Rogue-like role-playing release Touhou Genso Wanderer follows the story of adorable protagonist Reimu Harukei. Reimu becomes entranced by the 'golden sphere' that soon-to-be antagonist Rinnosuke Morichika is holding, and tries to steal it from him. Clearly under the sphere's spell, Rinnosuke fights back, and Reimu soon finds herself away from her home, trying to find her way back and battling the clones which have been borne of the sphere's dark power. The whole thing feels a little trope-y, and starting the game feels like setting off down a well-worn path, so it's a good job that it has a lot to throw at you to try and keep you interested.
Once into the dungeon-crawling part of the game, prepare for a bombardment of information. Stat bars literally fill the screen, with a map taking over what's left. It's a little overwhelming at first, and does take some getting used to. For the most part, the stats are self-explanatory: health points at the top for each character in your party, collected yen displayed at the bottom - nothing out of the ordinary until you come to the 'Tummy' meter, nestled just underneath your HP. It's explained that the Tummy meter is filled by eating food items, which makes sense, right? But what happens when it's empty? Research shows us that you die, but the game never explicitly tells you this, which says a lot about its distribution of necessary information.
Little thought seems to have been put into what the cluttered screen is actually meant to show, with only a small portion of each floor being viewable at any one time. It's not uncommon to be on the receiving end of enemy attacks but have no idea in which direction the enemy might be. Annoying to say the least, in a game in which saving HP is vital and movement should be well thought out and planned. To a degree, it feels like the option to think strategically is being taken away, and in turn, this makes the whole thing a bit of a guessing game.
There's a whole range of weapons to mess around with, from standard melee weapons and shields, to powerful cards that essentially cast magic in whatever floor of the dungeon you're on, all with varying effects. The most useful skill in your arsenal will be the danmaku projectiles that you can fire at enemies, and the game makes it perfectly clear that they'll be the difference between a successful run and a failure.
Unfortunately, difficulty spikes are very noticeable. One moment, gliding through a floor can be done with relative ease, and then on the next floor, you'll stumble across an infinitely bigger struggle. There's no way to tell how dangerous each floor will be, so it's entirely possible to find yourself suddenly KO'd and sent straight back to the beginning of the dungeon to start again. As the game fits within the rogue-like genre, it's not an altogether surprising turn of events to find a sudden difficulty spike, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.
Following a KO, weapons will retain their experience and you'll find them at the same level, but Reimu and whoever you've added to your party will be back to level 1. The temptation is there to rush through the levels utilising higher levelled weapons and shields, but you won't really be rewarded for doing so. Resisting the urge and levelling up sensibly is be the best way to survive the more punishing levels, but sometimes doing so still won't be enough. It's easy to find yourself surrounded by enemies, but this is where the game's aforementioned catalogue of weapons come into play.
It's to be expected with the genre that there'll be a lot of dialogue, especially given that this is a Japanese game, but Touhou Genso Wanderer feels like it takes things way further than the norm. Simply walking into a shop for the first time can land you in a cycle of dialogue which goes on for an inordinate amount of time, but contributes little to the overall plot or movement of the story. It's another needless frustration in what already feels like an infuriating game, and when you just want to get to the next stage, an unnecessary hurdle to get over.
For all its nuances, Touhou is visually very appealing. The vivid colours and cute characters are sure to lift spirits, even if the enemies – chibi girls – seem a little too cute to battle sometimes. It's a shame then, that you can't see all of this clearly past the vast number of on-screen menus. Elsewhere, cutscenes which add to the story are well rendered, and slot seamlessly into the main bulk of the game.
Touhou Genso Wanderer can feel like a lot to take on at times. As beginners to the series, a lot of time was spent feeling as if we were on the back foot and had missed chunks of tutorial content. The game's fun enough to begin with but becomes frustrating very quickly, and ultimately doesn't offer enough excitement to sustain any interest that it may have piqued early on.