November of this year marks the 20th anniversary of ZUN showing off his first ever game – a game, possibly unusually at the time, featuring nothing but girls. He’d finished it a year prior, so that is the original 20th anniversary of the series which would eventually become the Touhou Project. But as it was, it didn’t get released in full until 15 August, 1997 – by which time another game had been made as well. It’s just as well it had been because that is what Touhou would mostly become. But before that, it was Highly Responsive to Prayers, an Arkanoid like game that would start off what has since become quite something to behold in the 20 years since.
Now I should explain from the outset that while I tend to think I’m good at Arkanoid-like games, I’m highly prone to doing something massively idiotic in the middle of them as well. Sometimes the ball is right there, and then for no explicable reason, I will just shoot the paddle straight past it and into the abyss it goes. So really I’m not that good at them at all.
That said, if I can concentrate hard enough I can usually get somewhere with them. So let’s put our concentration caps on for a go at Touhou 1, Highly Responsive to Prayers.
I actually think this start screen is something genuinely quite awesome. It just looks very cool in a surprisingly epic way.
But let’s get into the game and…wait a minute, this is not Arkanoid. No way is it. It’s like the complete opposite. In breakout games, you hit the ball with the paddle and it moves about. In Highly Responsive to Prayers, you hit the Yin-Yang Orb with Reimu and she loses a life. But if you let it go anywhere else, that’s OK…
Also, you can do things that most paddles can’t. You can slide and actually hit the yin-yang orb back up. You can shoot it up normally, or time a hit with the gohei. Actually, you can do even more than that. Pressing the right buttons lets you do special moves as well, or even use a bomb, which gets a hit on each card and in some early stages is a free clear. But don’t worry, this is still Touhou…turrets fire bullets at you, and if you take too long more bullets will rain down on you. The difference is, these ones can be shot down by your own bullets. What a brilliant idea…how I could use something like that in today’s Touhou.
And there are still boss fights where bullets are everywhere, too. They come every five stages, but whilst the game has seven bosses, you only face four of them in one go. That’s because after Stage 5 you get to choose a route – Makai, or Hell. Split paths would definitely be a good switch up for a Touhou game these days, although if you did it after the first boss like this game I suspect 12 new characters would be a few too many for our little minds.
If I’m iffy at normal breakout games, I was horrible at Highly Responsive to Prayers. Mostly that’s because it isn’t really a breakout game as I know it. It has the basic elements, but really the way I thought it was that it had pinball thrown into the mix as well, and a bit of bullet dodging as well. Consequently, I was not very good at it. Still, it is like most Touhou games in the sense that I’ll enjoy it for a quick blast until I start dying at least. And like most Touhou games, maybe I’ll end up accidentally doing rather good and getting really tense as I hang on to try and survive, but ultimately fall to defeat. Except Highly Responsive to Prayers also allows for unlimited continues. Hey, when that was the norm for Touhou later on it turned out to be really rather good. Say, ZUN should try it again some time soon…
There are more positives to Highly Responsive to Prayers besides, but since I’m covering each game and comparing them, and since I plan to write about more bits individually, I can only discuss them on a more general level here. The two big things in question are the music and characters, two of the most crucial elements in Touhou games.
This game clearly tells you that ZUN didn’t discover his musical talent by accident – this is a great start to his musical side. There are at least two songs here I’d consider among the best in the series, and there are a handful of nice songs throughout.
As for the characters, well they didn’t get that much personality in this game. But even on a Touhou-wide level they are still notable, and at least one boss would become significant for the rest of what would come to be the PC98 era. But my favourite has provided what is almost certainly my most irrational love of a Touhou character, for a most silly reason. You’ll find out who she is at some point.
Highly Responsive to Prayers will forever be known as the game that started the Touhou Project as we all know it to day. But the game itself bears little in common with any other Touhou Project game that followed it. That started with the other game that was released the same day. And that’s up next.