Made at the same time as Immaterial and Missing Power, this was what turned out to be the next actual shoot-em-up game in the series, and it came first of the two, at Comiket 66, in August 2004. This was a game that promised to evolve Touhou even further, into something even more special – this was Imperishable Night.
ZUN stated the entire story of the game was a result of what was a personal decision to use the most noticeable change in the game – the partner system. This wouldn’t be the last time he’d do such a thing… The result of this system was that the game featured eight playable characters in all, although only four shot types were available immediately. Reimu, Marisa and Sakuya returned for another round, whilst the main new face was, again, the last Stage 5 boss, Youmu Konpaku. The four characters teamed up with Yukari Yakumo, Alice Margatroid, Remilia Scarlet and Yuyuko Saigyouji respectively, and in the ‘teams’ the game started with, they came and provided focused shots for the shot types, and what was an addition to the deathbomb system – Player “Last Spells”. They had a longer time window than normal bombs, lasting longer and dealing more damage, but cost two bombs. Beating the game with these teams unlocked the characters for use by themselves, including the four team-mates of the perceived ‘main’ characters. However, only Remilia and Youmu had different shot types between focusing and unfocusing.
And Last Spells weren’t limited to you either – the opponents had them too. They were bonus spellcards which players could challenge without being able to use bombs, and without the risk of losing lives. The last big changes were a system that replaced the Cherry system from PCB – the Time Orb system, which affected the story and score, and a human/youkai gauge, determined by how much you used focused and unfocused shots respectively, which affected how many time orbs a player could collect.
Otherwise, the only big addition was Spell Practice mode, which was pretty much what it said on the tin. A mode to practice against each bosses’ spellcard, an undoubted boon to all players.
This title screen has a rather more mystical feel to it than the ones that came before. But it does eventually lead into something of a musical beat. Given the night-time feel ZUN was going with here, I can see how this fits well.
Now testing out this game in its entirety is hectic because there are a total of 12 shot types to play with effectively. Yes, you start with just four, and yes, you beat the game to unlock the solos, but in the interests of this piece I have a save with all the shots unlocked. I eventually settled on seven shot types to play with, two teams and five solos.
My main playthrough was with Border Team (Reimu and Yukari), a shot type with some rather broken characteristics, including a massive deathbomb timer even by this game’s standards. Sadly, it didn’t help as much as I’d have liked. Mostly a whole contribution of factors made playing through the game like this hell.
Stage 1 is a decent start, although it doesn’t really manage to be either calm or hectic, being in a rather lukewarm mood between the two. But the atmosphere and music is sweet enough.
Stage 2, on the other hand, is more hectic than anything like it that’s come before, with two very solid soundtracks to go with and Mystia Lorelei, who has a rather sweet gimmick of trying to blind you from most of her bullets. This is one of the game’s strongest points, to be honest.
The third stage is not too bad either, to be honest, but I’m not sure the atmosphere is quite right. It doesn’t seem to feel like a night stage, like ZUN was aiming for, and whilst it does improve when Keine ‘removes’ the Human Village, her fight is still fairly average, and unremarkable.
Stage 4 though is where it gets properly weird, because there are two bosses you can face, and which one you get depends on which shot type you take. Reimu/Yukari and Youmu/Yuyuko face off against Marisa, whilst Marisa/Alice and Sakuya/Remilia face Reimu. This stage is quite unlike any in Touhou, as the stage section is short at first and you face off the boss…then they run away, you fight more of the stage, and then the boss comes back, then you beat them. Whilst Reimu and Marisa are both highly difficult fights, I’m really not sure about the execution of it all. Also, the plotlines are great with Reimu and Marisa’s shots, but relatively pointless in the grand scheme of things with Sakuya and Youmu. Was it too big an ask to have those two teams fight each other? Or would ZUN simply say he’d ‘been there and done that’ with those two in terms of boss fights? Most people I know claim this to be an epic stage. I think it’s a missed opportunity. And that’s not all…
Stage 5 is a considerably more normal state of affairs, being its usual menacing self as a stage to make up for Stage 4’s odd layout. And the boss at the end of it brings another familiar trait to the table – a gimmick. Reisen Udongein Inaba’s gimmick makes her bullets phaze in and out of existence, move in an odd way, or disappear completely. And this gimmick is pulled off better than Sakuya’s and Youmu’s – because some of the spells that come from it are completely terrifying. I just didn’t know what to do with Hallucinogenic Tuning…actually, her non-spells might be even more terrifying. Because they come at you immediately and are right there in your face before you know it.
And then Imperishable Night completely bottles it. God knows why the Stage 6s are laid out as they are, but that’s how ZUN intended it to be. If you continue, you are forced down the wrong route, but if you haven’t completed the game yet, you are also forced down it. This means you have to complete the game with everyone twice…and there’s another serious problem as well. If you run out of lives on this final stage, the game ends instantly. Boom, bad ending, you lose, please try again. It’s a horribly unrewarding system and I don’t know why it had to be even remotely changed. Oh, and if the timer reaches 5am, you also get the bad ending…the whole thing is a sham. It’s a shame because Kaguya is actually a genuinely rather good fight. Eirin, on the other hand, is mostly just ruined because of her meaningless position as a boss.
Really, the way the game is laid out is just plain wrong. Honestly, the only boss that is even in the right place, all things considered, is Keine. If I were at the helm, Eirin would be Stage 5, Reisen Stage 4 – and to hell with the Stage 5 tradition – someone like Tewi would be a Stage 2, and Mystia could do the job as a Stage 1 boss. As for the Reimu/Marisa fight, it’s a nice idea, badly executed and probably doesn’t happen if the rest of the game is actually laid out properly. And, as I said, the fight itself is pretty silly on the face of it with Sakuya and Youmu’s teams.
Still, at least the Extra Stage is a fitting climax to it all. There’s no frills, no spills here – it’s just one very good stage, with some perfectly memorable moments and some fantastic music too.
And to be fair, some of the shot types can do a good job of disguising some of the game’s flaws. The teams are none of those, however. Really, even with something like Border Team, the constant change about just throws me off too often, and it makes bombing a far more complex job than necessary, if I want to get the most optimal bomb, anyway. Even extra power from something like the Malice Cannon glitch is no help. So none of those shot types are that special. And to be honest, nor are the team leader’s solos. Reimu and Marisa are just their ordinary selves, as is Sakuya for the most part, but their companions are more fun. Yukari is a particularly fun shot, as you can just sit back and let her shikigami Ran spin about and destroy everything instead, leaving her to do the dirty work and you to just dodge the bullets. The only problem is with her bombs – her normal one does not very much, but her Last Spell has huge power. She’s much like ReimuA in PCB in this respect. Alice is not that good, but her normal bomb is at least very magnificent. Remilia is hardly anything special either, but the one thing with her is that you will never, ever get tired of saying “Remilia’s familiars” when playing as her shot.
Speaking of familiars, half the characters rely on them as a central theme in some way. Yukari has Ran, Alice’s shot is produced by a doll (which I think has a part in causing that aforementioned glitch), and Remilia has her familiars. However, Youmu bucks the trend by being the unfocused character with familiars, ones that follow her path and leave their shots behind like some kind of trailblazer. It’s tricky to set up, to be honest. But Yuyuko does not have any such familiars. Instead, she just has a magnificent shot. Yuyuko solo is probably my favourite in the game, because she has a remarkable amount of power, both with her shot and her bomb, and both in stages and against bosses thanks to her fantastic range. If you can unlock both Yukari and Yuyuko solo, they’re the ones to really have a good play-around with.
Before this piece, I could sort of see why so many Touhou fans recommended IN as a first game. Now I only think they’re doing it because they started with it themselves. If you can properly embrace IN, maybe you’ll love it. But I really can’t. I just can’t get over how the game was done. Really, on reflection, none of the game’s main stages are much good. Shame.
That said, I have noticed that the graphics are somewhat more improved than I previously thought. The layout of the game’s screen is virtually identical to PCB, which says a lot about how well ZUN nailed that. It makes it feel pretty much just as old as PCB too, though. That’s not necessarily a good thing these days, but it could be worse. Still, there’s a lot of improvement to stuff like the sound in particular, and there are some impressive graphics throughout. Sadly, those graphics don’t include the art. ZUN struggles at the best of times but in this game he fucked it up more than any other. The new characters mostly look very good, actually, but all eight player characters look terrible. If there’s a game to prove the flaws of his style, this is it.
The odd way some characters were introduced rather tarnished their welcome to the series, and in any case the line-up would not be as strong as the past two games. But it wasn’t completely lifeless. Of the characters to come out of this game, Reisen and Mokou would be, and remain, the most popular, whilst Kaguya also gets her share of love, and I quite like Keine myself. However, much as I like Mystia, I don’t think her or Wriggle were very convincing Stage 1 and 2 bosses. This can be seen quite clearly through how popular Stage 5’s miniboss, Tewi Inaba, is. She should have filled in a role much like Chen and been a Stage 2 boss relevant to the plot. How she got such a popularity despite being a miniboss is beyond me. But she wouldn’t be the last… If anything, IN only served to improve the position of the eight player characters more. The dialogue in the game is as deep as the early Touhou Windows games ever got, and nothing has matched it since.
And while the music is as strong as ever in places, it wasn’t as convincing in some. Stage 2 nailed both sides of its coin, Keine got a good boss theme and a mini-boss theme of sorts in the Extra Stage music, and all three of Stage 4’s songs are classics. Eirin and Kaguya’s final boss themes are both strong too, but what I think was ZUN’s best song yet came courtesy of Reisen’s theme, Lunatic Eyes ~ Invisible Full Moon. Mostly, this is because it is the only song I seem to find a huge number of fantastic remixes for – and remixes are not normally something that interest me. Other than this, there are some noticeable holes. Stage 1 has nothing of note, and while the boss music is astonishing, Stage 5’s stage music has never, ever sold for me. And whilst Stage 6 musics were never the most notable at this time, Voyage 1969 has never been that good to me either.
I’m not a fan of IN myself, but the whole Touhou fanbase loved it to bits in 2004, and they still do in 2016 mostly. I suppose on a gameplay level the depth of it all is rather good, but there are just too many niggling flaws in IN’s system for my liking. I don’t reckon it deserves some of the status it gets in the Touhou fanbase, but one thing I won’t deny it is its importance in Touhou’s history. It was the point when ZUN really started acknowledging what a monster of a franchise he’d created – and he was hardly going to stop here.