Developed by Souvenir Circ.
Published by Unties
Reviewed on PlayStation 4
With an expansive lineup of shoot-’em-up titles and spinoffs, the Touhou series has entranced players with its mythology-inspired lore, diverse characters, and amusing situations. Touhou Azure Reflections is souvenir circ.’s standalone take on the series and an enhanced version of their PC release Maihana Soumakyou: Uniting Barrage Action. Unlike the mainline Touhou titles that emphasize vertical bullet hell action, Azure Reflections is a side-scrolling shoot-’em-up. Although its mechanics are different from the norm, the game still provides plenty of bullet-filled enemy opposition. With plenty of difficulty levels, accessible mechanics, and extensive unlockable content, Touhou Azure Reflections is a worthy shoot-’em-up as well as an entertaining entry in the overall Touhou universe.
Azure Reflections portrays fan-favorite characters and established story elements from the Touhou universe. In a world full of humans, fairies, and otherworldly yokai, the shrine maiden Reimu Hakurei investigates a familiar foreboding Scarlet Mist phenomenon. As she journeys across dimensions and strange residences to find out the source of the distortion, the situation is not as it initially seemed. She exchanges amusing banter with Gensokyo’s familiar denizens as she battles her way to the source of the mystery. At times meandering but nonetheless charming, this off-the-wall dialogue will likely draw chuckles as players engage each of the bosses.
While its mechanics fundamentally resemble those of other shoot-’em-ups and Touhou titles, the game has a few key differences. As with any contemporary shoot-’em-up, players shoot enemies and slow down to dodge sprays of incoming fire. Destroying enemies spawns P icons that boost players’ firepower. However, players can sacrifice a chunk of firepower to trigger an emergency defensive maneuver. One notable mechanic is the game’s hybrid Barrier and Danmaku Rush technique that recharges over time. Pressing Triangle enters a Barrier state that absorbs incoming bullets, and then pressing Triangle again causes the character to rush in the chosen direction. This body slam causes damage based on the amount of absorbed bullets. This mechanic is fairly intuitive, and it encourages players to consider their positioning n the middle of enemy fire. Each boss can only be defeated with a Danmaku Rush, so players must carefully consider when to activate it.
Despite the game’s emphasis on bullet hell-inspired action, the game is more lenient than other titles. Being hit will momentarily stun the player’s character. Over time the character will recover and regain control. Only being hit while stunned will result in a lost life. The game therefore widens accessibility by allowing players to prolong each life. Another mechanic that increases accessibility is being able to equip items that grant buffs. Destroying enemies will also spawn currency items, and these items can be used to purchase silly items like bunny ears that grant buffs like quicker stun recovery and increased drops. Being able to boost survivability, offense, rewards, and other attributes helps players adjust the game experience to their liking.
With multiple unlockables, costume items, difficulty settings, stages, and modes, the game has plenty of replayability. Each run involves progressing through five main stages, and meeting additional criteria allows the player to move onto two additional stages. Each of these stages is full of waves of enemies that throw bullets at the player and presents a familiar Touhou boss at the end. Another interesting take on replayability is that players can unlock additional variants on Model Viewer entries by by fulfilling specific criteria during boss fights. While some of these unlockables are a bit minor and specific, they still create a sense of progression across each run. Fulfilling certain criteria will also unlock series mainstays Marisa and Cirno. As each character has three distinct selectable shot patterns, the game provides plenty of ways to play.
With thoughtfully crafted visuals and enthralling tunes, the audiovisual experience is respectable and suits the action. The enemy bullets are bright and easy to read, which is naturally extremely important for any shoot-’em-up. At times larger bullets have a bit too much of a bloom effect, which lead to some attacks that are slightly hard to read. The cutscenes provide polished character portraits although the poses can seem a bit stiff and the expressions are fairly minimal. Furthermore, the stage backgrounds are generally minimalistic, but a few interior settings are vibrant. However, the player and boss 3D models are well crafted and well lit. Every character’s dialogue line is fully voiced, and the actresses have done a respectable job of delivering the lines in a chirpy energetic way. The music arrangements create a lively highly-listenable take on established Touhou songs. Azure Reflections’ tracks follow Touhou song melodies but often incorporate additional instruments. For instance, “Satori Maiden ~ 3rd Eye” injects a bit of salsa-inspired instrumentation into the original song’s upbeat tempo. The stage and boss songs are certainly well made and provide an aural delight.
Touhou Azure Reflections is an accessible take on the shoot-’em-up genre that provides plenty of replayability. Even though much of the content draws directly from existing elements of the mainline Touhou games, the aesthetic and mechanical twists are worth experiencing. The wacky amusing dialogue will undoubtedly entertain players even it can run a bit long at times. With its extensive unlockables and different takes on established mechanics, Azure Reflections is an amusing shoot-’em-up genre and a fun take on the Touhou franchise.