Review by nintendonut888

Reviewed: 04/21/08 | Updated: 05/19/08

Dodging bullets has never felt like so much work.

For many long-running series, the second game is an oddball, playing quite differently than the rest of the series. In a rare exception, the second entry of the Touhou series is actually the first play like the rest of the series, while the first one was the different one. The Story of Eastern Wonderland (SoEW) is the second of the Japan-exclusive, yet very popular Touhou series. It is the first one to play as a vertical shooter, and introduces many mechanics that will become standard for future games. Unfortunately, there are many large problems with SoEW that keep it from being as enjoyable as the rest of the Touhou games.

The story once again involves the lazy shrine maiden Reimu Hakurei. Upon returning to her shrine after a hard days work of "training" (read: sleeping), Reimu finds the shrine overrun with ghosts. Angry at this turn of events, Reimu swears to take revenge on whoever did this, and sets off with her talking, flying turtle Genji.

The story is one of the more endearing parts of the Touhou series, but this story feels like a mere first draft. Most enemy characters have little reason to attack Reimu, or have reasons that make no sense. Even after the final antagonist makes it clear why she's fighting Reimu, you can see large holes in her plot. Perhaps more would be explained in the endings, but unfortunately the game creator requests that the endings should never be summarized, so even though the rest of the game has translations, the endings will forever be a mystery.

Reimu's character also goes through radical changes in an extremely short amount of time. For the first four levels, she acts like a spoiled brat, yet she suddenly acts very serious when confronting the final boss. Since Reimu's generally serious about her duties the rest of the series, this change suits her well, but it would be much easier to have just made her like this from the start. Pretty much the only highlight of the story is the introduction of Marisa Kirisame, who after this game would turn into the secondary main character of the series.

The graphics of SoEW are acceptable, but there are many problems. While the backgrounds and enemies look fine, the character portraits are poorly done. Put in very small boxes, the character art is generally ugly and with very few variations in the character expressions. Even more pressing are the bullets themselves. Although the bullets you fire are a different color than the ones enemies fire, the bullets tend to overlap, confusing you as to their position. Considering the importance of knowing where every bullet is at every moment, this leads to more than a few unfair deaths.

The music in SoEW has greatly improved in quality since the previous game. While many songs still sound generic and bland, there are more than a few gems. Like the rest of the series, there is a music room available right at the start to listen to them as you please. As for sound effects, there aren't many besides bullets firing and explosions.

As was stated before, SoEW is the first in the series to play as a shooter. The Touhou series actually belongs under a sub-genre of the shooter known as a danmaku shooter. Danmaku translates roughly to "curtain fire", which is the perfect description of the gameplay. What seperates Touhou from most shmups is that there is a greater focus on dodging bullets, of which there are literally hundreds each level. To make things fair, the hitbox (the part that needs to be hit before you're hurt) is made much smaller than the actual character sprite. You start the game by choosing from 3 different shot types (homing, standard, and heavy), and set off for five levels of action. Each shot type has a different bomb to clear the screen of bullets, though the bomb differences are little more than cosmetic. Depending on whether you run out of lives and have to continue or not, the game can end halfway through the final boss fight, or you can continue to get the good ending.

Sadly, the game is dragged down by the lack of many things present in future games, as well as design issues. Even though the hitbox was always invisible until the seventh game, your hitbox is very hard to locate in this game, leading to more unfair deaths. Bombs also take half a second to activate, as opposed to instantly in all other games, so you may not be able to save yourself in time. One of the best features of the series is focusing. This allows you to move much slower, allowing you to make pinpoint movements. This also had not yet been implemented, making Reimu very twitchy. The lack of boss health bars is a minor inconvenience, but the same cannot be said for what happens at various points. After a boss takes enough damage, they switch to a new attack pattern. In the rest of the games, all bullets on screen would blow up to hint you to this, but once again this doesn't happen, leaving you to dodge the remaining bullets. Finally, the bullets in this game are very fast and come out unexpectedly, leaving you with little time to react, where they travel slower in later games.

With all these flaws, SoEW is possibly the hardest Touhou game for all the wrong reasons. Cheap deaths will account for a lot of frustration even on the easiest difficulty level. If you're really gutsy, you can choose higher difficulty levels up to the legendary "lunatic" difficulty. If you can handle it, this adds a lot to the replay value, but more than that is the extra stage. After clearing the main game with all three character types, you gain access to the extra stage, an ultra-hard level ending with an extremely hard and drawn-out boss battle. SoEW can't even get this right though, as it goes above and beyond the call of duty. The extra stage isn't just hard; It's borderline impossible when combined with all the flaws the game possesses. The extra boss is arguably the hardest boss in the series because of its cheap attacks and your inability to focus.

Fans of the series probably only check out the PC-98 games to see the series' roots, and those people are more than likely the only people who will try this game. I recommend this particular one to no one else.

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Product Release: Touhou Fumaroku: The Story of Eastern Wonderland (JP, 08/15/97)

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