Touhou 9: Phantasmagoria of Flower View

You’d be forgiven for thinking that most stuff announced on 1 April was an April fool, especially given what ZUN was announcing in 2005 – a return to the style of Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream for his next game. But at Comiket 68, that’s what he had made, and so Phantasmagoria of Flower View was born.

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In case you need a reminder of what PoDD was, it was a split-screen edition of normal Touhou, where the two players unleash attacks and spellcards onto the other player, and the game carries on until someone has lost all their hitpoints. And the series had a whole range of characters it could accomodate now, and ZUN didn’t hold back on using them.

However, unlike PoDD, you didn’t start with all the characters this time. Instead, as you saw more endings, more characters unlocked over time. Reimu, Marisa, Sakuya and Youmu were all back again, and, continuing with the Stage 5 tradition (to a certain extent), Reisen was also available at the start. Over time, the characters you unlocked included Cirno, Lyrica (plus her sisters in some modes), Mystia and Tewi, plus the game’s all new characters…and one veteran, back from the PC-98 era – Yuuka Kazami.

Also unlike PoDD was the fact that the battles weren’t random as you went along – each character had a set few battles they all went through. Additionally, beating the game with a character gave you their ‘Extra’ mode, where all battles were 1-hit battles and you had no extra lives, and the AI had an ‘invincibility period’ you had to survive for before they became vulnerable – usually the AI got hit the instant the timer ran out. And, much like PoDD, you could face off in a normal match against someone – including, for the first, with netplay against someone online.

I thought PoDD was a lot of fun myself. So how is the newer Phantasmagoria, then?

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This start screen is rather more generic than any of the start musics that have come before it, really. Most of these musics are rather more special than this, but then with a game like this the start screen is hardly the point.

I settled on five characters to give a try, and the first, main playthrough I did was with Yuuka. Well, she did help me clear MS and her stats are ideal for me here – slow mover, fast charger, so I was always gonna go with her first. With her I found that PoFV is an absolute ball of fun for the first six stages, a hectic game filled with chaos, all of which you have to respond to. However, these first six stages are fundamentally straightforward.

Then you get to Stage 7, and the new characters, and it becomes the exact opposite of straightforward. The AI takes a big jump in ability, especially given that one is Aya Shameimaru, a total bastard in this game who has all the speed the AI needs to keep dodging longer than you can. And the final two bosses, Komachi Onozuka and Eiki Shiki, Yamaxanadu, are just as hard. Survival should take precedent over attack with them, but I sadly forgot most of this and, after a few times where I came so near to beating the last three bosses, then losing, I got a bit pissed off. So I kept on losing. Eventually I did make it to the Xanadu herself, but as well as my mood, I wasn’t being helped by some distractions. So I lost all my lives and continues.

Eiki’s response to this was interesting:

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She also refused to let me past this message. So I had to close the game. The selfish bastard.

I also had a go with Reimu, Sakuya, Lyrica and Komachi. Of these, Sakuya was probably the most successful, and also the coolest. She has her time-stopping powers and everything, and she can move around herself and do stuff when she’s using them. Komachi was also a fun character to play with, and she has some funny dialogue too. Most of the dialogue in this game is, actually, and there’s a lot of it. Although it’s only in short spurts rather than long monologues as it was in the previous games.

The game is at its most fun at Stage 6, I’d say. That’s actually a nice challenge and the action is almost always hectic around there. Although if it was Marisa I fought there, it wasn’t quite so fun. Her stuff is just not that interesting. And I can’t see her lasers fooling the AI any time soon, either.

PoFV is a pretty fun game, all truth be told. But by the time you get to Stage 7, it’s just too damn hard. I like difficulty in a normal Touhou game – because it signifies that element of Touhou best of all – but in this game, when I’m playing it and into it, it’s so frustrating when so many of my intended plays just get borked by the opponent’s bullets being too up in my face. Maybe you should just stick to characters who don’t have to face Aya in their story. Or use Aya yourself. Her bullets are very unfriendly to the AI. Medicine Melancholy’s poison clouds are similarly powerful against them.

Only four new characters were introduced here, but they’re all reasonably well-liked. In fact, Aya is actually really rather popular – although this was not the last we’d see of her. Certainly this game is not the worst of some of her horrible shenanigans in Touhou games. Despite this, I really, really like Aya. In fact, I do like Komachi a lot too, and Medicine and Eiki are both characters I quite like too.

The music was an interesting factor in PoFV, because there were both new songs and remixes aplenty. However, three of the songs – Youmu’s, Reisen’s and Lyrica’s – were basically unchanged. Cirno and Mystia’s songs both got some nifty remixes, though. The new songs though, are mostly very brilliant. Reimu, Marisa and Sakuya all have fantastic new themes, their three themes being the game’s best, and Komachi also has a pretty solid theme too.

PoFV was off the beaten track by Touhou standards, especially for a main game, which is probably why each main game has remained under the tried and tested formula ever since. Indeed, ZUN is unlikely to make a Phantasmagoria game again, especially given how large Touhou is now, and if it did come about, it’d likely only ever be a ‘half’ game at best. Which is a shame because the format is very enjoyable. PoDD and PoFV are both superb games at their best, but at this point it was time to move on…either back to normal, or something completely different.

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