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Touhou Eiyashou (東方永夜抄 )

Posted 03-19-2009 at 06:57 AM by Houseki
Updated 07-19-2009 at 03:07 AM by Houseki
By Houseki


Imperishable Night is the third in the Shrine Maiden series of shooting games on the PC, created by Team Shanghai Alice (actually just one person, ZUN). The previous two installments were Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, which now looks slightly dated in comparison, and Perfect Cherry Blossom, which still remains extremely impressive. Fittingly described as Curtain Fire Shooting Games, they are laden with sick bullet patterns, involve no interaction with the backgrounds, and have minimal random or aimed fire. The closest commercial examples I can think of would be the Shikigami games, so how does Imperishable Night compare?

Just like the Shiki games this is a character shooter, only here you pick a pair of them instead of just one. Each pair consists of a human and a phantom maiden, most of the phantom ones being bosses from previous games in the series (Youmu and Yuyuko are a special case as both are phantoms, but more on this later). Naturally, the maidens in each pair have different attack characteristics; one may be strong against bosses but weak against regular enemies for example.

As you progress through the game you'll find the stages are more like a series of staging grounds for powering up (by collecting the red 'P' marks) before extended boss encounters. It feels very much like Shikigami no Shiro II, both in format and theme, although this is a more defined form of the style, and feels less abstract than Alfa System's game. In addition to the normal fire and bomb buttons you also have a 'slow' control (which can be set to activate when fire is held down). By holding slow or fire you transform into phantom mode, which changes your attacks and slows you down considerably. You'll quickly start to see larger spreads of fire from the smaller enemies, with phantom mode becoming very useful at this point, although relying on it too much can be detrimental to your score.

Boss battles are broken down into sections, with bosses attacking you straight away with elaborate patterns which you can graze for extra points. The bosses have a long life bar with a shorter red section, and will cycle through the same attacks until you've taken them down to the red. At this point they'll use a spell card, during which the background will change, their attacks will power-up, and their defense will increase. If you can beat them during this spell trance without being hit or using a bomb, you'll earn the spell card bonus at the end of their attack, which is worth a lot of points. Once any spell card attacks have been beaten (some bosses have multiple red sections per life bar), if the boss has more life bars in reserve the cycle will begin again, only with harder attacks. The bosses are only beaten when their last spell card is used, and if you've collected a high enough time mark bonus (see below) they will cast their Last Spell, a mode in which you can't bomb and can't die -- like a bonus round.

The bosses' bullet patterns are enormous. You'll see fanning spreads, blistering bulletspitting, all kinds of direction and speed changes, and layering of all of these. Of course, they can get very hard to avoid even on the standard difficulty, so it's fortunate that you have your own spell cards (bombs) to get you out of trouble: these clear bullets from around you and damage surrounding enemies, with a nice fading picture effect over the action. If you manage to use a spell card just as a bullet hits you it will be a Last Spell card, and much more powerful, consuming two units of your bomb stock.

The Scoring and gameplay

mperishable Night's system is a complex beast, but luckily zimeon (from Shmups) was kind enough to give me an explanation I couldn't find elsewhere, which is essential for anyone who can't read Japanese but wants to play the game seriously. Skip this section if you just want the overview, or read on.

The main scoring bonuses are the blue bonus marks which many enemies leave when killed. The higher up the screen you collect these the more they're worth, the maximum value being past the point of collection (POC), which varies depending on character (it's usually near the player's lives counter). When doing this you'll see the item scores turning yellow upon collection. If you're at maximum power or in phantom mode when moving into the POC you'll absorb all items on the screen at their maximum values. This is where it gets complex, as there's a secondary bonus method which increases this maximum.

Collecting time marks will increase the maximum bonus mark value at the POC by ten points, and there are several ways to get them. Some enemies (masters) can launch separately firing familiars (slaves) which drop time marks when killed, and killing the master will turn him, all slaves and surrounding bullets into time marks. While in phantom mode you can't hit familiars, you only see their shadows, so the best way to gain time marks is to let the masters release familiars before switching to phantom mode to kill them.

You have a phantom meter which moves between blue and red depending on how you play: from -100% (fully human) to 100% (fully phantom). Shooting and collecting time marks will move this meter more towards human or phantom depending on which mode you're currently in. Not shooting anything, or killing familiars directly, will move the meter towards 0%. Past +/- 80% is considered oumagatoki mode (referred to as 'power mode' from here onwards). When in human power mode you'll gain time marks just by killing enemies, but when in phantom power mode you can get them by grazing boss bullets. This is a good idea as there's a secondary bonus when defeating spell card attacks, which multiplies your current graze counter by the number of bullets left on screen!

The final way to gain time marks is by defeating boss life bars, as all bullets in their current attack will be converted and collected. Maximising time spent in power mode is very important, since when you're between -80% and 80% you only get half the maximum point value at the POC. Getting hit will cost you time marks, an added pressure if you want to maximise score. The best way to keep building up your score is to stay in human power mode as much as possible to gain the time marks from normal enemy deaths, switch to phantom to kill masters and familiars, but quickly revert to human again before the time marks that get dropped are absorbed, pushing you back into the human power mode band. Bosses are best tackled in phantom mode, to maximise the grazing multiplier for beating them.

All of the above also varies by character too: Marisa & Alice have a lower POC, Reimu (human) can't be hit by familiars, Sakuya & Remilia get triple graze in power mode, and Youmu & Yuyuko are both phantoms so -30% is their human power mode.


To sum this game up, I would say "small and perfectly formed". In the past I haven't been much of a fan of bullet-pattern-heavy games, but when they're rendered with such care and attention, and backed up by such a well-balanced, complex and rewarding system, it's impossible not to appreciate them. In Imperishable Night an equal amount of effort has been put into every part of the game, and the end result is a pure, perfectly distilled example of this style of shooter, certainly more on target than the Shikigami games, which feel slightly disjointed. There's nothing in the game that doesn't need to be there, and nothing missing either, the ability to save and watch replays being especially nice. The difficulty level has also been well thought out. The default normal is challenging for the average player, but there's an easier option for those who need it, plus hard and the appropriately named 'lunatic' for those who really want to test their abilities.

in my opinion this game is twice harder than PoFV =p

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