The latest installment of the insanely popular Touhou Project, Gensou Wanderer, delivers much of what you might expect from a roguelike dungeon-crawler. Playing as Reimu, a shrine maiden, you travel around the region of Gensokyo doing your best to fix an ‘incident’ that you cause during the opening cut scene of the game.
Not that Reimu seems to care. She does her best to shun her duties as a shrine maiden at every opportunity, mostly motivated by the chance to make some quick coin than anything else. This does lead to some laughs along the way, but it’s here that we hit the game’s first problem. The plot just isn’t up to scratch. The narrative is as follows, a demon possesses your friend, said demon does demon things, go and stop that demon. That’s it. This, combined with what can only be described as straight up apathy from the main character really makes it difficult to care about what is going on at times.
The lack of a compelling plot leads me to my next issue with Gensou Wanderer, the lack of any real explanation as to who anyone is. The game throws characters from previous Touhou Project titles at the player with reckless abandon and hardly any effort it put into explaining who they are or why they are there. Unfortunately this severely limits the experience of those not well versed in the Touhou Project. A working knowledge of the world isn’t necessarily essential to appreciate the game, but it’ll definitely help.
That’s not to say there is nothing to enjoy here. Gensou Wanderer has plenty to keep those who stick with it happy. Gameplay is simple and easy to get to grips with, as you navigate through dungeon floors and try to find an exit. Combat is turn based, when you move your enemies move, when you attack they attack, and so on. It may not be revolutionary, to be honest combat is often little more than trading backhands with enemies until they die, but it works.
One of the games main strengths lies in its partner system. Reimu has the option of bringing along another character to act as another punching bag for her enemies. At the start of the game your only option is a sage by the name of Fubo (although the roster will grow as you advance further through the story). Whilst you can’t control your companions outright you can give them instructions, such as ‘Attack enemies’ or ‘Follow me’, which proves useful particularly in later dungeons. There were times when Fubo carried me through harder sections of the game and actually provided more than competent support when push came to shove. The fact she’s a little pyromaniac with a love for burning things to the ground really endeared me to the character (probably even more than Reimu) and made the partner mechanic more fun to use.
A more unique concept which adds a little more depth to the gameplay is the fusion system. Given to the player quite early on, ‘Nito Fusion’ allows Reimu to fuse together unused items and potions to create more powerful weaponry and armour whilst also freeing up desperately needed inventory space. It’s a quirky mechanic that adds to the fairly simple gameplay on offer here, whilst hopefully giving the player the boost they need to make it through the next few floors without suffering another demoralising death.
Because this is something you must understand about this game. You will die. You will die a lot. And it is crushing. Nothing compares to making it to the final boss in a dungeon only to have your backside handed to you and find yourself dumped right back onto floor one. Late dungeon enemies are, not quite unfair, but certainly unforgiving and the RNG can obviously lead to extreme levels of frustration. A particular highlight of mine was advancing to a floor that triggered ‘Pandemonium’- a fun mode which places you in the centre of a room with a ridiculous amount of enemies with no option but to fight your way through them. You’ll likely die. But hey, you get a trophy to numb the pain. As a result casual players may not do well here. Being forced to play through the increasingly monotonous early floors gets quite annoying when you’re doing it for the fifth time that day. But I digress.
The art style of Gensou Wanderer is a major feather in its bow. In game sprites are incredibly cute and the dungeon designs are a joy to play through which does alleviate some of the tedium when you play through early floors again after death. It may not be pushing the PS4 to its absolute limit, cut scenes are static and there is very little dynamic movement outside of character models shaking or tilting to one side, but the strength of the visuals lie in their simplicity.
Unfortunately I found the music and voice acting rather let down the strong art style. There are very few, if any, memorable scores and it wasn’t long before the music faded into the background for me. With regards to voice acting, many of the characters are not identifiable from one another when they spoke. This made it very difficult to discern any kind of personality from the characters and is definitely one of the games weaker elements.
Overall Touhou Gensou Wanderer gives you exactly what you would expect from a roguelike dungeon-crawler, without being spectacular. If you’re a fan of the Touhou Project games then you will likely be happy with what is presented here and I can more than recommend it to seasoned players of the series. Unfortunately though, despite Gensou Wanderer’s best efforts to make itself as accessible as possible, it isn’t going to attract many new or casual players in my opinion. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre it’s probably one to avoid.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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