The Touhou franchise is nothing if not abundant. From the humble concept of a shrine maiden bullet hell came an explosion of media, everything from fighting games to light novels to merchandise. The Touhou Project is the video game equivalent of KISS; love it or hate it, it’s everywhere.
This brings me to Touhou Luna Nights, the latest outing from Team Ladybug. You might remember them from Shin Megami Tensei: Synchronicity, the free metroidvania that came out earlier this year. Keeping to what they know works, TLN is another feather in the studio’s non linear, action cap.
Pixels For Days
Touhou Luna Nights immediately catches the eye with its beautiful pixel graphics. Everything about the game pops, so much that it’s almost surprising it has such low system requirements. The pretty backgrounds and smooth character animations are reminiscent of Symphony of the Night. The graphics feel strange without being out of place, with the smoothness of the whole thing propped up by classic Touhou “shrines and surrealism” aesthetic.
An additional convenience drawn from its predecessors’ comes in the form of a Symphony of the Night style map which lets you know where you are and what areas remain unexplored around you. While this seems like a minor thing to mention, this is a genre where it is easy to get lost and a solid map that can inform you what directions you may have missed earlier is essential for me.
None of this would really carry a non-linear action game without a solid gameplay loop, which Luna Nights mostly succeeds at. The immediate strength of its gameplay is how well it pulls from familiar Touhou mechanics. Our protagonist is Sakuya, a Touhou fan favorite. Her specialty is throwing knives ad infinitum and stopping time. Both of these defining features are pulled off in a very satisfying manner within game. You get access to both time slow and time stop abilities early in the first level. This gives you plenty of time to fill the screen with blades. The game knows what you want, and it has no problem allowing you to have your cake and eat it too.
Risk vs Reward
The signature Touhou flair continues to shine with how Sakuya restores health and magic. The mainline Touhou games feature a popoular shmup mechanic called ‘graze’ which typically rewards the player (usually in the form of additional points) for getting nerve wrackingly close to the enemy without necessarily touching them. In Luna Nights, graze is the most common way you’ll top yourself off. While this may seem like a minor thing, it definitely keeps you engaged with the game to an extra degree. Far more than the tired practice of “open menu, mash on HP restore item, close menu, continue playing game.”
The developers further keep the player in mind by showing how many points you can graze off an enemy above their head, letting you know who to bother with and who to skip. You gotta love that attention to detail.
While there are certainly a few positives about Luna Nights, it does run into a problem with the difficulty at times. Sakuya’s got a pocketful of knives and enough time stop to cure what ales you. As a result, even though she starts the game with her powers dampened it can still feel like she wields more firepower than is necessary.
OP PLZ NERF?
This is not a hard game to burn through, so much so that I’d say it’s about two hours of play time to run through the three bosses available and their respective stages. It’s understandable that it’s hard to balance Sakuya’s abilities without just making the enemies hardier (not fun) or her less powerful (also not fun) but there are times when it does feel a little bit like fishing with dynamite. Maybe additional playable characters would add another challenge or gameplay quirk? I’d be down for Touhou meets U-Four-Ia.
The Switch is probably to blame for the massive influx of non-linear action games in the recent years, but this is one that I welcome with open arms. It can be a little mindless at times, but not everything has to be La-Mulana. Also it bears repeating, we’re still in early access and Luna Nights is already in the running for GOAT Touhou fan game. It’ll be exciting to see where it goes from here so if you’re at all interested, pick a copy up for $12 and fling some fine cutlery at the link below.