“If I’m fighting you with parlor tricks, then you’ll have no excuse for losing, will you?”

If you float around the internet long enough you may come across something by the name of Touhou – but what is it really? It seems most people either know what it is, or they don’t. Is it an anime? A video game? Manga? Art? Fanfiction? Music!? Most know of it but not as many know where it originates, or how far spread its fandom truly reaches. I, myself, was one of those left completely oblivious to its immense awesome-ness. So now, let me lead you into a world known as The Touhou Project…

For those who may be unsure if they know what I’m even talking about yet, perhaps you have seen this video (and if not, watch it anyways – it is amazing and you’ll be caught up to speed with the rest of us):

So what exactly is it then? The Touhou Project, or Project Shrine Maiden, comes in various forms; but at its very core lies an anime style shooter game. Created by one-man developer Team Shanghai Alice, its only member (known as Zun) is responsible for nearly all of the music, graphics, and programming. This type of game is affectionately known as a bullet hell shooter, and is something akin to be launched into laser gun fight in the middle of a fireworks show finale. It is chaos. It is panic. It is confusion. It is addicting. It is epic. There are also a few games of the fighting genre as well. As of now there are currently 13 games in the series, the most recent being Ten Desires released in August, 2011.

Having learned this small bit of knowledge I near instantly decided I had to try this game out for myself. Just to precess this, I will be the first to admit I am a console gamer as keyboards, mice, and gaming just never really zen-ed with me. However, being the determined soul that I am I didn’t let that stop me. So of the 13 games I began to play the 12.8th (yes, point eight.  There are actually a few in between titles in conjunction to the 13 – just let it happen…) game of the series titled Yōsei Daisensō ~ Tōhō Sangetsusei (Great Fairy Wars ~ Eastern Three Fairies) and follows the story of Cirno, an ice fairy with the ability to manipulate cold and freeze bullets (although, apparently, she is not very bright and is often seen as the clown of the group).

The basic concept of the game is you have control of Cirno (or whichever main character, depending on game) and you must simultaneously shoot down your foes whilst dodging their attacks and gaining powerup cards.  Each character in the series usually has two special card abilities – one that can be used close to death and another to use at will, though only so often and indicated by a charged percentage meter. For example, Cirno can become briefly invincible and allow you to focus purely on damage; she can also turn any bullets connecting around her to ice which can then be shattered, effectively clearing the screen for a short time. The power-up cards you collect enhance your own projectiles thereby destroying your enemies faster. After a predetermined onslaught of foes you will come across a boss for the level. Bosses not only have far more ability and range in firing their bullets but also can use cards of their own to enhance their abilities and even offer additional protection. Each game has a few different paths you can choose from as well as different difficulties (easy, normal, hard, lunatic).  Additionally, if you can survive through a certain level of difficulty without using any continues an extra path will be accessible with a longer stage, more enemies, more bullets, and harder bosses.

Yay for screenshots =)

...and this is an easy boss

It all begins around a place known as Hakurei Shrine which acts as a portal between two very different and dangerous worlds. On one side of the portal lies a region known as Gensokyo (literally meaning ‘illusion village’) and on the other side lies the human world which we are all familiar with. It has been said that many things that disappear from the human realm, such as extinct animals or ancient spiritual practices, tend to show up in the realm of Gensokyo. Long ago strange phenomenon began occurring where yokai (spirits or monsters) began preying on lost wanderers into the realm. In order to remedy this problem, exorcists were sent in to battle and eliminate the yokai. Whilst human civilization began to grow using vast technology and advancement on the outside, within the now sealed Gensokyo realm, magic and spiritual qualities prevailed with humans and yokai coexisting – although, not always amicably. However, now the seal at Hakurei Shrine has weakened and more and more people are finding themselves wandering deep within the dangerous Gensokyo realm. This is the story of Touhou and now it is a fight for survival.

Touhou is now so much more than a game as it has grown into a vast fandom base. Stories, manga, fanfiction, beastiary guides, dojinshi, artwork, music, novels, and even full conventions have been born of the franchise; and many characters from the series, even the minutist of bosses, have accrued mass fan appeal and adoration.

Needless to say, the art and story was enough to capture my attention from the start; but now that I’ve experienced the games it has moved to an entirely different level. The Touhou Project is something that embodies many positively awesome aspects, including a couple of my favorites: anime and video games! The games certainly are not easy, and you will die…a lot, but they are an addicting challenge that you will find yourself constantly returning to in hopes of getting just one more level further or defeating that particularly insane boss.

So what if it’s not your average anime, manga, or video game? Who says average is the only thing worth doing any ways?!?

“When you lose your way, you can blame the fairies.”