Developed by: CUBETYPE Published by: NIS America Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
As the game says, “Focus on dodging the enemy’s bullets!! Never forget that!” Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is the first of hopefully many games in the Touhou franchise to come to the West, making its official debut on the PlayStation 4.
Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is an interesting mix of the Bullet-Curtain genre (Danmaku) and the strategy and spacing of traditional fighting games. The gameplay loop is bullet dodging and bullet shooting, followed by casting a spell art, similar to using a super move in a fighting game, and doing your best to prevent your opponent from doing the same. While very busy at first glance, Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet does its best to display exactly what information you need to plan your next attack. The controls always feel fluid enough to let you do exactly what you need to execute your next strategy. Plan, dodge, execute your attack, and repeat. I personally find it very meditative in nature, a lull of relaxation in between attacks.
Visually, Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet at first feels like focusing on snowflakes in a snowstorm, but you quickly acclimate to the draped curtains of bullets flying all around. The game does its best to assist you in your battles with a simple set of concentric circles outlining your effective range for your attacks. The character models have a low-polygon count, but retain a high level of detail, making for crisp outlines and definitive recognition for the player to tell where your player character and the opponent are. This sounds like a given in many games, but in a genre where you may easily find the entirety of the screen covered in bullets, beams, and particle effects, this is extremely wonderful.
What is a punch without the impact, the gun without the snap of bullet tearing through air, and what is a Touhou game without the stylings of Touhou music? Each and every character pairs with their leitmotif song, inseparable as the Touhou series is bound to the projectile curtain genre. The music is not overpowering, but complimentary to the gameplay, and lends to the zen meditation of which the combat entails.
The story of this game follows each of the playable characters in the antics and troubles of the land of Gensokyo, a land where humans and yōkai, or demons, coexist. Magic is both a boon and a curse, and everyone attempts to eke out a living regardless of what disaster happens this week. NIS America did a fantastic job with the translation of the source-work, with both the difficulty of translating phrases like “danmaku” and “yokai” into western friendly terms, as well as keeping the tone and attitude of the characters relevant. A few hardcore fans will even find reference to memetic in-jokes hidden within the story and tutorial. The story won’t compete for awards for quality of writing or be finding its way onto the desks of movie studios, but it is fine where it is, as a byproduct of fans celebrating a small-time series with critical success.