Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game for review!
The Touhou game universe is based off of a very popular set of ‘bullet hell’ shooters developed primarily by one person, who calls his company Team Shanghai Alice. Rather than tightly control his intellectual property (IP) and characters, he instead allows fans and others to create other media based on his work. This has led to an explosion of various types of media set in this world, including this one. This fan media is called doujinshi (or doujin) in Japan.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is one of those fan made games. Originally released for Windows in Japan in 2014, it soon qualified for a Sony platform called Play, Doujin!, where it was re-released on PlayStation 4 in February 2016. And just a few months later, it was brought to English speaking audiences with the help of XSEED Games. While there are many doujin games that XSEED could have chosen to bring over, there is little doubt that this one was chosen because of a passing resemblance to Ys.
Unlike most Touhou games, this one is an action RPG, rather than a ‘bullet hell’ shooter. You have a third person view of the action, seeing your character fight against her opponents from an angle up above. You have direct control of her, with normal and special attacks as well as jumps at her disposal. You can choose either the vampire Remilia Scarlet, or her human servant Sakuya Izayoi. After that choice at the start, you are locked to her for the rest of the game.
While just being a fast-paced third person action RPG itself shares a fair amount with Ys, it borrows other things as well. The main steals, as I see it, are in the combo system. Like Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Ys Origin, when you attack an enemy, a combo meter begins. As you rack up hits and kills, the rate you gain experience goes up, as does damage done. Though, unlike Ys, the combo counter is extremely generous, as you have quite a few seconds to hit another enemy or even item to keep the combo counter going. I have seen combos north of 150 during my time with this game.
Another difference is that there is a quasi-random loot generation system. Items can boost a variety of stats, including HP, skill points and regeneration rate, base attack, critical power and chance, and the rather odd drop rate. How this stat actually works is unclear, since I had it well over 300% and enemies still did not drop items every time, but when I had it over 800% during a few moments, they sure did drop stuff like crazy (but still not every single enemy). Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, sometimes optimizing equipment for certain use cases can really pay off. For example, there are items that greatly increase drop rate at the cost of power or hit points. While this would never be appropriate for bosses, it can really help when fighting regular mobs, as often better equipment can result. Since both drops and treasure chests are mostly random, it can really pay off if you are very lucky.
There are also skills and spells that you can earn as you gain levels, and equip at will. Some skills are useful to clear out enemies, while others do lots of damage or some combination of both. All skills require a certain amount of skill points, which recharge quickly, so they can be spammed fairly often if used carefully. Spells are extremely powerful, but require a lot of hitting your enemies to recharge. It's a great way to do serious damage to a boss though.
If you are hoping for a deep plot to push you from area to area to fight off the next derelict of justice, you most certainly will be disappointed. The plot is completely forgettable. To summarize, Remilia, the 500 year old powerful vampire, is bored, so she decides to go look for something to do and beats up some rabble. Most boss battles involve some form of 'Hey, I'm bored; let's fight!' Her house ends up being damaged by an unknown assailant, and she does pursue this, but the plot is never deep or interesting enough to hold your attention. The reason to play this game is more for the gameplay than the storyline.
And it is fun to play. The many enemies to beat up in each level, along with bosses that present a good challenge, continue to keep things interesting. If you enjoy beat 'em ups, then I suspect you'd like this too. Bosses take a bit more of their inspiration from the main Touhou games, with bosses that use 'bullet hell'-like attacks, and various spells and such. They are definitely the highlight, though I found few of them challenging until pretty late into the game, especially in the post game bonus dungeon.
The other main draw is the well established joy of collecting loot. It's not nearly as deep or interesting as other games with this mechanic, but hoping to find a new weapon or armor still has plenty of draw. It's also neat that there are a few rare items, particularly in the post game, which can give you special skills that can only be used when they are equipped. Some of them are pretty powerful, which can make the ever present challenge of attack power vs. critical rate vs. other useful stats or skills even more difficult.
Graphically, Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is quite pleasant. It has a nice animated art style, and some of the scenery is quite pretty. It's not super detailed, nor will it win any awards, but it doesn't have to. I also noticed the occasional frame rate drop. One other complaint is that sometimes the camera occludes our heroes with trees and such, but since it's always fixed, there's nothing you can do. Otherwise, the music is quite good. Not 'have to own the soundtrack' good, but very nice overall. The sound effects also do their jobs well enough. There is no voice acting of any kind, which would be nice, but completely understandable in a fan made game.
From an appropriateness standpoint, there are a few things wrong. Of course there is violence, and much of it is pointless, for what it's worth. A small number of dungeons has blood in the environment. There are very minor curse words, like 'a*s' and 'hell'. There is plenty of magic use, by both the player and enemies. Some spells that Remilia can cast use hexagrams, while at least one late game boss uses pentagrams in her spells.
Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is a flawed but fun game. If you like beat 'em ups, or enjoy Ys games and are looking for something to pass the time before the next release, I can recommend this game, assuming you understand its flaws and appropriateness issues. If you are looking for a highly polished action adventure RPG to keep you locked to your seat, you should probably look elsewhere.