For Comiket 78, just like the previous three summer Comikets, ZUN had a new game. But unlike the last three, it wasn’t a new main game. For the third time in a row, we had a new side game to play. You had to wonder just what ZUN was doing with his time to not be making a main game at this point – although this game gave a clue what he was up to. And anyway, there had been longer periods without a new main game, up to this point at least.
The good thing was, this was a side game with a difference. For starters, it was based off some of Touhou’s manga, bringing that side of the series into a game for the first real time. Secondly, it was an all new, exciting concept of a game. And thirdly, it meant we got to shoot stuff as Cirno. Well, that pleased most people, anyway. This was Great Fairy Wars.
The concept for GFW was a rather radical one. In the game, there are often rather more bullets to dodge than is really comfortable, so what you do instead with Cirno is, unsurprisingly, freeze them. The idea was that you hit one bullet with the attack, and if that froze, any bullet nearby would freeze as well, in a time frame depending on how much charge you had when you used it. The freeze’s length ran off a percentage. It slowly charged up in a way similar to Aya’s camera, but you could use it at percentages as low as 30% this time, lasting longer the higher the percentage. Cirno’s bomb, meanwhile, was the Perfect Freeze, which, naturally, freezes everything on the screen at once. Cirno also had something called ‘motivation’ to replace lives, starting at 200% (100% is the equivalent of 1 life) and increasing as you successfully froze bullets and beat enemies. The Perfect Freeze had a meter rising in much the same way, going up to 300% and decreasing by 100% each time you used it.
Incidentally, you could shoot normal bullets in the middle of all this. But you could only tap the shoot button to do that, a la PoFV. Holding it down is what you did to freeze stuff. Gaining experience throughout the game would increase the power of Cirno’s normal shot, replacing the concept of power items. So the method of attacking wasn’t completely new, the way you defeated enemies was at least markedly different to StB or DS. Indeed, this game is based around a far more literal way of shooting the bullet.
Effectively, what we had here was a normal Touhou game made into something completely different. The basic concepts were still there, but the way they manifested themselves in this game were markedly different. And with such a big change to what is, on the face of it, your basic Touhou shoot-em-up, does this rather large reinvention actually work?
It’s worth noting, before looking at the game itself, that this was also the first game to use a new engine for Touhou. Well, when I say new, it was rather more of a facelift to the current one, rather than a full-on change like what came with MoF. It had done well since 2007 and taking it further was probably a good call at this stage. But for this game, it was still, by and large, at a prototype level. It hadn’t been fully refurbished yet, but you can see new additions within, most notably the way dialogue is now done. Rather than being in a single box, you see the characters speak in speech bubbles. On that note, the art is noticeably better than most Touhou games before, but that’s because ZUN isn’t drawing it. This is art from Makoto Hirasaka, who did the art for the manga which this game is based off. Another change-up from recent games past is that continues now once again made you continue from where you had just lost your last life, rather than putting you back to the start of the stage. This was something quite a number of players had wanted back. Of course, as a result of this, continues were no longer infinite again, although this game neglected to tell you how many you actually had left at the time. So they looked infinite, even though they weren’t (though the game does give you plenty, given its length). There was still more to come from the freshly updated engine, though.
This is just a basic start theme this time, although it’s fine after you listen to it for a while. It’s inoffensive but otherwise, there’s nothing much to hear, here.
The way you play through the game is also different to your basic Touhou game. Since you only have Cirno as a shot, you can choose different routes to go down; there are three base routes, marked A, B and C. The bosses you face throughout all of them are the same, but the order you get to face them in is different between routes – and after the first boss, each route splits in two, meaning each route has five stages each, although they’re all in the same three settings. The ending fight is always a fight between the main antagonists – the Three Fairies of Light, Luna Child, Star Sapphire and Sunny Milk. You get to fight them all at least once before the big finale, but which order you might have faced them in is largely up to you. Oh, and there’s an Extra Stage to be had here as well…
I won’t lie, though, playing Touhou this way is a lot of fun. It’s like playing Mega Man X or something, charging yourself up to create an often amazing effect. The way all the bullets are laid out has been thought through very well, so you can properly freeze stuff a lot. And it always looks, and feels, very cool. And not just because it’s ice.
As a shorter game, it is technically easier, and even playing through the game it feels easier overall. And that’s good news for me. But even so, it’s still got plenty of bits as difficult as you would expect from a Touhou game. So it’s still difficult on the whole, as it probably should be at heart. And it is pretty weird having to get used to tapping the shot button rather than just holding it down.
The characters you get to face are all really rather lovely – I do like the Three Fairies of Light myself. And with an artist who knows what they’re doing, they all look very cute, and their facial expressions are great too. And the artist even works his wonders on the extra stage boss, who is – whisper it – Marisa. Obviously Cirno gets this treatment as well but she’s just ugly anyway so she’s irrelevant.
There is one slight concern in amongst all of this. The dialogue is pretty funny in this game, helped along by those great expressions, but it’s not particularly long and complex. This was very much the intention for this game, given how light-hearted it all was, so for this particular game at least it wasn’t an issue. But, in my eyes, it raises some questions about what has happened to dialogue in every Touhou game since this one. The new way of displaying it looked nice and all, but it should be no limitation to dialogue at all. Not by a long way. Yet since it was introduced…well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Finally, whilst there was new music to hand, and rather more than the photography games before this (there’s 10 new songs to be had), it wasn’t especially notable. It was perfectly fine to listen to, and the final and extra boss themes could be seen as reasonably epic, but I’d struggle to listen to them in-game myself. Magus Night especially.
So even though there still wasn’t a new main game to be had, ZUN was still bridging the gap rather nicely, even if he was probably bridging it too far. But at least this time we had something properly new to behold. And Great Fairy Wars was a very nice idea, definitely a properly good twist on a normal Touhou game, rather than being laid out and executed in a much different way, as StB and DS both were. Maybe ZUN will find a way to break out his ingenuity in a modern game with another character, in another way, some time soon. Certainly, making a game with a concept as good as this was a surprise, not just in that no one really saw it coming but in how well it was executed, given what I suppose you have to call ZUN’s current form at the time. But for now, it really was time to stop screwing around with side games. It would take a while, but after this we would finally have another main game again…