Together with the older Highly Responsive to Prayers came ZUN’s newer Story of Eastern Wonderland. If you look at the early history of Touhou, it’s very clear that ZUN was experimenting as to what his series would eventually become. It took all of two games to decide the eventual outcome. Story of Eastern Wonderland is Touhou, mark 1 – but like a lot of first tries, it was not without its teething troubles.
The first thing to come with the whole new vertical ‘danmaku’ genre this game featured was three shot types for Reimu. The differences between them came in the form of range, power, and bombing, as well as a homing shot and a stronger but slower moving shot. That was just one such hallmark that came about here – others included the series’ famously implausible hitboxes, a power system, point items, an Extra Stage, and a scoring system to match.
Poor old Reimu is looking very fat here…this is, of course, impossible. One of the silliest perks of Reimu’s job is she can’t get fat. But this demonstrates one thing that has not improved as much over time – ZUN’s art. More of that will come up later…
What definitely hasn’t been repeated is the fact this game only has 5 stages. They’ve upped it to 6 ever since. The first three were not too special, but at least the second provided some humour. Where the game came alive, another Touhou tradition as it would turn out to become, was from Stage 4 onwards. That’s when the game and the plot reached its most epic point.
But the basics of the PC-98 system are all laid out here, and they wouldn’t be changed much at all. There would be some more mechanics added that are also now commonplace in Touhou, but they can wait until we actually talk about those games. However, compared to later games, SoEW is not that difficult a proposition. That is, except the Extra Stage, which would set yet another theme of Extra Stages being a hardcore bunch at the worst of times. Still, ZUN wanted a game that was extreme for danmaku of its time, and it probably was. But he has definitely improved it since. Now SoEW looks relatively soft compared to some of the maulings that have arisen since.
One definite miss, especially compared to the game before it, came in the music. There are at least a few reasonably significant tracks but none of them is what I’d call great.
Of course, the characters also proved notable, even though this game only introduced four new characters – the final boss was Mima, who was in Highly Responsive to Prayers. One of these characters was a certain Marisa Kirisame, who we’ve not heard much from since… Still, while only four are properly considered characters, one cannot discount the monster that is Five Magic Stones, a simple excellent being who deserves a spot back in the series, clearly.
Story of Eastern Wonderland had made its mark on Touhou, and had set itself down as the second game at effectively the same time as the first had set itself. But there was no rest for the series yet – or indeed even this genre. ZUN was at work on a third game, at the time to be conceived as a horizontal shooting game, not a vertical one… Would this end up being what Touhou would stay as? As it turned out, it never got the chance.