m planning on going to the next step: writing some Touhou fiction itself. I’ve tried it before, but it proved too soon. It isn’t now. I’ve loved this series for five years now. I say, it’s time I tried to create a story of my own now. Redditaisai is two months away. Hopefully, my endeavours will be there for you all to see.

Before I got into Touhou, I saw myself very much as a general anime fan first. Of course, Touhou is not an anime. But as it’s clustered into much the same culture, it was always likely to attract me when I found it. Five years on, I could never have imagined how much I’d love it. Or how much it has changed me over those five years. Now, I am a Touhou fan first, and an anime fan second. Nothing else will be as good as this. Ever.

Touhou is a most valuable thing in my life. I will forever be a fan. And I hope you will be, too.

Touhou music: Lotus Land Story

The first golden shoot-up in Touhou’s history got some suitably golden hits to match.

First things first; is the menu theme any good?

Oh, my, God. Just hear the opening notes hit and drink it in. The rest isn’t as good, but I literally don’t care.

Witching Dream: Reimu gets a solemn opener, but the song itself doesn’t pick up until that lengthy opening is finished. Then the drama comes in, but the second half of the song is merely a repeat with a different tune, and a tune not quite as good as the first half. Still, it’s plenty long enough for the stage.

Selene’s Light: Marisa’s opener is more upbeat and a much better song, but cruelly a lot shorter as well. The melody to this is a better one, and has a degree of variance to it as well, but even this isn’t long enough for Stage 1, I’m afraid.

Decoration Battle: Not the most terrific of boss songs, but there’s a few good notes within. I doubt you’ll hear all of it, though. It’s actually nearly 2 minutes long, but don’t worry, it mostly just repeats itself.

Break the Sabbath: Hmm, I like the tone of this song a lot. Plenty of atmosphere about it in the first half, fitting for the level it takes place. A Touhou song with a difference, this one, it doesn’t come screaming at you, not until it builds up a little towards the end, at least.

Scarlet Symphony ~ Scarlet Phoneme: The boss themes repeat themselves a lot in this game, and this is no exception, but this one is just about good enough to justify its constant repetition. Changing up the instruments throughout the little bits doesn’t hurt either.

Bad Apple!!: Ah yes, you’ve heard this one before. But have you heard it like this? It’s a good job it’s so popular because the original which that video is based off is a very good one, the best stage theme in the game. It’s short and sweet, and hectic too, but plenty of fun, even if it’s not nearly long enough for its stage, again.

Spirit Battle ~ Perdition Crisis: I like the opening notes to this a lot, and the melody afterwards isn’t half bad either. And this one has quite a bit of melody to it too, with not nearly as much repetition as the songs before it.

Alice Maestra: One of the PC-98 epics, this is a perfectly built song. The instruments for the song’s first section are perfect, and it’s a great melody as well. The mid-section continues that perfectly, the song changing tone and tune effortlessly. This is a top-class song.

Maiden’s Capriccio: This song might be composed alright in places, but it didn’t really get its best version until it came back for Imperishable Night. The instruments aren’t nearly as well chosen as its stage song, and it’s not the longest of songs either.

Vessel of Stars ~ Casket of Star: Now this is a much better boss theme. One of the game’s better ones, it’s uptempo from the start and has a great melody across the entirety of the song, both at the start, middle and end. A very well-done song, again the only shame about the song is its short length.

Lotus Love: A song with a bit of chaos about it, with some wild instruments around and a lovely little opening. The tone of the opening section is calmer, but then it suddenly becomes a more dramatic second section. It’s all a bit mad, but it’s not too bad.

Sleeping Terror: Just wait for the song to drop…wait for it…wait… Ooh, this one’s a bit manic too. However, the melody could be a little better, I think. There’s plenty too it but it doesn’t particularly stand out. Don’t worry though, not every opening and resultant drop is as anticlimactic. Plenty fitting for a Stage 5 boss, though.

Dream Land: Longer than most final stage themes, and with an alright melody to match at the start. The drama picks up for the second half of the song, but the melody isn’t as good. Obviously not too long a song by Touhou standards, but then no Stage 6 song is. This is merely average as they go, though.

Faint Dream ~ Inanimate Dream: Plenty of intensity throughout this final boss theme, with another solid opening, but the instrumentation isn’t all that perfect and second half of the song isn’t anything more than a repetition with a tone change. Not too great a final boss theme if I’m honest, but don’t worry. There’s more to come from this game yet.

The Inevitably Forbidden Game: This Extra stage theme isn’t too bad, it has its moments and some nice notes within. The melody for the second part of the song is pretty decent, and there’s some strong instrumentation here too. The second half, with its change of tone, isn’t quite as strong in that regard, but does ramp up the drama a fair bit. Again though, really short for an Extra stage theme. Mind you, if ZUN had stuck with the Extra stage theme he’d first planned

Illusion of a Maid ~ Icemilk Magic: And suddenly with a drop of the most dramatic opening notes of any Touhou song comes the game’s most epic song. The repetition within this song is fine, especially since there’s actually some variation within, and it also helps that the tune itself is really, really good. And it’s non-stop once that opening drops. In the running for perhaps the finest song in PC-98, this one is a seriously underrated tune.

Cute Devil ~ Innocence: Mugetsu’s theme had one hell of an opening, but immediately after her sister matches her for sheer epicness. Then when her opening drops comes another very strong tune, although it’s at its best at the tune it starts in. The changes in tone are less effective with this song, but it doesn’t make it any less impressive. The melody for the final part of the song makes it all even better. This theme is plenty long too, perfectly fine for a boss of Gengetsu’s stature and making up for the relative shortness of Mugetsu’s magnificent theme.

 

Touhou music: Mystic Square

The best of the PC-98 era got some suitably besty music all over the place.

First things first; is the menu theme any good?

Ooh, it’s nice. Melodic at first, epic later on.

Dream Express: This is a fast start of a song, something no other PC-98 opener was, so this is already quite unique. And in a good way, too, as this is a rhythmic song that sets the tone very well. And it’s a damn sight longer than most Stage 1 themes, either from this era or the modern one.

Magic Circle ~ Magic Square: Nothing too special, but the main melody is alright at least. Sadly, by the time you get to hear the second half, Sara is usually dead. Which means no one ever notices quite how it builds up and the tone change that results.

Dimension of Reverie: A seriously hectic song, and a song that’s much better off for it. The tempo of this is right up to 11, and the melody is all very good. It’s just a shame it isn’t that long a song.

Spiritual Heaven: Like the last boss song, nothing too special, but the melody is fine. However, it never really changes up, which works fine for some of this era’s songs, just not this one.

Romantic Children: A song that builds up well, as an intro to the main setting of the game. Those PC-98 drums do a good bit here, and the second section of the song is quite enjoyable too. Then it just loops in a different tone, but that’s fine.

Plastic Mind: Like the boss themes before it, this is a song that’s merely OK when the main melody kicks in. It builds up to its climatic final section very well, though.

Maple Wise: A real barnstormer of a theme, short but sweet, this one has a superb rise up towards its wonderful chorus, whereupon the theme breaks into a wondrous tune. This is another theme that deserves to be much longer than it is.

Forbidden Magic: Finally, a properly good boss song in all aspects. A strong opening section, with dramatic instrumentation all around, leads nicely into the song’s melody in the second half, with the drums going mad throughout, before it lowers the tone. It’s a class theme, all told.

Crimson Maiden ~ Crimson Dead!!: A hectic theme for a sometimes hectic boss, this one is uptempo to the maximum, and keeps its melody going throughout, a style oft used throughout PC-98. This one’s good enough to make it work, though.

Treacherous Maiden ~ Judas Kiss: A calmer theme for Mai, and a noticeably more melodic one right from the start. Then the drama is pitched up after that opening section and it’s all very lovely, but sadly the song’s all over after a change of tone in the dramatic twist. Should be a bit longer.

The Last Judgement: Cracking theme, this. Perhaps it’s a bit more inclined to a Stage 6 than a Stage 5, but then most Stage 6 songs aren’t even this epic. A dramatic atmosphere throughout lends itself very well to this late stage of the game, and builds up well to the real star of the stage.

Doll of Misery: The opening notes aren’t like anything in any other PC-98 song, and they are utterly bewitching. And they lead into a quite magnificent battle symphony. The song is composed superbly, the instrumentation is utterly faultless, and the song fits the fight so, so well. This might just be as good as PC-98 music gets…

End of the World ~ World’s End: A typical Stage 6 affair, a short song with an ominous overtone to begin with but a decent enough, albeit very short, melody to go with. This is alright.

Legendary Illusion ~ Infinite Being: A final boss theme as it should be, this has all the elements that songs of its like capture. Only most final boss themes today aren’t only 2 and a half minutes. This is an impressive tune, with a cracking chorus to it and a suitably sweet build-up. And the final section of the song is composed well too. Top-class stuff.

Alice in Wonderland: A much beloved theme, and with good reason. An epic befitting any Extra stage, after a rather prolonged opening comes a lovely melody. However, I reckon that for once the instruments don’t quite do it justice. It’s well composed but this is a song that is begging for a remix. The original could do with a bit more variation to define it, though I do enjoy the change of tone for the final part of the song.

The Grimoire of Alice: Dramatic openings to Extra boss songs are a feature of PC-98’s collection and this is no exception. The melody that defines the song is a nice one as well, but again, this is just a bit too short for what it is. Again, a bit more variation needed, but luckily ZUN would find it as he went into the next era of Touhou.

Touhou music: Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom

Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom was a return to Touhou at its best. So was its music.

First things first; is the menu theme any good?

It’s pretty strong. It’s also a long epic by menu theme standards.

Unforgettable, the Nostalgic Greenery: Whoa, what a frantic opener this is. After a few games of calm the return of manic Stage 1 themes sets the scene for this game wonderfully. And the second part of the song is a sweet one, too.

The Rabbit Has Landed: A classic, uptempo Stage 1 boss song, a theme that’s a lot of fun. Although I reckon the song isn’t at its most epic until it loops back round to the start, at which point you get to hear better versions of the opening notes.

The Lake Reflects the Cleansed Moonlight: Holy mother of God, this is an edgy theme. And in a good way. This is a superb track, right from those dramatic opening notes. And it builds up to a real crescendo as well. Who’d think a theme like this belonged in a Stage 2?!

September Pumpkin: Ringo’s theme keeps it nice and simple, but the instruments used here are particularly lovely. The classic piano that opens it, prototypical ZUNpets abound in the second half of the song, it’s all very nice, and if only the rest of the soundtrack weren’t so good, this might be a better song in another game.

The Mysterious Shrine Maiden Flying Through Space: Oh blimey, what an astonishing theme this is. The opening notes are great, the first part of the song is absolutely terrific, and it builds up to something even better than terrific. It took a while to get hooked on this theme, but when I did, it became something special. Magnificent.

Eternal Spring Dream: A more hectic theme for the boss, this song has all sorts going on in it, but it all combines to make something rather good. There’s a few dramatic moments within, and the tension only builds throughout as more and more. The only real criticism I have of it is that apart from the two central bits, there’s not much change within sans some changes of tone at the end.

The Frozen Eternal Capital: Suddenly everything goes calm for this very new-style Touhou theme. It starts off well, but it doesn’t really turn into anything too special, despite the best efforts of the ZUNpets at the end. Still, the atmosphere it sets is lovely.

The Reversed Wheel of Fortune: Another song put through newer instruments, within all the different sections of the song is a pretty cool tune. The changes throughout the song are very well played as well. A solid tune from beginning to end.

Faraway 380,000-Kilometer Voyage: And now the drama is turned up to 11 for the wild Stage 5. This one is magnificent, a lovely tune emerging within the chaos, the ZUNpets playing a great part again, and with the dramatic crescendo reaching the peak of the stage’s insanity. This one was well played. Atmospheric too, with its spacier parts possibly the song’s best bits.

Pierrot of the Star-Spangled Banner: The game’s crown jewel, an utterly wonderful theme that hits the spot in so many ways. No battle is better matched by its music than this is to Clownpiece’s. The bewitching instruments are a joy to behold, the dramatic sections inbetween verses add further to the drama, and the song reaches its peak once the ZUNpets come in. And it all goes perfectly with Clownpiece’s brand of sheer danmaku lunacy. An all-timer of a theme.

The Sea Where the Home Planet is Reflected: Wow, what an intense Stage 6 theme. The game’s most atmospheric song, and simple as it is, the way it’s done is most magnificent. It’s one of the longer Stage 6 themes, too. A song quite unlike any other Touhou theme.

Pure Furies ~ Whereabouts of the Heart: A suitably epic final boss theme, and one that encapsulates Junko’s terror superbly as well. Quite a bit more manic than most recent final boss themes, mostly thanks to the drums, and that dramatic, low guitar. A superbly well-thought-out theme.

A Never-Before-Seen World of Nightmares: This one has its moments, but on the whole it’s one of the game’s weaker tracks. It’s a little too…reined in compared to the relative mania of the other stage themes around it. Sure, Stage 4 was calm but that was meant to be. This one isn’t quite hyped up enough, I don’t think, despite the best efforts of the song’s second half.

Pandemonic Planet: This one, on the other hand, definitely isn’t short of intensity. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily what I’d call a good song. The main melody isn’t much to write home about, and all there is to try and spice it up for most of it is tone changes. But when the second half drops, it doesn’t really make much of an impact either. This one’s a rare miss from ZUN, I’m afraid.

Touhou music: Mountain of Faith

A new engine called for a new sound. A really, really good new sound. Like, really good.

First things first; is the menu theme any good?

Absolutely. It’s as atmospheric as any menu theme there’s ever been.

A God that Loves People ~ Romantic Fall: What a start! Those opening couple of notes get you right into the song and then it breaks into the lovely style that would come to define Touhou for the next three games. Really very solemn for a Stage 1 theme, too, which is surprising and sets quite a tone for MoF. Watch out for the ending though, usually the stage is over before you can catch a note of it.

Because the Princess Inada is Scolding Me: A short theme for a short fight, but it’s action-packed while it lasts. Some fantastic use of the legendary ZUNpets here, too.

The Road of the Apotropaic God ~ Dark Road: Another darker tune that keeps up the tempo. Again, the ZUNpets are magnificent here, and the whole tune of the song is marvellous.

Dark Side of Fate: Even more intense, upping the tempo even further – damn, those instruments are playing fast – and maintaining that ominous theme. This is another belter.

The Gensokyo the Gods Loved: Suddenly the music cheers up for what has been called ‘Gensokyo’s theme’ (I wouldn’t call it that myself, but eh). It’s got a lot of build-up, but takes a while to get properly epic. Still, it’s a sweet tune for the most part.

Akutakawa Ryuunosuke’s Kappa ~ Candid Friend: Up goes the tempo again for Nitori and her fight. It’s all relatively calm until the ZUNpets kick in, at which point all hell breaks loose. This is another strong song.

Fall of Fall ~ Autumnal Waterfall: You’d think hell would sound more ominous than this, but I’ll credit MoF Stage 4 for having one heck of a theme. It’s the most atmospheric in the game with that instrument whistling away, and it’s a class song all around. Watch out for the tense ending as well – as with the first stage, the stage ends before it kicks in, so it is oft underrated.

The Youkai Mountain ~ Mysterious Mountain: Here comes the drama again for a hellish fight with Aya, and the change in tone after the first section of the song is my favourite part of this tune, the ZUNpets again doing a world of good to the song. This was slightly edited for DS, and while this version is still great, the subtle edits to the later edition make it a bit cooler.

The Primal Scene of Japan the Girl Watched: Here’s the game’s first real epic song, an intense rush all the way through. A song to sum up all the songs in MoF, combining all the elements from this game’s themes. Now this is a theme you could call Gensokyo’s…

Faith is for the Transient People: Sanae’s theme is about as well-balanced a Touhou song as you can get. It’s got a little bit of everything about it, from build-ups to atmosphere to changes in tone to the general excitement all Touhou themes have about them. All in all, very solid.

Cemetery of Onbashira ~ Grave of Being: The tempo is turned up to the max for the quick, wild Stage 6, and once again it’s the ZUNpets that make this theme when the main section drops, and it’s a fantastic one. Even the build-up immediately before that section sounds as epic as you can imagine. It’s a short theme, but it’s a superb one. My favourite in the game, in fact.

The Venerable Ancient Battlefield ~ Suwa Foughten Field: The final battle has music with real tension, but while it’s all in all a fine piece, it’s not the strongest final boss theme there’s ever been. The song never really seems to go anywhere for a long while, and you have to wait for the very end of it to build-up to a true crescendo. The bits before that aren’t quite remarkable enough to stand out though.

Tomorrow will be Special; Yesterday was not: Call me mad if you will, but I’ve never been too sold on this theme. While the game’s other songs are all cool at a high tempo, I’ve heard a remix of this at a slower tempo before and thought it was better off. The tune itself isn’t all that bad, but I think the original sounds a little too soft by this game’s standards. The second half doesn’t really improve matters, either. The change of tone isn’t particularly necessary, I think.

Native Faith: Now this is a real theme. A mad theme for the Extra boss, it’s full of action throughout, and it only builds throughout. A rise in tune didn’t do much good for the stage theme, but by god does it turn the boss theme into something special. Superb.

Touhou music: Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream

Most Touhou soundtracks are pretty great. And one of the best of all also happens to be one of the oldest.

First things first; is the menu theme any good?

Yes. Definitely. It’s quite epic. Just like most of the game’s songs.

Mystic Oriental Love Consultation: Your basic epic theme, setting a nice benchmark for the rest of the songs in the game. This one’s more rhythmic than most, and cheery, too.

Reincarnation: One of the game’s longer epics, and one of its most epic in the true sense of the word. The chorus is particularly dramatic, but the bits before it are just as lovely to savour.

Dim. Dream: A crazy, high-tempoed song and also really rather brilliant for it. There’s a reason it’s got the same name as the game; it defines the sheer action of the game like no other song.

Tabula rasa ~ The Empty Girl: Not one of the game’s strongest themes, and yet still pretty solid. The chorus is especially strong, although the song does kind of lose life in its second half.

Maniacal Princess: A proper epic of a song. One long build-up to a seriously dramatic chorus and the whole damn song is just brilliant. A seriously underrated theme, and one of the game’s best of all.

Vanishing Dream ~ Lost Dream: There’s no frills or spills to this song; this is just an A-grade, top-class song all the way from start to finish. One of the era’s finest songs, and the best in this particular game.

Visionary Game ~ Dream War: Even most of the long Touhou epics of today don’t stretch beyond 4 minutes: this one lasts for 5 and it was only the third game. It’s not perfect, but the first section of the song does more than enough to get you involved in the song, even if you’ll likely never hear the whole thing in game.

Decisive Magic Battle! ~ Fight it out!: A song that screams of absolutely intense action. As it should do, given that it’s the round 7 song. This is one of the game’s coolest songs of all.

Sailor of Time: The only real weakness in the soundtrack, in my opinion. The start seems interesting enough but it doesn’t end up leading anywhere. Also the shortest battle theme in the game.

Strawberry Crisis: A suitably epic final boss theme, featuring some unbelievably intense guitars right from the start. No theme is better suited to Yumemi firing crosses at you and phasing onto your screen in the most PC-98 way ever.

Other good songs

Selection: We haven’t even started playing yet and already big music is hitting our ears. This music is dedicated solely to one screen only and yet it’s still absolutely brilliant. It’s also quite spacey, to go with the background. I could sit on this screen quite happily.

Maple Dream…: First time players might end up knowing this as the IN credits theme. Except it isn’t, because this came first. The IN credits theme is this theme, re-done in a modern engine. This is just as good, though.

Victory: Yes, the victory theme. No, I’m not joking. It really does sound that epic. As I’ve said before, I’d quite like this to play every time I successfully manage to get away with something. Or indeed for any victory in my life, big or small.

Outside World: The top of the doujinshi world

If you ever go anywhere looking for fan art, these series I’m listing here will almost inevitably be among them. Here’s a general rambling about the top 15 of them.

Of course, the top 15 might be a little difficult to define. Pixiv seems like a good indicator, but that takes in an Eastern audience most of all. There’s websites catering for my Western side as well, and the most frequently uploaded on those seems like a good bet. So that’s what I’m going off. Still, this top list is relatively subjective, so take it however you will. I’m just talking about 15 undoubtedly popular series, either way.

1. Touhou

Obviously. Touhou might not be at its peak any more, but even so it still remains well amongst the most prominent series for doujinshi. And at its peak, it was so unbelievably popular that it will almost certainly remain the all-time most popular. Indeed, thanks to its peak from 2009 onwards, it still has well over double its nearest contender. The next series down has close to seven times less fanart.

Of course, I shouldn’t have to go too far to explain why Touhou is so brilliant. This is a blog where I write about it, after all. The games, the bread-and-butter of Touhou, are terrific. The music is undeniably outstanding and has resulted in quite the most extraordinary arrange scene. But the utter abundance of fan art is all down to the many and varied characters, all of whom have been drawn in every way you can think of. Of the 20 most drawn characters ever, Touhou has 16 of them. That is how brilliant they are. I don’t think all of them are perfect, but they have all struck a chord in many, many, many fans’ minds. And they’re the ultimate reason why Touhou is about as fantastic as any other piece of fictional media ever conceived.

2. Kantai Collection

I don’t know whether to be amazed that Kantai Collection has been in vogue for nearly four years now, or be amazed that it was nearly four years ago it got in vogue. But I do know this. Like Touhou, it is a series that benefits from a bucketload of characters. But whereas Touhou introduced a group of them with every passing game, Kantai Collection started with its characters in triple figures. And the characters kept on coming all the time. They still do today. This would already have been enough to give it a strong degree of popularity, but there was one thing that did for it above all else. And, regrettably, it was its fanservice.

With so many characters selling themselves to artists, a massive chunk of the doujinshi scene went to KanColle and worshipped it and several of its many characters. The result was something that was able to challenge Touhou’s position as top of the pile for doujinshi. And, in the here and now, it has succeeded in that. It’s not going to topple Touhou’s historic all-time mark, but right now, if there’s an artist you’ve seen, they’re probably doing KanColle.

I hate it.

The reasons for it are many and varied. But I don’t want all my reasons why to swallow up this entire piece. So I’ll just go ahead and say I’ve blacklisted Kantai Collection in every way I reasonably can. Mostly, it has worked. And I am happy with that.

3. Idolmaster

I have absolutely no idea what to make of Idolmaster at this point in time. There are just so many conflicting opinions I have of it that it’s all just a load of mush. However, I am sitting up and paying some notice to it as I’ve found a couple of the numerous Cinderella Girls from their eponymous game, and I think I quite like them. Not many, you understand. But enough now to make my head turn.

But countering this, I’ve seen some clips of the Idolmaster anime that makes its characters look utterly mad. Like, I swear there’s nothing to say that they aren’t on drugs or something. I have no idea what is going on with any of them. And it’s not like any of the girls from the romantically-named 765 Productions are really notable. So I’m not sold on that side at all.

However, there is one opinion I have on Idolmaster that overshadows the rest of them by far. And it’s on the whole theme of the series. In short, it’s based on the real life idol industry, which by all accounts is pretty dreadful. An industry which takes talent to stardom, and then one day decides they’ve had enough and just throws them away. Why would you want to play a part in any of that? Well, here’s why. Because the girls are always attractive and that’s all that matters to you. Idolmaster is just bait for those sorts of people. And nowhere is this made more clear than the fact you play the role of a ‘producer’. I’ll leave to make your own judgements on playing such a shady (and shadily-named) role, but I have a general comment in terms of being made to play as the producer. In doing this, Idolmaster is effectively forcing you to believe you are someone else. Kantai Collection does this too, with its even more suspicious ‘Admiral’. (He’s the most popular character from the series, by the way. Gee, I wonder why…) I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve never taken a liking to any series that forces you to do this. By contrast, I absolutely love the two most direct rivals to those series, which just ask you to watch other characters doing their thing. Maybe that’s the reason author avatar OCs never work in Touhou fanfiction. Because their world is designed for them. Not you.

Anyway. My point is, I respect Idolmaster for what it is and its success. I even like some of it. I don’t dislike it, despite what it has its roots set in. But I suspect it is not for me.

4. Vocaloid

Now these are some singers I can get behind. And not just because Vocaloid might even be more popular than this. It’s notable more mainstream than the three series above it here, and mostly that is the result of one character. Remember how I said Touhou had 16 of the 20 most drawn characters? Well, despite being the all-time #1 series, what it doesn’t have is the all-time #1 character. That honour lies with Hatsune Miku, who, it has to be said, is evidently very excellent, despite only actually being a voice program. She has gotten entire venues full to see a hologram of herself. She has won races with cars with her on the side. She has appeared on David Letterman. She is, frankly, quite unlike anything else we’ve seen, but she’s not this popular by accident. She’s a most popular character because, at the heart of her, is all a character needs to appeal to doujinshi makers. Nothing more, nothing less. So I’m fine with her, frankly.

There are other Vocaloids who have managed great success, however. Kagamines Rin and Len are next best after Miku, as well as Megurine Luka. There’s other notable Vocaloids within too, such as Gumi, but Meiko stands as my personal favourite. The thing is, though, I’ve known about Vocaloid for plenty of time. Longer even than Touhou, to be honest. And there’s nothing wrong with it, really. I think it’s rather nice, on the whole. And it’s hard to see anything of its like coming around again.

5. Fate

I know a fair few people who know and love Fate very much, but I’m not really one of them. I know a little about it though, so I can kind of sum it up. The primary source of work from the series comes from its original anime adaptation, Fate/stay night, with the following anime and prequel, Fate/zero, and free-to-play video game Fate/Grand Order also popular works. Fate’s most popular character, by some distance, is its main heroine, Saber, whilst twin-tailed, tsundere-incarnate and thigh-highed Rin Tohsaka also makes a strong showing. It helps that the series just so happens to be really damn good as an original, away from its numerous fan works. Certainly, it sold well in its initial life as a visual novel, way back in 2004 now. Most of all, it sells itself as one of the best bishojo games there has ever been, too. That’s a combination that has seen it build up one hell of a fanbase. And all credit to it for doing so. It’s got a mixture of action, romance and urban fantasy that has attracted all sorts. Make no mistake, this is an impressive series.

6. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

An anime-first series which I still somehow haven’t seen in its entirety, yet I know plenty about Puella Magi Madoka Magica, to give it its English title. And chiefly what I know is that it is an absolute masterpiece. Even though there’s over two and a half years of it still left to go, Madoka will likely be the best anime of this decade (though I would personally give it to Shaft’s other masterpiece of the decade, the Monogatari series). You probably know the form with Madoka, too, although it’s difficult to say what it is without really spoiling the whole premise. And I won’t because it’s brilliant. But the appeal of the whole series is so undeniably excellent that it’s worth noting the characters behind its popularity. Whereas some of the series above needed a plethora of characters to get into the big time, Madoka needed only six main characters: Madoka, Homura, Sayaka, Kyouko, Mami and Kyubey. All six are much beloved. This series is the only other aside from Touhou with more than one character in the top 20. Weirdly though, the titular character Madoka is not the most popular. That accolade rests with Homura, because emotional coldness is a big selling point amongst most of the world’s anime fans, evidently. Oh, and a considerable role in the plot of the series, but like I’ve said, I’m not spoiling anything here if you haven’t actually seen it. I’d like to explain its brilliance in more detail, but it has to be seen to be believed. Then I’ll explain it to you. The result was wild popularity in the time it was running, and a place as the most defining anime for a long, long time. I wonder what the next anime to make as big a splash as this one will look like.

7. Pokemon

Of course. I’ve already talked about my nearly life-long relationship with Pokemon on this blog already, so I won’t recite any of my very lengthy piece on it. But I suppose I will touch on the anime, seeing as it’s more relevant here. Well, I’ve certainly watched my fair share of it, but was hardly obsessed with it to begin with and certainly am not now. I’ve not been much into it since R/S, and haven’t paid much attention to it at all since D/P. Still, I suppose that’s fine. The original will forever be the best in the anime’s case, of that I’m confident. The games got better and better (until X/Y, and then S/M), but with the anime the first remains the best. It’s nostalgia, you see. That’s Pokemon through and through. And it’s why it’s really damn popular. Just remember when you look for art of it – this is the Internet. If you’re the type who doesn’t want their ‘childhood ruined’, tread carefully.

8. Precure

Of the series here, Precure was the one I knew the least about, for sure. In fact, I don’t think I’d heard of it at all. So I’ve researched on what is a notably popular series. And it’s a long running magical girl series. It’s been going since 2004, for 600 episodes, and 14 anime series. It’s filled to the gunwales with characters, which probably explains how it’s managed to get so popular for a cash cow of a franchise. Anime girls are in constant demand in doujinshi, after all. Basically, it’s the leading magical girl series in all anime, and that’s all that it needs going for it.

9. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

Now we come to something I meant to get into quite a while ago, but never did. But it didn’t matter anyway because I’ve seen plenty of little snippets of it and I now know, as we all do, that it’s just about the coolest manga the world has ever seen. It’s now into its 30th year of existence, although it didn’t even get an anime until its 25th, in 2012. Its famous art style complements the immense flamboyancy the series exudes. An intricate plot, creative battles and the never-ending conflicts with the supernatural are the definitive points of action in the series. And, in the West, the general badassery of the whole series has resulted in plenty of memes throughout. Basically, going through JoJo and its madness is a bizarre adventure in itself. But it’s also really rather brilliant. This isn’t like the other series ahead of it by any stretch of the imagination. By and large, with JoJo, you just see badasses doing badass things because they are badass. Badass. And artists have only been too happy to oblige. An icon of all anime, and long may it continue.

10. Love Live!

A magnificent series, one so magnificent that it was the first properly new thing I got into for 3 years. That speaks volumes.

I’ve said in many places elsewhere just why Love Live is so utterly brilliant, so I’ll try not to go too deep into it here and now. Instead, I’ll sum up the most relevant reason to this article, and the biggest reason I love it. The characters. I’ve already mentioned some series that get by with a few terrific characters but I feel it’s really worth noting with Love Live. Idolmaster, its most direct rival, needed 13 characters to start with, and that was before Cinderella Girls. God knows how many that’s added. A million, probably. Further up, Touhou is creeping towards the 200 character mark. Kantai Collection has passed that. All Love Live needed was nine characters, who each made up mu’s. And the best of the bunch are simply magnificent. Eli is the best example. There might come a time when I say that she is my favourite character from anything, ever. Honest. Maki, the consensus fan favourite (she’s really attractive, but also mistaken for a tsundere), is another seriously good character. She’s probably in my all-time top 5. After them, the rest are similarly damn superb in their own, special way. Then there’s Honoka and Kotori…but that’s my opinion, not yours. They have their own fans for their own reasons, too.

I shan’t go on much longer about my experience with Love Live much longer, but I’ll just raise my last thoughts on the comparison between it and Idolmaster. I said Idolmaster’s theme was buried in some very shady, and offputting roots. Love Live looks like it might be the same thing, but it really is not. Idolmaster is about the professional idol industry. Love Live is just some girls becoming idols to save their school. And that’s absolutely fine.

Certainly, it hasn’t stopped the series getting a mass of popularity. Sadly, I only got into it a few months before mu’s Final Live. They’ve since been succeeded by Aquors, who are basically nothing more than pretenders to them. They’re just another nine girls, but the formula behind them is exactly the same as before. If they’d changed  it up a little (i.e. less girls) I probably would have been cool with them. But, sadly, I’m not nearly as sold on Aquors as mu’s. They are still notably popular now, mind. And yet even today they can’t hold a candle to the original greats of mu’s. They will live forever in my mind. They’re just unbelievable.

11. K-On!

Another manga that made it big when it came out as an anime in 2009, K-On is about a five-girl band making music to save a high school club. Somewhere within it, cuteness happened and the world’s anime fans were sold. The two seasons of anime were, of course, done by Kyoto Animation, probably the go-to studio for making a slice of life like K-On was (of which, more later). This was, quite simply, an ordinary anime done absolutely right, something to aspire to. Obviously, its peak has long passed, but the fact it made it so big is testament to its greatness, and its place as a historic trend-setter of an anime. I’ve never gotten too involved in it myself, but the five main characters are all notable enough for me to know them. So I’d say Yui and Ritsu are my two favourites on the basis that they’re the cutest to me. Which was probably the point of it all. K-On benefitted a lot from the all-powerful need for moe, and K-On gave it in spades. That’s why it made it big.

12. Final Fantasy

I would have been able to talk a fair bit about Final Fantasy this time last year, but not as much as I could now, having not long ago gotten further than ever into the series thanks firstly to an explorative look into the brilliant FF8, and then a play-around with the also excellent FF15, the latest instalment in this legendary game series. Naturally, such great popularity breeds great amounts of art, and so it has proven. Mind you, this is one series where it isn’t the characters that is the biggest sell for me, though they certainly help. I mean, I loved FF8’s lot and that’s my favourite in the series. Plus, the four mains in FF15 were great to play as, and there are plenty of other greats throughout the series. FF6 had a great bunch, my favourite being Terra. FF7, the most popular game of them all, has the most popular characters with it, Cloud and Tifa among them. Both are amongst my favourites from the series. And let’s not forget about FF9’s bunch. There’s also the likes of Yuna from FF10, too. Final Fantasy is a series with positives beyond just these characters, but not only are they obviously vital to the whole series, they’re all much loved too. And as well they might be. The series is coming up to its 30th year of existence, and even if it doesn’t ever get back to its previous brilliance, the series will live forever.

13. Lyrical Nanoha

I’ve known about Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha for a while, but I’ve only really known it as something I used to confuse with other anime series with similar words and numbers of words, such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica (perhaps an easy mistake to make when you’re a total noob like I was) and Mahou Sensei Negima (which makes a lot less sense and just makes me look ridiculous). But now I know it to be a really rather popular magical girl series. But this isn’t quite a magical girl series as you know it. Not in the same sense as Madoka, but merely the details of the series itself. Now we know that magical girl series appeal most of all to two demographics: kodomomuke, and seinen. Precure, as mentioned previously, aims to please both demographics. Lyrical Nanoha is meant entirely for the latter. And it shows in all the art that’s been made of it.

But Nanoha also has quite a ridiculous production history. Nanoha was originally a girl in an H-game. No word of a lie. But whilst she was only very minor in it, she was so popular she got a whole new spin-off game, where she became a magical girl. Then an anime on that game was made, except elements of mecha were thrown in, simply because of Nanoha’s costume design. The result was an anime with fight scenes so far beyond the norm for a magical girl anime that it brought fans in who otherwise had no interest in the genre. The result was something really very popular indeed. There isn’t anything quite this popular quite like this, which probably makes sense. It’s hard to see something as mad as this working quite so well again, but the series has proved an exercise in how to take multiple interests and combine them into one, and attract an even greater audience than would otherwise be the case. So I respect it for earning success that way.

14. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Way back when I started to get into anime, Haruhi was the third proper anime I actually watched. I rather enjoyed it, even though it didn’t exactly seem the best thing since sliced bread. But it certainly looked like it seemed that way when Haruhi’s anime first hit the scene. What we have here is an anime with no clear genre – there’s all sorts on hand here, from comedy to sci-fi to fantasy to mystery to romance to slice of life and all in the typical high school setting. But the prominent theme is that of the supernatural, as seen in its main characters. And none more so than the titular character, who, unaware to herself, is a reality warper. The jokes of her being an actual god were probably fitting at the time; her anime was a domestic and international smash hit. It was much loved, and later much despised, but the result was a seriously popular anime. It also marked the point where Kyoto Animation made it big. Again, it’s the characters that sold the whole thing. Quite apart from Haruhi, who I think is pretty damn great despite also being very annoying, there’s a very good protagonist in Kyon, there’s Mikuru, who is basically moe personified, whilst Yuki gets the most love of anyone (she’s the emotionless one, again), and Itsuki is a nice man, too. This famous five were the big names behind the series’ popularity, and their doujinshi from so long ago remains here for all to see today.

The series’ greatest moment has long since gone, though. For some reason they tried to make a new animation as late as 2015, but no one watched it. At least, not anyone I know. The anime world had long since left it behind. It could get away with three years between its first and second seasons, but not six. There is still one very good reason to watch Haruhi now, though. The anime isn’t perfect, but you should still watch it anyway, solely so you can watch Disappearance, the 2010 movie. I waited a long, long, long time to watch it after finishing the second season. Like, a really long time. I actually kept on saying for years that I’ll watch Disappearance ‘soon’, without doing it. Then I went and did it eventually and it was fantastic. So make sure you go out and find a reason to go and see the outstanding movie.

15. Gundam

Lastly, here’s another series where I know plenty of people who love it, but I’m not as into it myself. But, obviously, I know exactly what Gundam is. Everyone does, because it’s been around since 1979. It’s a mecha series that needs little introduction, with a common plot that has stood the test of time. The theme of war encompasses the series mostly, and the hell and mental trauma that comes with it. The series has gone from many animes to mangas, OVAs, games, and a mass merchandising empire. There’s been theme park rides of it, racing team sponsorships, and more spin-offs than you could possibly think of. Yeah, and you need much more explanation why it’s popular? Why it’s been drawn so much? Thought not. About as timeless a classic as any anime will ever be.

 

So, that’s what I think on the most popular series in the world. I’ll end up covering my favourites further in due time, as well as looking at more series in brief eventually. And I have more Touhou stuff to write about at some point, too. Oh yes.

My favourite Touhou music from the third Windows era (13-15)

Spirit of Avarice: Comfortably the best title theme there has ever been. I mean, how can it sound so epic?! Especially the opening. I mean, when that drops, you know you’re in for something special. Well, OK, you aren’t really, because it’s TD. But at least it makes a good immediate first impression.

Let’s Live in a Lovely Cemetery: The peak song in terms of Touhou’s turn of atmosphere from its recent past, this Stage 3 piece is a lovely, melodic tune. It comes served with TD’s methodically slow pace, and fits it well, unlike the Stage 2 theme from previous.

Desire Drive: The point at which TD suddenly turns into a rave. This is an action-packed song with a difference, and instrumentation unlike mostly any other Touhou song. This is the peak of TD’s soundtrack, a real gem among a selection of largely forgettable songs. The song was so good, it was basically the ending theme as well!

Starry Sky of Small Desires: Fortunately, Stage 6 is pretty long by Touhou standards in TD, so it gets a good semblance of a song. It’s not the very best Stage 6 song in the series, but it’s got plenty of drama and atmosphere around it. It’s a quintessential Touhou song of its era, with several of its most recognisable instruments featuring.

Hartmann’s Youkai Girl (HM): The one good song amongst a lacklustre HM soundtrack, and even then it had the benefit of already being one of Touhou’s greatest songs. But this is a strong remix, a great twist on the original, even if the instruments aren’t too dramatic. But this isn’t even the best remix it got in a fighter…

Dullahan Under the Willows: It was so, so tough to choose between this and its accompanying Stage 2 theme – both are terrific, especially when combined into the same stage. But it’s Sekibanki’s theme does it, thanks to those epic, new-to-DDC guitars. You wouldn’t guess she was a mere Stage 2 boss from this theme. You wouldn’t guess Stage 2’s theme was actually for Stage 2, either…both songs sound like they belong two stages further in a game.

Bamboo Forest of the Full Moon: A seriously epic tune, one of the most rocking in the entire Touhou series. Again, a reminder that this is only a Stage 3 song – it too sounds like it belongs more in somewhere like Stage 5. And yet it comes around as early as the midpoint, which is plain awesome, both when playing the game and for the stage itself.

Magical Storm: The best stage theme in modern times. This is nothing short of a musical wonder, and it is made even better when playing in Stage 4 itself thanks to some magical sequencing, making the song fit perfectly with the stage itself. As epic as the two stage themes before it, but it manages it with a lot more subtlety. Which is an even bigger achievement, I’d say.

Reverse Ideology: An action-packed theme befitting of a wild fight. There’s not much to this theme, there’s no frills, no spills, it’s just a plain damn good track by itself. The build-up throughout the track only serves to make it sound even more intense. And, of course, it featured again in Seija’s own game, Impossible Spell Card.

Primordial Beat ~ Pristine Beat: A classy Extra Stage boss theme for Raiko, who is otherwise one of the less remarkable Extra bosses despite having her moments. This is another one where you can just sit back and enjoy the musical greatness of it all, although such a style might be pretty bold for an Extra Stage boss. Despite that though, it works. Brilliantly.

Cheat Against the Impossible Danmaku: A surprising place to find such a good song, but the opening days of ISC have this superb song. This is the best song you’ll find in any Touhou game like this, and it’s just a shame that it’s only a song for the start of the game. It’s so intense it would work just as well in the later days of the game.

Hartmann’s Youkai Girl (ULiL): HM’s remix was strong, but this from Kishida is even better. The tempo of this song is unbelievably fast, and the song a frantic madness of rock. It’s a dramatic song, worthy of the great song it originally was. AoCF will probably give us a third great remix of Hartmann’s Youkai Girl, but can it top this?

Unforgettable, the Nostalgic Greenery: This is a great return to the exciting Stage 1 songs of Touhou’s prime, ones that get the vibes running right from the outset. This is among the very best Stage 1 songs, by virtue of having a great melody by any song’s standards, never mind a Stage 1 tune.

The Rabbit Has Landed: Here’s a similarly super-intense, super-fast song for the first boss of LoLK, Seiran. Like the song immediately before it, this stands out as a song with a surprising degree of variation in its instruments, certainly by Stage 1 boss standards. This makes for a fantastic start to LoLK, and it gets even better…

The Lake Reflects the Cleansed Moonlight: From a high-octane opener, we come to a song that is just plain epic. There’s a wide variety of instruments on show here, all used pretty much perfectly. As with DDC, this is the type of song that almost feels as if it belongs around about Stage 4, so intense is the atmosphere of this song.

Pierrot of the Star-Spangled Banner: An astonishing song, the best boss theme for many years. Clownpiece’s theme fits absolutely perfectly both with her own character and her batshit mental fight, and has a composition and instrumentation that brings to mind epic themes from a time long gone by, as far back even as PC-98, and the likes of Doll of Misery, which was also brilliant. This is just plain awesome on every level.

The Sea Where One’s Home Planet Reflects: Here’s another Stage 6 song that got plenty of effort put into it, thanks to the length of LoLK’s final stage. And what a fitting song for the stage it is. The dramatic tone of this song makes it great most of all, and not only does it match up with the wild patterns you face in the stage itself, it also serves as a perfect build-up to one of the most terrifying fights in Touhou history, and just about sums up the insanity of the adventure you’ve been on up to this point.

Touhou 14½ ½: Urban Legend in Limbo…for the PS4?!

NOTE: Since I wrote my ULiL piece, v1.40 has come out (of course it did, less than a week after I reviewed it). The update is nothing more than a whole lot of balancing, though. So there’s no need to touch on it too closely, I think.

The PS4 version of ULiL was first confirmed in February 2016, some time after its initial release. But it’d be a while before it’d be released. After plenty of build-up, it finally arrived in December 2016, making it the most recent release of a Touhou game to date. But it’s worth looking at, due to a couple of small little extra features the PS4 version has, and because…well, it’s on a PS4. That’s a massive change from the norm in itself. Also, I have a PS4 now. And I have a copy of the game to play with.

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Obviously, everything in the PC version of ULiL is as it was in the PS4 version. So I won’t touch on the whole game again; you can, and indeed should, read my ULiL piece for that. Certainly, it’ll help you know some of what I’m on about here.

But, as I mentioned earlier, this PS4 version is not a direct port of the PC. And that’s because there’s a lot of new stuff in here too. So let’s see what it is.

The most significant addition to the PS4 version was one all new character, one coming hot off the heels of her reappearance in the series. Reisen was back once again, and with her she brought a new stage in Eientei, new music in the form of the ever-brilliant Invisible Full Moon, and most notably, a new mode. Although the ‘Extra’ mode wasn’t really any such thing. It was just an excuse to give Reisen a story. Specifically, one that takes place after Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom, putting a reason on why she’s in the game now. It’s also a prologue to the next game, which I’ll write about whenever it comes out.

The PS4 version upped the resolution of the game to 1080p, a first for any Touhou game. It also marked the glorious return of Arcade mode, always a fun mode in the fighting games, as well as the introduction of a tutorial. And whilst Reisen’s introduction called for new music, hers wasn’t the only new music in the game: as well as some new story battle themes, two new remixes came up for two tracks, specifically Unknown X ~ Unknown Adventure, a previous fighting game classic, and Retribution for the Eternal Night, a great song from the past.

Of course, none of this would be for much if the game didn’t translate to the PS4 well. Luckily, ULiL was a strong starting point to begin with, so moving it onto completely unknown territory by Touhou’s standards should make for another strong addition to the Touhou series.

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And I’m delighted to report that for the most part it’s all still very good, and very fun, action. But not action that’s as easy as its PC counterpart. Certainly, it seemed as if the PC version was the easiest fighting game that Touhou has had, but the PS4 version seems to bring it back into line with SWR and Soku’s challenge. This isn’t a criticism of the PS4’s controls or anything, by the way. They’re still fine, it’s just harder to make stuff happen with them. And that’s fine. Sometimes I’m up for a challenge. Sometimes I just want to blow stuff up. If I wanted the former, I’d play on the PS4. If I wanted the latter, I’d be on my PC.

And this extra difficulty also seems to do a good job in fishing out which characters are the very best. Ichirin still seems fine, but nowhere near what she seemed on PC. Futo certainly doesn’t feels as good in my hands. But Miko still seems very capable on PS4. Nitori still seems good, Koishi is still a lot of fun to use, but Sukuna seems nowhere near as fun as her awesome style on the PC, and Kasen didn’t feel all that either. As for the new character, Reisen, she was merely alright. She had some powerful stuff to take advantage of but always seemed more comfortable from range. That’d be fine in SWR and Soku where you can stand back and fire away – that’s why I relished Patchouli so much in those games. But in ULiL characters can just fly right next to you and you really can’t stay away for long. The rest I’ll reserve judgement on for now, although Mamizou seemed pretty good and I’d like to play some more with Kokoro and Mokou. Especially Mokou.

Arcade mode is as good as it ever was, and the tutorial is a useful thing to have, as you’d expect. And the new music is fine, too. The Invisible Full Moon remix isn’t the greatest ever, but it’s such a good song to remix that even this one comes out nicely. The Unknown X remix is the pick of the new songs, seeing as it’s more of a heavy reworking of the original, which was already very good.

Other than that, it’s the same good old ULiL action. It was already pretty great when it first came on the PC and now it had given Touhou a strong start off its natural habitat and onto a home console. It’s the latest version of any Touhou game to come out, and it continues its strong return to form. Of course, it shouldn’t be the latest Touhou release for too long. The next fighting game – perhaps the last of this type – has been announced, Antimony of Common Flowers. Whether that arrives on PS4 too remains to be seen. Either way, once it’s out, you can be sure I’ll be writing about it. The only question is when that will be.

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Touhou 15: Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom

Touhou was in a strange place in 2015. Its last three games had been pretty solid, but they weren’t as exciting as the series’ very best and they hadn’t done much to cover a sense that it might have been getting a little stale. Certainly, Touhou’s best years seemed to have passed. And it was being proven on a fanbase-wide scale as well, as fans took interest in more and more new up-and-coming franchises threatening to take Touhou’s spot as the creme de la creme.

It was possible that Touhou maybe just needed a new lease of life, and a revisit to the very elements that, deep down, made it so great in the first place. And so, ZUN went down his usual route for announcing a new game; after announcing it on his blog, and releasing a trial at Reitaisai 12, Touhou’s fifteenth main game – 20 years after ZUN finished his first – was released at Comiket 88. And that’s how Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom came to be.

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Gameplay had been a real case of hit or miss for Touhou’s most recent games, largely thanks to gimmicks. But LoLK’s were possibly among the biggest yet, or at least that’s how it seemed when the game was first announced. Chiefly, the discussion was dominated by the biggest shift in formula by far in any Touhou game: Pointdevice Mode.

What Pointdevice Mode was, was a mode that abolished lives and continues in favour of checkpoints you respawned from when you died. Additionally, it saved your progress if you quit and then re-selected the difficulty and characters from the menu. There are many ways to look at this huge shift in gameplay. On the one hand, being able to fail as much as you want means you should, in theory, get through it eventually and get to the end (with a guaranteed good ending, it should be noted). You get to learn each wave more and more this way, too. And there’s still bombs to keep you alive, obviously (of which, more later). But on the other hand, I just get the feeling that Touhou isn’t meant to be played in anything like this way. Not in a way that ZUN said was inspired by I Wanna Be The Guy, which kicked off the modern trend of games that let you take one hit and respawn from a checkpoint. While it’s nice to see ZUN evolving the game in line with modern alternatives, the games it’s inspired by are hardly the greatest in the world. Not by a long way. In fact, where I mostly only see them is in the hands of YouTubers screaming their dignity away in the name of views/money/etc. They’re not the type of person you want to see trying a Touhou game.

It’s not like the concept is bad. After all, Touhou was doing this in a way from MoF to UFO, by making continues infinite. But losing all your lives there put you back at the very start of the stage so they had enough incentive to make you not want to die. And the idea works well if the deaths respawn you right back where you were, so you can just give it another shot straight away. But checkpoint systems like what LoLK has are not the way to go with it. Getting stuck on hard ‘chapters’, as the game calls them, just turns them into repetitive annoyances. This is only a real issue on stages – each non-spell and spell is its own chapter on a mid-boss and boss. But, for a reason you’ll find out when I go into the game itself, this is a big issue with LoLK. So frankly, Pointdevice Mode is a sound idea, but done wrongly. So I won’t be concerning myself with it too much in this write-up. All it does, for me, is serve as part of a plot point.

Luckily, Pointdevice Mode isn’t the only way to play Touhou. ZUN was never going to ditch the good old way of playing Touhou so readily, and so, in Legacy Mode, as the game calls it, you can play Touhou in the way we all know and love. So with that nugget of relief behind us, let’s get to the actual in-game changes to LoLK.

Touhou games are often defined by one big mechanic, and LoLK is no exception. This time, the game’s big theme is grazing, which goes from a useful mechanic to a game-defining one. The most initial benefit of grazing is how it slows the fall of all point items, an effect that makes itself very noticeable on a visual level. Continuous grazing of a bullet will give you 5 extra points at a time once you do it for long enough, and finally, your graze gets counted up at the end of each chapter (the concept is still present here, but is only used in the name of tallying up your score and resources). If you earn enough graze points and shoot enough enemies down in a chapter, you get a life piece at the end of it (or a bomb piece in Pointdevice).

By the way, you only need three life pieces to get an extra one in this game (five in the Extra stage). With how many chapters there are per stage, this means you have plenty of chances to bag some in a stage. If you’re a really good player, getting lives is, if anything, far too easy. But if you’re not, like me, the grazing theme still has its positives. Mostly, it encourages you to be brave and get right next to the bullets, a habit that serves you well in most Touhou games. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll probably just end up getting too close too often and just end up with a bullet hitting you square in the face instead, but it’s the price you have to pay if you’re aiming for the best. Incidentally, in the trial, you initially got bomb fragments in Legacy Mode as well, and you needed five of them to get another one, which made resource-getting closer to DDC than the final game. In an update of said trial, it was changed to life pieces, but you still needed five. By the time the game was out though, you only needed three. I’ll let you make up your own mind on what could have been with that simple, but critical, change.

For the most part though, playing the game was about as close to an ordinary, bog-standard Touhou game as there had been for many years. All you had to do was a little more of something that was already a pretty good thing to do anyway. So much for the “very different” gameplay ZUN touted at first – instead, he created the most back-to-basics Touhou game for a long time. Which was a very nice, and welcome, change from the last few games. DDC required an unusual approach to take advantage of its resource system. UFO had you chasing its mechanic down in all sorts of inadvisable ways. And TD forced you go in all sorts of ridiculous places. But, in spite of all the complexities around it, when you’re just pressing buttons and playing, all you have to do in LoLK is dodge the bullets and shoot up the enemies. And that can only be a good thing for LoLK. Because, deep down, that’s how a Touhou game ought to be.

But from the very start of LoLK’s life, from when it was first announced, the best thing about it was the characters. ZUN had gone back to four characters, with just one shot for them, combining all the favourite elements of their characters. He had a chance to make good shots like these in TD, but came up short. In LoLK, he absolutely nailed it. Reimu and Marisa are here as always, the former coming at us again with her amulets and needles, the latter with her lasers and missiles. And, of course, their signature bombs, the Fantasy Seal and Master Spark. Sanae made her return after missing out the last game, and after her disappointing shot in TD, she was back on form with a remix of her best from UFO. The devastating bomb-frogs were her normal shot, the homing snakes her focus shot and, for her bomb, the simply superb Wily Toad nuke made its glorious comeback. But the fourth character was in uncharted territory, by her standards. We’d played as her in shmups before, but not fully-fledged ones like this. Sure enough, a plot filled with Lunarians was enough to see Reisen Udongein Inaba make her debut as a playable character. Many of her fans, me included, rejoiced at her inclusion. The Stage 5 effect lived on, and the result was as good a roster of characters as Touhou has ever seen.

With these elements, LoLK already looked like it was to be the best Touhou game in a long time, a long-awaited return to its best form. Some of the most vital pieces were already well in place, and it gave LoLK the chance to be something truly great. All it had to do was use those pieces, and more, as well as possible.

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This is the most flat-out epic start screen music in a while. It’s not the absolute best, but it sure as hell gets you pumped up.

Obviously, I had to give this a try with all four characters. And it’s worth noting that the shot types are as widely unbalanced as they’ve ever been in Touhou, but not in a bad way. Reimu is about as ordinary as it gets in this game, but her small hitbox happens to be a very useful feature in this game, so she’s fine. By contrast, Marisa is really left wanting. Her shot hinders her horribly on stages and her hitbox really isn’t what you want most of the time.

But Sanae and Reisen are utterly incredible. Sanae has all the elements that made her B-type shot such a wonder in UFO, with a superb homing focus shot to boot this time. But there’s more to it than that. Thanks to the resource mechanics, her play style becomes even more beneficial. The focus shot can take care of the enemies, whilst her bomb makes grazing a formality. Simply go where the bullets are whilst you’re invincible and you’ll get all the graze you need to rack up life pieces. Played right, this can put the entire game into your hands. As for Reisen, her shot is quite literally a scattergun, but whilst it tries to act like a wide shot, it isn’t one really since at full power it’s just four options covering a certain spread. And when focused it’s just an unremarkable straight shot, which is nothing special. Where she earns her kudos is with her bomb. What it does, is put up three barriers which let you wall three bullets without dying. The benefits of this are obvious, although you’d think it would benefit her most in Pointdevice, where one hit does you in. But there aren’t enough resources to get there to make it worthwhile. Instead, Legacy Mode is where she benefits from it, as she can simply get her bombs back by dying. And, of course, with all the lives you can get in LoLK, you can make Reisen nigh unbeatable.

Of course, none of these elements would count for much if they were put into bang average stages. Luckily, in this regard, LoLK doesn’t disappoint. Not by a long way.

You’ll know that with TD and DDC, ZUN had edged back towards calmer Stage 1s after the action-filled bunch from the second trilogy. LoLK goes in completely the opposite direction again. It’s filled with fun and excitement from the get-go, and plenty of bullets come at you from the start, the enemies are toughened up and face Seiran twice as a mid-boss. She’s not too hard a boss though, once you get her down. She’s basically giving you a free life with her non-spells and last spell. How nice of her.

Then there’s Stage 2, which is as epic a Stage 2 Touhou has had for a while. It’s up there with IN, MoF and DDC amongst the best Stage 2s, whilst Ringo is a boss who can really catch you out at first. She’s got her fair-share of micro-dodging spell cards all over her fight, so she’s not too bad. Then you get to Stage 3, which for the most part is utterly mad. Filled to the brim with bullets, it’s the first real taste of the rest of the game to come. And the boss, Doremy, is just plain crazy. Her spell cards are of a like unlike any other in Touhou, and they’re hard. Boy, they’re hard.

Stage 4 is a slightly calmer affair, but it certainly has its moments. And Sagume can cause plenty of worry. Most of the stage is spent hoping you aren’t going to get hit in the face by a laser. But take the ‘downtime’ while you can, because then comes Stage 5. And it’s just utterly insane on every level. So many bullets fly at you at such stupendous speeds, you do sometimes wonder if you could possibly dodge them. And yet the stage is nothing compared to its boss, Clownpiece. She’s one of the most astonishing fights in all Touhou history, make no mistake. Never has a Touhou boss brought me so utterly to my knees in amazement at the sheer firepower they have. There’s supposed to be a way to dodge all her stuff…but having faced her, I don’t know what any of it is. I’m not even mad, her stuff is just amazing.

But at least she doesn’t get quite blatantly and ridiculously cheap. At least, you can’t tell with everything she fires at you. The final stage is a nasty bastard. By Stage 6 standards the stage is a long one, but not necessarily hard. It’s just an amuse-bouche before the finale, this time with Junko. Her spell cards are designed purely to kill you. They don’t look all that good for the most part, but what they do look is impossible to dodge. And so it proves to be, most of the time. Some of her stuff will at least give you a few more pixels to work with, but most of the time? Nah. And her last spell is remarkable. It seems easy enough to start, and gets nice and hard as she throws in more bullets, but then suddenly she throws in her super-fast bullets in her last phase and you wonder why on earth she had to take it quite this far. Of course, there’s a reason she does all of this (the plot)…but is it art? Not really, no. Still, it’s a very strange sensation going through her fight. It’s not the most spectacular fight, but it still feels suitably epic.

And completing the general bizarreness of this game is the Extra Stage, which is again unlike any other before. The stage itself isn’t really all that, its challenge not matching the rest of the game, but the boss fight is where things really get different. Hecatia is meant to be the boss, but she is joined by Junko who steps in for a couple of non-spells and spells. It has plenty of difficult attacks within, and whilst it isn’t the very best Extra stage in Touhou, it’s pretty good. The main game has better stages, though.

But it doesn’t really matter. Because at its very best, LoLK succeeds in the one area it matters most. With TD and DDC, ZUN had failed to recapture the feeling of playing through Touhou that made MoF, SA and UFO such great games to play through. With LoLK, he finally found it again. And in an incredible way. The main game is an absolute rollercoaster of action, the enemies come at you with full force, and you’re playing Touhou with its most iconic elements at hand. Reimu, Marisa and Sanae may not be equal as shot types, but playing as them feels so…right in this game. Or you’re playing as Reisen in a new and faintly ridiculous way, which is great too. I mean, it’s Reisen! Most of all though, the atmosphere of the whole game is wonderful. It feels epic right from the start. The middle sets you up very nicely for the onslaught to come. And the last two stages are the definition of what makes Touhou so lovably crazy. In short, LoLK has everything that makes Touhou what it is. Just playing it is an experience to relish. It’s absolutely magnificent. Brilliant. Maybe as good as Touhou has ever been…

And it helps too that ZUN went out of his way to put back in some truly, truly difficult enemies. If you take everything, the difficulty is odd to judge. If you play as Sanae or Reisen, the difficulty almost disappears if you play well enough. But if you just look at what you have to face, it’s the most difficult a Touhou game has ever been. Right from the first stage, you’ve got a lot of bullets facing you, and some strong enemies to boot. And from there on it just snowballs until you’re facing stuff that is nothing short of ludicrous. Yes, sometimes, it goes too far. But Touhou’s biggest signature, on a gaming level, to a general audience, is its difficulty. Why not demonstrate that in the biggest possible way? That’s why LoLK’s brutality does it far more good than bad. SA was the sole biggest representative of Touhou’s famed difficulty. It remains a great example, but LoLK stands as an even better one now.

But perhaps the most notable contribution to LoLK’s general brilliance is its characters. Primarily, the maddening appeal they have, especially compared to Touhou’s most recent efforts, prior to this new magnificent seven. DDC’s characters weren’t particularly bad, but by Touhou’s standards they were incredibly plain. This lot…really aren’t. I mean, just look at Clownpiece. She’s wearing the American flag. When everyone found out about her, the Western fanbase lost their shit over her completely. I mean, that’s what a Touhou character should be like. Not a plain Jane like the lot that had been thrown up recently. The significance of her appearance and personality is also not lost in today’s world, especially since ZUN seems only too happy to bring ‘the Outside World’ further into Touhou’s canon. Elsewhere, there’s Junko, who comes not only with a wild Chinese outfit, but also a backstory deeper than any Touhou character seen for a long time. There’s Hecatia, who is an implausibly three-formed goddess with clothes straight from Hot Topic, and even Doremy looks pretty funky.

In amidst all the wild new characters, the most popular character from the game actually turned out to be its most ordinary, comparatively speaking. Sagume Kishin’s design is simple but very, very sweet. She’s great and her one-wingedness brings to mind lots of silly stuff to do with other supposedly one-winged beings. Even her last spell’s called ‘One-Winged White Heron’. Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it… Mind you, FF7 isn’t the Final Fantasy I’d compare this to. But I’ll save that for the end.

And finally, rounding out a great game, is some great music. It took me quite a while to warm to it, if I’m honest. But that’s probably just me having to get used to it. Once you listen closely enough there are some fantastic songs here. The first two stages have some particularly excellent themes. Both of Stage 1’s songs are full of joy, and both sound terrific when you’re playing the game with them on. The Lake Reflects the Cleansed Moonlight is arguably the best Stage 2 theme in Touhou, with its epic tones. That’s one of the best the game has to offer. Stage 3’s songs aren’t the strongest, but Stage 4 gets a good pair. The last two stages get some of the best, though. The Stage 6 song is awesome, whilst Pure Furies is a strong final boss theme.

But it’s Stage 5 that gets the best of the bunch. Faraway 380,000-Kilometer Voyage is already epic enough by itself, but like the stage itself, the boss music overshadows it by being completely brilliant; The Pierrot of the Star-Spangled Banner is the best theme any boss has had for years. Not only does it capture the mood of the battle, and Clownpiece herself, perfectly, it even brings to mind somewhat the days of PC-98 music with its composition. In particular, I think it’s the closest song yet to another Stage 5 masterpiece, Doll of Misery, the best song of the era. But actually, if you listen closely, a number of the songs take themes from the past and apply it to LoLK. The Rabbit Has Landed is filled with old-school ZUNpets, Pumpkin of September uses several familiar instruments, and The Frozen Eternal Capital mixes a whole range of old and new instruments in. But there’s a lot of new styles in there too, reserved for significant songs like Pure Furies. The one slight letdown is the Extra Stage’s songs, which are relatively unremarkable, but the good songs throughout the soundtrack are so outstanding that they cover up any real weaknesses.

So, the result of all these brilliant elements is a brilliant game. Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom is the best Touhou game since UFO. And yet it’s so much more than that. There’s no denying it: Touhou needed a game like this. The series’ best form had passed it by and it had showed with its last two main games. Time had seen Touhou’s popularity start to slip, not helped by the rotten spell its games had between 2011 and mid-2013. Touhou had seemed nigh-untouchable for years, but new pretenders to its throne were coming along and actually knocking it off its perch.* Touhou needed something big to stop its decline. And it got something big. It got LoLK. And it’s one of the best things to happen in the series. Which puts it on a par with the best games in the series.

Mind you, it’s not the very best game in the series. That’s still SA, because that was the crown jewel of Touhou’s peak. LoLK is nowhere near as perfect as SA, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, while everyone mostly found it great at first, there are actually plenty of black marks that hurt it, in some people’s eyes. The immense difficulty is clearly fake in places, especially Junko, who takes her fair share of cheap shots. The characters are perhaps an acquired taste to some now, great as they were when they were all new and fresh. And there’s even a couple of bugs within, which has caused some to question whether ZUN properly tested the game ahead of time, coupled with the considerable difficulty.

But all of those flaws are put behind you, by how wonderful it is to just sit down and experience LoLK for yourself. Before LoLK came about, I thought ZUN wouldn’t make a Touhou game as good as his best again. I thought he was past it, too occupied with other things to really concentrate on making the games great again. LoLK proved me so, so very wrong, and I love him for it. Everything just feels right about it, deep down. Even if it isn’t all fine behind the scenes. But look. Final Fantasy 8 had a lot of bizarre stuff in it, and it too was flawed in several ways. And yet not only did many people still love it, it’s my personal favourite in the series. It’s one of my very favourite games ever. LoLK is kinda like that. Yeah, it’s got its problems, but when was anything ever perfect? It’s the heart and soul that counts. And that’s why I love this game. In fact, this game reminded me of why I love Touhou. And for that, I give ZUN, LoLK and all of Touhou my ever-loving praise. Long may it continue…

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*I’m not naming names. Only one that begins with K and ends with antai Collection.