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Touhou Fangames Retrospective 2019

yeashie and Crested both posted fangame thoughts for 2019 so I thought I’d join in on the fun as well. I don’t think my opinions are deep enough to assign scores to these games, so I’ll just stick with a relative ranking.

Demos

You could treat this as a “which games am I most excited for” ranking.

1st place: Abyss Soul Lotus (Demo 2)

Cleared?: Lunatic

This is cheating since ASL came out last year, but my hype for this game just keeps getting stronger and stronger. The border release system is probably one of the most interesting scoring systems I’ve seen in Touhou and Touhou-likes, yet it sticks to the Touhou aesthetic extremely well. The game also looks very nice and is deceivingly hard to do No-Hit. 11’s music is also very, very good. I really have nothing bad to say about this game so far.

2nd place: Infinite Blade Pavilion

Cleared?: Lunatic

Fangame from the Kaisendo crew (kind of) and Len. This game has dated graphics, but the patterns are so, so good. Dancing and weaving through the dynamic and intense stage danmaku coupled with impeccable stage music makes for a truly exhilirating experience. Usually, I frustrated at games or patterns that are challenging, but this game is probably the hardest out of all the others on the list and I still like it, because of how good the presentation is. Sadly, boss themes are a little lackluster and the boss danmaku seems to consist of a lot of “loud explosion sound then a slash”. If the late game stage themes live up to the early game standards this might become my number one stage music Touhou fangame of all time.

3rd place: Elegant Impermanence of Sakura (Demo 2)

Cleared?: Lunatic

Chinese fangame, also a cheaty demo 2. The facelift this game got was insane, every pattern revamped, almost every theme remixed, system completely redone, it was amazing to see. The music in this game is very good and got even better (that stage 3 theme!), and the system is interesting and unique. There’s still some problems with the execution of the dyeing mechanic, as well as the fact that it’s completely useless during boss fights, but I look forward to the full release!

4th place: The Unreachable Oneiroborder

Cleared?: Lunatic

One of the games I’m serving as translator for. Very high artistic production value and fast, intense patterns. Music is pretty good but not groundbreaking. The system is mildly interesting, it’s basically a form of rank.

5th place: Treasure Castle Labyrinth

Cleared?: Lunatic

Japanese/western collab. Good music and interesting system. I haven’t played it much outside my original demo clear, but I’m looking forward to what this game brings. Not a fan of how the stage 3 boss loves “background bullets” though. It hurts my eyes.

6th place: Dream Logical World

Cleared?: No

A western fangame. There are no bombs, instead there’s “power trances”, and the game is quite difficult overall. I’d say with some more practice I might come around to liking this game more.

7th place: Numerology of Artifacts

Cleared?: Lunatic

Chinese fangame. Has flown relatively under-the-radar in the West, but it’s not a bad game. The music has an interestingly and unique flair, but then the style of both the game and the music take a hard 180 in stage 4, which I still don’t know what to feel about. Stage 4 feels like it doesn’t belong in this game at all. Hopefully this was because they rushed for the demo, and the release is more fleshed out.

Full Games

1st place: Fantastic Danmaku Festival Part II

Cleared?: Lunatic, Extra, Phantasm

By far the most eye-catching and hyped-up fangame of 2019, or even of all time. The hype and marketing the FDF team did for this game was perfect, from commissioned art to Twitter teasers to two trailers, they got people raring to get the game, and they did. According to SteamSpy, the game has sold at least 20000 copies, which is insane for a paid Touhou fangame.

The game is aesthetically pleasing both in visuals and music. People criticized the stages as boring but I didn’t think they were too bad. The scoring system is also pretty vanilla scorevival, but master score-players like LYX and SOGO OMIYA seem to like it a lot. Definitely the Steam game most worth my money I bought in 2019.

2nd place: Wily Beast and Weakest Creature

Cleared?: Lunatic, Extra

After an uncomfortable showing in both HSiFS in VD, ZUN came out with a quite pleasing game in August. The music is top-notch as it always is, but the endgame this time is super fun. Sadly, the early game (and the extra stage) are still a bit lackluster. I find myself playing the lategame stages in practice mode most of the time I boot up the game.

3rd place: Hollow Song of Birds

Cleared?: Lunatic

A massive work from Kaisendo. Okay patterns (with the exception of Set, whose fight is quite fun). The presentation in stage 5 and 6 was off the charts amazing though.

My problems with this game are twofold. First: Danmakufu and poor optimization of all the special effects. You can feel the game struggling to keep up. Second: It’s TOO LONG! A full run takes at least 35-40 minutes, more if you use a worse shot like the b/w gem or Kaguya. I don’t play this game a lot anymore, only because it takes way too long to get through to the parts I like (Stage 5, Set, and Stage 6). I don’t like Horou’s fight that much.

Regardless, it’s still quite good.

4th place: Touhou Fantasia

Cleared?: Extra

Free extra stage from SeiweLL, of Flower Shooter, Shining Shooting Star, and Barrage Musical fame. I’ve already come to realize that anything that comes out of this guy’s studio is going to be really good. This time, he’s rewritten a new danmaku engine from scratch in Unity to replace the old XNA one used in TFS/SSS/BM, and decided to make a full out free (!!!) extra stage to demonstrate it. The fact that this is happening means SeiweLL definitely has ambitious plans, so I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next year. The stage and fight itself are not too insane, though I did get stuck in tilt hell for a month before getting a perfect clear.

5th place: Ephemeral Unnatural Balance

Cleared?: No

Interesting game also based around a trance-like mechanic. I tried my hardest to play and enjoy this game, but the difficulty is just too high – I can’t even manage a Hard 1cc, which is my usual level of play. However, I understand what the system is trying to go for and understand it.

In terms of negatives, the music is a bit bland and the cheesy TLB is unnecessary. People also criticized the art, but I actually liked the faded pastel look of all the portraits. I also think the Hard mode difficulty is way too hard. I survive to about the same points when playing hard and lunatic, which is not a good sign.

6th place: Glory of Deep Skies

Cleared?: Lunatic (only up to stage 3)

This game put me off when it was first released because it was advertised as a “3-stage game”, but was actually 10 (3x stage 1-3’s, 1x stage 4). It didn’t help that the early game is an absolute chore to sit through. The system was also not very interesting. However, the lategame patterns are quite good, and the Stage 3 boss theme is one of my top fangame music tracks of the year. The climax in that track reminds me of the climax in Secret God Matara, one of my favorite tracks in the entire series.

7th place: Chaos of Black Dragon

Cleared?: Lunatic, Extra

Aesthetically a very pleasing game, but I kinda just forgot about it after getting my lunatic and extra clears. The music is okay, and so are the patterns, it’s just a bit forgettable.