ZUN’s next Touhou game came, once again, at the following Comiket, number 55, held at the very end of 1998. His next game was called Mystic Square, although in hindsight it ought to have been called ‘Now That’s What I Call the Best of the PC-98’. Because that’s what Mystic Square would indeed turn out to be.
Now the vertical style was set in stone – back for a third game, the second in succession, there was no questioning what Touhou would be now. The mechanics evolved marginally, too, making it yet more refined. Most notably, characters now had more difference to behold. Speaking of which, two more characters came around for this game – and they were ones we’d seen before. Mima, the veteran, was now playable, and Yuuka Kazami, the enemy last time out, became a playable character as well. All the big names were here now. This was a roster that arguably wouldn’t be matched for some 16 years…
This time though, they only had one shot type each. Reimu had her now synonymous homing shot, whilst Marisa ditched the lasers and kept her Magic Missile – and was now notably faster than Reimu. But not as fast as Mima, who moved around the place like a mad woman. Yuuka was an option focused mostly on range. In any case, the line-up had something to suit anyone whilst also being magnificent. Now it was time to see just how they all worked out.
Oh, what an epic title theme goes with this screen. It really gets you ready for what’s ahead, and fits what would ultimately be the mood with Mystic Square – one of just utter epicness.
I mean, even the first stage music sounds like it should be something from around Stage 4 at least. Although granted, the boss there is the easiest a Touhou game has ever had. And the second stage is just pure cool as well. The third stage is pretty average admittedly, which is surprising given what the boss at the end would turn out to be. The fourth stage turns up the ante in difficulty considerably, although most of it comes from the fact the bullets blend in too well with the background. But the boss there is genuinely interesting, and also quite possibly very hard depending on which way it goes. And from there, the game doesn’t let up. Stage 5 and its boss are both toughies, and then the final stage presents a highly difficult boss. And yet, despite all this, I did actually clear this game. With continues, obviously, but shut up, the final boss exploded at the end and that’s fine by me. I can only say that about one other Touhou game. Honest.
I did it with Yuuka, whose shot type is not as ideal as it should be but statistically she is perfect for me and once you get the hang of how to use her wide shot she can do a superb job. She makes Stage 4 notably less scary. There are times when low speed will be a massive burden, though. I also made it to the final boss with Reimu, but ran out of confidence and continues. I had runs with Marisa and Mima without continues. Mima’s high speed is noticeably helpful against some attacks, but her actual shot is absolutely nothing special. Still, I think she looks rather good artistically in this game. Marisa’s Magic Missiles look powerful and are just that against bosses, but sadly she’s not my type of character at all. The Master Spark was far from complete here yet, too.
But all the way through there was this undoubted sense that the whole game was one big rollercoaster ride of fun. No build up to the big finish, just one massive blast from the very start. And that’s a damn load of fun.
What also helped the cause was the best addition worth of characters yet. Well, the first three didn’t seem that important. Sara was just a joke and Louise is as generic as they come. Even Alice didn’t seem like much – but then you might note that she is this game’s Extra Stage boss. Yes, ZUN went back to SoEW’s way of nicking a boss from earlier and making her Extra Stage boss, rather than making (a) fresh character(s). Of all the things that hadn’t been set in stone yet for Touhou, this was one of few that would ultimately not be resolved until after the PC-98 era. And, as it happened, there was much more to come from Alice…but that’s for another time.
After her came a charming quartet of characters. Yuki and Mai provided what would be the first ever dual boss in a Touhou game – and here, when you knock one down enough, the other goes it alone and fights you hard. Both are difficult, Yuki more so. Also, she looks much like what Marisa now did, as she’d switched from purple to black uniform, which has been the case ever since. And even Mai looked at least a little like someone who we’d have with us next time round…
The last two bosses were Yumeko and Shinki. Yumeko made for a good maid, and a hard fight. But unfortunately, we never saw her again…but don’t worry, it’s not like someone was there to replace her. Shinki, meanwhile, made for a damn epic finale with her great wings and her ludicrous attacks – which we very definitely would see again, albeit a lot later. In fact, we’d also see the setting Makai a lot later as well, it being the most notable location of its time, ahead of Yuuka’s Mugenkan.
And whilst the music wasn’t the strongest we’d ever see, it was again filled with its strong points, to the point where it was at least even with Lotus Land Story. It seems the early stages are stronger than the later ones, but the late bosses are stronger than the early ones. Therefore, I’d say my favourite songs, aside from the title screen, are Dream Express, Dimension of Reverie, Maple Wise, Legendary Illusion ~ Infinite Being, Alice in Wonderland, and my favourite of all, Doll Story ~ Doll of Misery. The beginning notes, effectively signalling Shinki’s entry in the cutscene, are just incredible. Utterly bewitching, those are. Even if other songs might be better as a whole, that bit is just sooo cool. I love it.
So Mystic Square had risen the bar for Touhou once again, and to a properly high level at that. Now, the question was, where would it go next? As it turned out, we would have quite a while to wait.