Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity Review

By Shawn Collier on December 14, 2016

For most video gamers in the west, both the Touhou franchise and the bullet hell shooter genre are two things that probably aren't something that isn't very well known to most, especially the first of that list. Some might have heard of titles such as Treasure's Radiant Silvergun or Ikagura due to their infamous high level of quality, but the Touhou franchise due to being relegated to the east has been known only to a small subset of hardcore bullet hell shooter genre fans.

For the uninitiated, the Touhou franchise is a long-running franchise created by ZUN, an indie artist who incidentally doesn't hold any license over ZUN's work. This in turn means fans are allowed to utilize the characters and the world in any way they wish. While typically you see a bevy of bullet hell shooter variations due to the franchise's origins, you also see some quite different approaches such as what XSEED Games has localized in the form of Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity. Instead of being a bullet hell shooter, it's more in the line of an action-adventure romp with some of that still thrown into the mix in terms of the gameplay, to a degree.

The story for the game is pretty simple and to the point, although the game in an amusing sense knows that and plays well to its strengths. It's focused around two characters in particular who you can play as: Remilia Scarlet and Sakuya. Remilia's lives in the Scarlet Devil Manor in Gensokyo with her maid Sakuya. Although she looks to be quite young, she's actually 500 years old and thus is quite bored. Therefore, she's in search of something to challenge her and make a name for herself. Her manor suddenly gets destroyed, so they both set out in search of what destroyed it and what's responsible for all of the currently strange things going on in Gensokyo.

Like mentioned earlier, instead of the usual bullet hell shooter genre roots the franchise is known for, Scarlet Curiosity trades things in for action-adventure focused gameplay from either an overhead or side-scrolling view, depending on the area in question. The vistas you encounter are varied enough, ranging from forests, lakefronts, basements, with the enemies varying to match. The issue with the latter I noticed is that they tend to blend in too well at times, which becomes a nuisance when you're trying to build up your combo meter as doing so increases your experience/gold.

The boss fights are where Scarlet Curiosity hearkens back to its roots, however. The series traditional brightly colored lights that litter the field return here, albeit slightly lowered from what some veterans might be used to and made slightly easier to evade due to the added benefit of a jump ability in this game. That said, you still need to best figure out how to evade their bullet patterns to get in an attack and whittle down their HP to defeat your opponent.

Comparing the two characters, Remilia's play style is aimed at players who want a quicker character and want to be on the attack. This is contrasted against Sakuya, who is aimed at players who want to think about their attacks for a brief moment before carrying them out. No matter which character you choose, their basic controls stay the same. There's a single attack button that can activate a three-chain combo, along with three special ability buttons. And as mentioned earlier, you have the ability to jump in this title, so outside of being able to evade enemy attacks in this manner, there’s some platforming aspects strewn about in the game in places.

There’s some minor RPG-like aspects in place, similar to what some might expect out of a game like the Ys titles, in the form of swappable equipment and different abilities. The one negative to the experience I found, though, was that the shop menu doesn’t have the same niceties that the equipment menu has in terms of stat benefits, so you’re essentially left to your own devices as to if your purchases are worth the investment. There were a few times I ended up wasting money on items I really didn’t end up needing in the end.

Graphically, Scarlet Curiosity is somewhat of a mixed bag. There’s certain vistas that look downright breathtaking in motion, while other areas and objects are exceptionally drab in comparison. There’s also in areas that shimmer effect you might expect from a Vita title ported up to the PS4, instead of a natively-developed title for the platform. Granted for an indie title, it’s leagues above most of the other stuff you see out there, so there’s props given in that department. The frame rate generally was pretty stable, but when the engine gets heavily taxed the game can — and will — slow down to a degree.

Final Thoughts

It’s not the Touhou game the hardcore fans were probably looking for on home platforms, but overall it’s a good introduction to the series for newcomers and has enough aspects of the original source material to feel “at home”. If you can look past its minor indie blemishes, there’s a decent romp to be had here.

Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity was reviewed using a digital copy provided by XSEED Games. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
It's a nice introduction for newcomers to the series.
While not as extravagant as the bullet-hell battles in the games proper, the boss battles in this title are fun in their own way.
Frame rate overall is pretty stable.
Graphics look great in certain areas, but you can't shake the feeling that this may have been originally a Vita-level title.
Some minor issues with how the shop menu functions in terms of letting you see stats easily.
When the game gets taxed, it can and will slow down to a degree.
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