14 August 1998 was the release date for what would become the birth of Touhou as we know it. This was when Lotus Land Story, the fourth game, came about.
ZUN finally repeated the trick of one of his previous games, and he decided to go with the genre from Story of Eastern Wonderland. He has gone with it for all but one full game since then. But ZUN had also looked at SoEW’s flaws and fixed them up. Chiefly, the biggest difference was that more bullets had been put in, creating the famed difficulty that Touhou presents. Another stage was added, bringing it to a total of 6, a number which has remained constant ever since. But he’d also added another important factor, one that has also been ever-present since – a second playable character, Marisa, returning once again. She packed more power than Reimu, but lacked her wider range. Their bombs were both different too. Speaking of which, bombs now auto-collected items, and other new features included graze counting, slowing movement with the shift key (though not focusing your shot just yet), and a less trivial scoring system than before.
However, whilst the bullets were upped from SoEW, it is still a relatively comfortable affair. Generally this is a PC-98 thing I guess, since I suppose ZUN couldn’t get as many bullets at once. But still you feel that nowadays LLS is comparatively easier than the games that came after it. That said, Stage 3 and 4 had its challenges, for sure.
One factor that might have eased the game up though was Marisa’s A shot. It had a laser that flashed on and off again constantly, but when it was on, it tore huge chunks out of bosses’ health, more than nearly anything else has really done since. (More on that in the future…) Whilst Marisa was always going to be a character more suitable for bosses than stages, and vice versa for Reimu, this really made it all too drastic. As I see it, the problem is the way that Marisa’s laser hits – when it’s on, it’s just constantly going at the enemy it’s hitting, but the damage it does at a time was supremely high here. It has worked similarly since, but the way the laser flickers on and off has changed over time and, quite obviously, the damage has been nerfed. But the damage MarisaA could do made bosses vastly easier. I played with her and ReimuA in writing this piece, and in both instances I encountered another new factor…
One thing the game had about it was punishing crap players. If you ever continued, or were playing on Easy, once you completed Stage 5, you couldn’t go onto Stage 6. As a result, I didn’t stand a chance with either ReimuA or even MarisaA. But what this factor also brought about was something rather unintended…
Whether this was to do with the translation I have, I don’t know. But this happened immediately after the dialogue saying that I couldn’t continue, and it faded to black. Needless to say, this is not translated. Nor part of the game. It’s a crash. As if I didn’t need any reminding how crap I am…
Another change came in the Extra Stage. This time around, rather than taking an existing character as per SoEW’s Extra Stage, this time around there were not one, but two original bosses to face. However, you actually faced them separately, one after the other, and this particular style has not really been repeated since. The Extra Stages would take a little while longer to settle in terms of layout. The bosses themselves were rather notable, although Mugetsu, the first boss, is probably only notable in my mind; she thinks she’s a cute maid and all, but she’s not particularly hard. Gengetsu, the second boss, is probably best known for her infamous timeout phase on her last attack, which is perhaps the hardest, and I believe still the fastest, attack in the series to this day. Given how simple the rest of the game is, that is some surprise.
This was the game that probably really started the Touhou character ball rolling. But despite this, the game was not only short of new characters – you actually faced the other protagonist in Stage 4 – but the ones that came from this game weren’t as memorable either…not until Stage 5, at least. That’s when one Yuuka Kazami comes in, one of the first great Touhou characters. She’s one of the most prominent antagonists in any Touhou game – so much so they made her the Stage 6 boss as well. This would not be the last we’d see of her…not by a long way.
The musical factor wasn’t quite as high as what the previous game managed, but there are still plenty of gems within. My favourite of the lot would be Vessel of Stars ~ Casket of Star, Maiden’s Capriccio, Selene’s Light, and what is still a most prominent Touhou song to this day, Bad Apple. Though quite why they bother with the remix I don’t know – the original is clearly better, and catchier. Why wouldn’t they just listen to this instead?!
So Touhou now finally had its big start in the form of Lotus Land Story. Well, when I say big…ZUN says he only ever sold two to three hundred copies of the game. But he’d get more now if he’d known at the time what he had coming. From here, the only way was up for Touhou.