Touhou 10½: Scarlet Weather Rhapsody

Immaterial and Missing Power had done a decent job as a game, but after coming only two games into the Windows era it might have been too soon. However, ZUN had two more games under Touhou’s belt when he went to collaborate again with Twilight Frontier, for a bigger, better fighting game than before, with a new story to match. And so, at Reitaisai 5, he went and brought out this – Scarlet Weather Rhapsody.

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To be honest, SWR didn’t change that much over IaMP…not on the face of it, at least. The fighting was very much the same, the entire original roster from IaMP returned and their battle sprites, along with most of their attacks, returned. However, much as he’d done with the main Touhou games, he’d added a system which shook things up; the weather system. It brought about all different kinds of effects upon a battle, effects which could turn its tide. Also, a 20-card deck system came into use, and the addition of flight also signalled a clear difference from IaMP.

Mind you, given how ZUN had made two new games, he didn’t bring much in the way of new characters.* Only Reisen, Komachi, and Aya (yet again) came into the roster, but ZUN also went and introduced two new characters to the series – Iku Nagae and Tenshi Hinanawi. Both are rather good in their own new, unique ways, I feel.

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The cool intro to this game pulls off the same trick that IaMP, morphing into the main menu at the music’s most dramatic point. However, the song is a magnificent one in its own right; one of the very best menu themes in the game. And it captures the state of Reimu’s shrine very well.

I played initially in much the same way as I did IaMP at first, getting a feel for all the characters again, to see who I was best with it. Last time out, it was Sakuya, Youmu, Patchouli and Suika. This time, I ended up with 7 characters I favoured most of all, or at least liked playing as. Those were Aya, Iku, Tenshi, Yukari, Suika, Patchouli and Remilia.

Of these, Aya, Yukari and Patchouli demand the most attention. Patchouli was already someone I was good with in IaMP, but in this game she is easily my best fighter. Which is awkward as she is also my least favourite as a character. It was always thus. But seriously, her ranged attacks are just so magnificent. You can just run away from the opponent and fire at them. If they get close, Elemental Harvester can hit them hard and give them time to get away. And if you land a St. Elmo’s Pillar, BOOM! Big damage.

Aya was just plain strong in my hands. Mostly her attacks seem to be all perfectly balanced, and she can land some devastating close-range attacks. Yukari, on the other hand, was just plain fun. Her reality warping is at play here so much – you can flip over to the other side of the screen with her. And all the time, she’s gapping through all kinds of places, spinning like a top against her opponents and nailing them with her devastating shikigami, Ran.

Iku and Tenshi are plenty of fun with their elemental styles, Suika is not as powerful as in IaMP but still able to pull off plenty of victories, and Remilia dances around the place like a crazy woman. Also, landing Heart Break or Red the Nightless Castle is unbelievable satisfying.

I suppose there’s one reason I ended up liking more of the characters by default, aside from there being more of them; SWR is a far better game to pick up and play, more rewarding and far more fun for it. The action is so highly charged, and it lets you see Touhou in such a cool way, such an alternative way to the shoot-em-up style it’s known for. It also does wonders for the characters personality-wise, what with their expressions and the mass of dialogue this game also has present.

Speaking of those characters, obviously the ones from IaMP are still all-stars in Touhou’s sense, and the three new characters to come about were all top-class too. Tenshi has also become pretty popular after her introduction in this game, even if Iku is lagging behind a little. Shame they didn’t buy into her Saturday Night Fever…

One thing ZUN most certainly did up was the music. He’d gone and gotten U2 Akiyama to remix them all once again, not leaving anything from IaMP in here in that regard. ZUN himself only composed Iku’s, Tenshi’s and Tenshi’s last spell theme. Tenshi’s theme is a superb one, but whereas most of IaMP’s remixes fell flat, several in SWR are superb. Mystic Love Oriental Consultation is magical, perhaps the game’s best song, and Hiroari Shoots a Strange Bird and Invisible Full Moon also both have fantastic remixes. And almost everything else is better off than what it was in IaMP. In case you didn’t guess, this game does, by and large, render its predecessor utterly pointless.

Incidentally, there was a voice patch made for this game which includes in-battle voices for all 15 characters. I didn’t play that – I’m sticking with purely original versions of all my games here – and I still haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect something like a definitive voice to a Touhou character would be magnificent for all their characterisations. If that sort of thing appeals to you, go and play SWR with that.

SWR was a complete evolution on IaMP, with better gameplay, better characters, better action, more stages, better music, even better art from Alphes once again. Do you know what? It was better. And this wasn’t the last we’d see of the fighters, nay, SWR itself, yet…

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*OK, three games, but MoF was too recent to get a look in.

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