I am still not really sure why the few Touhou games released in English so far have decided to randomly stick ‘Genso’ in their titles. I understand where they are taking it from, the first part of ‘Gensokyo’, but… only people who are already Touhou fans would understand where this comes from. These said Touhou fans would then also know that this is not a translation of the original Japanese title: 不思議の幻想郷3, that would be best translated as Mystery Gensokyo 3. So this is actually the third in a series of games that take the ‘Mystery Dungeon’ style of game-play and merge it with the Touhou setting and characters.
If you have played any of the other ‘Mystery Dungeon’ games, such as ‘Pokemon Mystery Dungeon’ or ‘Etrian Mystery Dungeon’, then Genso Wanderer should be very familiar to you. Take Reimu and one partner out into randomly generated dungeons; fight your way through levelling up your characters and equipment as you go until you reach the end of the dungeon. Be careful though if you lose all your HP you will have to start from the beginning again, losing your level and money but keeping your equipment.
Everything about the ‘Mystery Dungeon’ games, both good and bad, is here. Walking around in the dungeons seems carefree until an enemy wanders into the room you are in and then you need to be careful as for every action you take the enemy takes one too. This is actually something that happens all the time, but it only becomes noticeable once a character appears on the screen as then you need to see their animations. This on its own is not a problem, but the lack of any feel of transition between these true states can mean that an enemy can catch you unawares even when it should be blindingly obvious. This can move from only irritating to feeling unfair once enemy characters with range appear who then proceed to pelt you with projectiles from off-screen.
Those characters though look fantastic. Unlike most of the other ‘Mystery Dungeon’ games available in English, Gensou Wanderer is on the PS4 and looks fantastic with cute sprites and weapons that gradually get bigger and more ridiculous the more you level them up. With a sincere attempt to emulate the snark of official Touhou games it really resembles a kind of pared down Disgaea, in the way that it is mostly about finding the right time and enemy to attack with your weapon and only occasionally do you release a powerful multi-target spell.
It is a Touhou game so you already know the music is important. For the most part, all the tracks are remixes of songs from the official Touhou games and all are made to match the kind of floor you are in at any moment. In the end, I knew what kind of enemy I was likely to meet based on how the music changed.
Genso Wanderer tries its best to gradually introduce new elements but too much is dropped into your lap way too early for it to be useful. Early on you find a village that contains, even more, new elements to help you tweak your character way before you really have the money to make proper use of them. While they do become useful quickly they are located in such an inconvenient location that it becomes a chore to take advantage of what they are offering. Navigating around the safe areas should be better as you do not have to worry about being attacked but really it feels off as you navigate around using the same ‘rules’ as when in a dungeon.
That is a pity because one thing the game gets fantastically right is how everyone in Gensokyo would not be out of place in the movie ‘Mean Girls’ and if someone can’t think of a way to covertly insult someone they will overtly do so instead. Certainly, some liberties are taken with how some characters are portrayed, Futo becomes the ‘boke’ in every scene she is in while Keine is given something that feels like a reverse of her usual character. But I would not be a Touhou fan if I could not forgive multiple interpretations of one character. Really the only character decision I cannot get along with is Rinnosuke who becomes a possessed evil version of himself, something that we have seen in Touhou fan works entirely too much.
It is a shame then that these decent characters with their good voice acting (although Reimu sounds a touch too polite for my taste) is marred by some very odd translation choices. Youkai being pluralized into ‘Youkais’ despite being a Japanese word is odd but the real irritation is that the English text refers to the character Toyosatomimi no Miko, who appears later in the game as an NPC, as a princess when the whole point of her character is that she is Prince Shōtoku. Generally, if someone is not referring to her by name or some variant of ‘you’ they call her a Japanese word that would more often be translated as ‘your majesty’ or ‘your excellency’ but for some reason, the localizers have decided on ‘princess’ instead.
Normally this would not be a big deal, but Toyosatomimi is one of my favourite characters and half of her appeal is being a cool prince type character. That along with the weird English style pluralisation of Japanese words that are not often treated that way when romanticised makes me question if what I am reading is really linking up to the Japanese voice acting that I am hearing. This is not something I should be worrying about in an RPG game with a story, however, jokey it might be.
Touhou Genso Wanderer is still easily the best ‘Mystery Dungeon’ style game you can buy in English right now with a far better combat system and a great sense of humour. It is just sad that the game seems to take every opportunity to stop you from getting to that fun, by either making movement far more complicated than it needs to be to unusual localisation decisions. These are things that just get in the way of a game that has been released at an incredibly competitive time of the year. With loads of other games also coming out that will be demanding attention, Touhou Genso Wanderer needed a bit more polish then it got to stand out.