Review: Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet [PS4]

Release Date
9th September 2016 (EU), 6th September 2016 (NA)
PlayStation 4
Publisher / Developer
NIS America / Cubetype
Shoot’em up Fighter
Single-player, Multiplayer
PEGI 12, ESRB E10+

It has been a happy year for Touhou Project fans. In May of last year, we had an international release of the fourteenth game in the main series and now we have an English release of Touhou Genso Rondo, a game developed by Cubetype with the permission of the original creators of Touhou, Team Shanghai Alice.

Touhou Project as a series stands out even today among shooting games. Although others have adopted the idea of swapping out spaceships and similar for ladies who can fly, none have managed to work in even a fraction of the self-aware wit that every Touhou Project character has. Gensokyo is so full of entertaining jerks, Touhou may as well be gaming’s Seinfeld.

Genso Rondo is a fusion of Touhou Project’s bullet-dodging and a versus fighting game similar to ‘Acceleration of Suguri’ but with colourful three-dimensional models and a lot more moves. I really mean that there are a huge number of moves to think of. Starting with the three basic attacks in the game all of which will change depending on if your character is moving, dashing or focusing (moving slowly); that’s nine very different attacks with their own resource bars and uses. That is not even taking into account the rock paper scissors style melee system or the three bombs each character is given per match.

To begin with, this is great as a match in Genso Rondo is not like two-player characters from a shooting game fighting each other but rather two boss characters fighting each other. The screen in the middle of a fight in Genso Rondo is incredible, a mash of opposing bullets that can fill the screen completely bewildering the new player—even those used to usual bullet hell games as each character has their point of rotation fixed to each other. So, when inputting directions, you need to think of where your character is relative to your opponent’s in order to be able to move effectively—very different to how dodging feels in a regular bullet hell game.

This all leads to matches against other players being hilarious spam-fests. Either both you and your opponents will mash each other’s different bullets into the field resulting in a tense duel where you try to trap your opponent. The other extreme is a kind of informal agreement where each player takes turns to fire everything they have in one go to prevent the screen from getting too cluttered. The experience is only increased if you have a two-player match with someone there on the sofa next to you to laugh at how ridiculously complicated weaving between the bullets becomes.

Sadly this jumps from fun against humans to ridiculously fiddly and frustrating against the AI that truly starts to get difficult once we hit the middle of the story. This difficulty is compounded because not only does the AI start to perfectly dodge nearly everything thrown its way but it can easily dodge everything by grazing, which is letting the bullet only just miss you by a small amount. This is exactly what you need to charge the meter for your strongest moves. This all too often means you end up waiting for your moves to recharge while the enemy has enough resources to fill the screen with bullets until the timer runs out. I ended up having to deliberately play a tense and conservative game that was hardly as enjoyable. I could not use any flashy moves as often they would just help my opponent build meter and instead, I had to just trap them using the few moves I had that could surround them with bullets.

Which is sad, because a game that is so fun to play with other people is, unfortunately, a slog in single player. This is a pity as the story mode is a riot. While the writers are careful to stick to the broadest possible character interpretations, this is still Touhou so everyone is still a hilariously self-interested Don Juan. As a Touhou fan, I consider this a required purchase but otherwise be sure you have some friends to play this with.

But other than the one gripe about the AI Touhou Genso Rondo is a fun, if initially confusing, experience that is completely unlike any other fighting game, even other Touhou-based fighting games available today.

The score has to take a hit from how much of a chore fighting the computer is and some bad English localisation choices. Other than that, there is truly nothing else out there like Touhou Genso Rondo and it is a fantastic addition to any collection and a must-buy if you are a Touhou fan who has been waiting for seemingly impossible official English releases.