It’s rare I do top lists of any kind since most of them have been done to death. Repeatedly. Since Touhou is largely unheard of in the west despite its overwhelming Japanese following, I thought I would do one of what I think are the best fangames based in Zun’s bullet hell series. This is only based on ones I have actually played so there may be far better ones out there. Do you think I have this much free time? Since I’m not too great at describing gameplay, I’ve included videos of the game. Since Touhou isn’t well known in the west, I’ll include wiki links where relevant because I’m nice like that.
Why top 6 instead of 5 or 10? Because I can. If curious, Sengoku Gensokyo and Labyrinth of Touhou have fan translations, and both Koumajou Densetsu games have official translations. The untranslated ones are simple enough to understand the gameplay of even if you don’t know Japanese.
6: Patchcon: Defend the Library
A rather unusual real-time strategy game. Patchouli Knowledge, keeper of the Magic Library Voile has had it to the back teeth with Marisa stealing her books despite her being one of the most powerful magicians in Gensokyo. Her response? Create an army of dolls that duplicate the powers of many residents, be they herself, the crazy destroyer Flandre, or the ultimate judge Shikieiki Yamaxanadu. Nobody in their right mind would dare set foot in Voile now!
Except a certain someone stole the details on how to create the clay dolls, and those are being used to overrun the mansion and steal every single book there is in massive amounts.
Patchcon is a short game which can be completed in a few minutes in round-based gameplay. It’s like a tower defense game where the enemies come in waves, except you can move and relocate your army of dolls freely. Killing enemy dolls nets you money, and sending multiple waves at once gives a huge multiplier for all the upgrades you could need. It’s an entertaining time waster, and a very good challenge on the higher settings. Easy to get into, and also easy to master.
A four-player flying/fighting game. Touhou Sky Arena is simple in its mechanics, but also has a few unique aspects to it. There are eight characters with their own abilities, and a few stages. The stages aren’t too relevant since most of the combat takes place in the sky, but the characters certainly are.
The most unique part of the game is how the soundtrack, created by several renowned remix groups, has an effect on gameplay. Whenever you can use a character’s special attacks or not is determined by the tension meter which is based directly on what’s happening in the music. When the conditions are right, you can release your character’s best attacks. It’s hard to explain really, just watch the video.
A sequel will be coming out in May, adding new characters including Flandre Scarlet and Reisen Udongein Inaba.
4: Sengoku Gensokyo
(Link is the final boss, sorry, couldn’t find any other gameplay vids, so spoiler warning)
Based on the gameplay and storytelling style of Alicesoft’s popular conquest game Sengoku Rance (sans ero scenes), Sengoku Gensokyo is what happens when Yukari gets bored and decides to have all of Gensokyo declare war on one another in a nationwide game.
Reimu gets caught up in this, and decides to beat the snot out of everyone in Gensokyo.
There are multiple allusions to Sengoku Rance, such as Tewi extorting money from Reimu instead of declaring war as Ashikaga did, and postgame characters as well as some of the mechanics of the game such as level being an important stat rather than a number, and having every unit take part in boss fights whenever you like it or not.
The gameplay involves building friendships with other characters, declaring war, and waging war. A neat aspect that adds a bit of depth to the game is how “movement” works. A table on the battle screen shows if you are very close, close, medium, far, or very far from an opponent. Visualizing that is a total nightmare but it’s an important part of the game. Getting into melee with someone like Shanghai is suicide, while going at range against Alice is just asking for it.
A neat aspect is how virtually every character from Yuyuko to Wriggle to even Cirno gets a lot of screentime. The writing of the game is really good and gets a few laughs, and even though the gameplay can be unbalanced, it’s quite fun.
3: Labyrinth of Touhou
Labyrinth of Touhou is an isometric dungeon crawler RPG. Reimu was lazing at the mansion of Remilia Scarlet for far longer than she had any right to be lazing, going largely unnoticed until the maid of the mansion pointed out to the mistress what was going on. While being told to move herself back to her shrine, a massive cataclysm in the sky reveals a mysterious space. In true Touhou fashion, Reimu takes it on herself to investigate the incident.
Even though the Touhou games only have two to four playable characters in the shooters, Labyrinth of Touhou has practically every slightly notable character in the series from Touhou 6 onwards. As Reimu progresses through the dungeon, she comes across more of the cast, many of them being challenging bosses.
The playable characters never change their skills, and each have different stat aptitudes, but their stats are very customizable, and proper stat growth is a major part of the challenge. Labyrinth of Touhou is a difficult game, with intelligently designed bosses, brutal enemies, and outright cruelty in some stages. The dialog doesn’t take itself seriously, being ridden with references, jokes, lampshade hangings, and genre savvy in literally every conversation. The soundtrack is also suitably awesome, and the plus and special disks released after the original add even more content to the game.
The difficulty is based somewhat on how Shin Megami Tensei should be in ideal gameplay: Kill them just as fast as they kill you. Healing spells are rare, HP is in short supply, and your physical attacks are useless. The game however is quite balanced. You can escape battle at any time, and you can leave the dungeon at any time. You can also restore SP in battle and believe me you will need it. For a majority of the game, you will find yourself running out of SP like water in the desert, and even in the Postgame it can be a problem. You can bring up to 12 people into the dungeon, and you’ll need them.
A more recent release. An action hack’n’slash based on the gameplay of Ys starring the half-ghost Netherworld gardener Youmu Konpaku. True to its inspirations, it has platforming elements, blazing through multiple enemies, bullet hell, and every single character you make eye-contact with being a boss. The Touhou world is violent isn’t it? Good thing it’s all sport to them. An excellent game if you like fast-paced action, Youmu, or just tearing through things.
For something made by a small studio, the visuals and gameplay are brilliant, having complete 3D graphics with the characters done in a pretty cute and simple chibi style. Fast speed, smooth gameplay, and a good degree of challenge that puts heavy emphasis on evasion and knowing when to completely go completely berserk to take down those last few parts of a boss’s HP.
A series of two games by Frontier Aja, who also created Big Bang Beat Revolve (sequel to Big Bang Beat based on the eroge Daibanchou – Big Bang Age by Alicesoft). Koumajou Densetsu, Legend of the Scarlet Castle, is a Castlevania-inspired platformer in which Reimu sees that a massive castle has been erected by Remilia Scarlet. The sequel, Stanger’s Requiem, has a similar situation where Remilia has vanished, and the Scarlet Castle has reappeared, except the protagonist is Sakuya Izayoi.
The first played like classic Castlevania except with bullet hell bosses and free flight. The second was much more polished in its controls and physics, as well as being much more difficult and having voice acting from professional voice actors. It also controls more like how Symphony of the Night would, with Sakuya’s fighting style being clearly based on Alucard.
The game lives up both the difficulty and gameplay set by both franchises, and it does the whole thing well. Having to learn the patterns and their openings is a crucial part of the gameplay, just like old times. The series boasts a completely original soundtrack that is among one of the best OSTs I have ever heard. As far as I’m aware there is no word on a sequel. Since the first two were based loosely on Touhou 6 and 7, I can say with confidence that the third entry would have a partner mechanic.
That’s my list of what I think are the best Touhou fangames based on the ones I’ve played. There is a massive fandom behind Touhou in Japan, and they greatly add to an interesting setting populated almost exclusively by cute girls that wear hats (or ribbons or animal ears). Check some of them out even if you’re not a fan of the shooters.