What is this? I’ve liked many things throughout the years. While some have fallen out of my attention, others remain firmly cemented in my memories and feelings. So, I’ve decided to start a mini-series where each week (hopefully), I pick something random that I like or have liked and discuss it, why I like it, and its impact on me. These things can be varied, and range from more trivial matters such as my favourite animal, to books, games, and movies I’ve liked, to topics that have shaped who I am as a person. The posts, accordingly, will vary in length. See my rating system here.
This week’s entry is the promised post over Shining Shooting Star (東方夏夜祭), yet another Chinese Touhou Project fangame. This is probably my favourite fangame of all time, and a serious contender for best fangame of all time in the community.
Shining Shooting Star was produced over the course of two years from 2014-2016, with a demo released in summer 2015, and the final release arriving released in the summer of 2016. It’s a “classical” style fangame with no major gimmicks, no overboard aesthetic flashiness (like Hollow Song of Birds or Fantastic Danmaku Festival II). What sets it apart, in my opinion, is its top notch music, effective atmosphere, and expert-level difficulty balancing.
In the following sections, we shall refer to timestamps in the following perfect run of the game by CreepyNinja:
This game is really, really well balanced. The early stages are easy, while the difficulty steadily ramps up starting from stage 5. The final boss is actually quite difficult for casual players, but the patterns are never BS, and all feel possible to learn. Too often fangames are either too easy (HSoB) or are impossible-level (FDF I v1.02), but this managed to get everything right.
Music and Atmosphere
The music is composed by 11 (stylized 時依) and 文件, and is one of the best fangame soundtracks out there. What makes it great is that it ties intimately with the story and premise of the game. The game is set on a summer night, and every track in the game contributes to building this vision. I could write about every single one, but in the interest of time I’ll consider only three themes I find particularly noteworthy.
Consider stage 1, one of the most important stages and themes for any Touhou game or fangame. It sets the stage for the rest of the game and provides an introduction to the atmosphere and game mechanic. Watch 0:07 to 1:53 in the video above. The track title is “A Peaceful Summer’s Night Breeze”. Right away, the instrumentation sets the mood. The simple piano line makes me imagine a summer night in the forest, quiet and calm yet vividly alive from the surrounding cicadas or other insects, just lying there and staring at the stars. And then the tone shifts as the midboss enters, and modulates to a brisker pace afterwards. The key change doesn’t change the power of the piece that much, only adding trumpets on the main melody, to lead us into the boss battle.
Next, consider stage 3. Watch 8:02 to 10:09 in the video above. The track title is “The Kodama’s Summer Night Festival”. A “kodama” is a wood spirit akin to a dryad, and “Summer Night Festival” is the game’s Chinese name, so you can already tell this one’s pretty important. Like stage 1, 11 uses piano in a perfect manner to create the “peaceful summer night” atmosphere. As the midboss enters and casts her two spells, the pace of the track speeds up, and the piano reaches for higher notes as the stage enemies dance ever more frantically. Like stage 1, the brilliance in this second half is that the track doesn’t get overbearingly powerful - it lets the danmaku do the talking and fills in the rest.
Finally, consider stage 6. Watch 24:47 to 27:11 in the video above. At this point in the game, the protagonist has passed through the forest, through a bizarre mirror dimension, ascended to a ritual altar, and is now flying up above this altar. The danmaku where the fairies act as shooting stars perfectly tie into the game aesthetic. At 25:45, the “rain section” begins, where you’re literally assailed by a meteor shower, with the music gradually growing more intense as the bullet density increases. From 26:35 to the end at 27:11 the music calms down as does the danmaku. The gentle rain of stars at 26:45 poses little difficulty to the skilled player, but contributes so much to the atmosphere of the game as you reach the end of the stage to face the final boss.
Ahh, time to go replay this great game again. See you in the next one!
TIL Rating: 2.8. I wouldn’t call myself involved in SSS a lot, but I frequently think of it and mention it as a standard against which all fangames should be compared.