Bullet Hell Touhou Series Coming To English For First Time

Before Minecraft, Touhou was the only indie game I’d ever seen toys for in a high street shop. The long-running series of bullet hell shooters are dōjin soft created by a developer known as ZUN, whose prolificacy has led to 23 games plus a world of books, comics, music, figurines, pillows, unofficial fan games and more.

Of course, that aforementioned shop was in Japan, since the Touhou games have never been officially released in English. Playism are now planning on changing that with Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character [wiki page].

Here’s 30 minutes of YouTube user Jaimers91 playing Double Dealing Character in ‘Lunatic’ mode:

One half of the Touhou games’ success is due to their bullet hell mechanics, which challenge players to dart between patterns of projectiles that blot out the screen and kill the player instantly if touched. The other half is the games’ cast of anime witches, who the player controls, fights, and is friends with depending on the particular game. That means that an English translation might be significant – these are games that can be played even when you don’t understand the language, but there’s arguably part of the experience that you’re missing.

That said, I doubt you’re about to find Touhou books in a Waterstones near you. Bullet hell has a long legacy of success in the east and not much exposure at all in the west, and if you were previously keen to play the series, there were robust and swiftly made fan translations already available.

Touhou creator ZUN now works under the company name Team Shanghai Alice, which is coincidentally also a three-word story explaining how we got Alice to work here.

30 Comments

  1. int says:

    Wait. There’s a plot to be translated!? I thought it was just about one fairy blowing up a bunch of other fairies.

  2. Freud says:

    I can’t even watch videos of bullet hell games without getting stressed. The dedication to learn the patterns to beat these games is beyond me.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      That goes for me too. Worse than those particularly unforgiving 2d platformers like I Wanna Be The Guy which while frustrating to play isn’t as bad when watching it.

  3. TomxJ says:

    Ok so i just skipped 20min inot that video and, woah. how? Who decides one day, “I’m going to get really good at THAT”

    On the plus side the Eastern Gaming scene must be full of people who are competent at parking thier cars.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Coming from experience, probably the same sort of person who really loves rhythm games. There’s a certain meditative charm which only comes from something which requires such incredibly intense concentration, and the Touhou series really takes bullet hell to a level of absolute perfection.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Also worth noting that it definitely is not as hard as it looks. You have to think about it from the perspective of how much space there is in which to maneuver, not how any things are shooting at you. It’s about the empty space, not the dangerous space, where more western shmups put the focus.

        In a sense, it’s kind of more like a maze game, and it needs to be approached in that way.

      • Cropduster says:

        This absolutely. Weird as it sounds playing Touhou can be pretty relaxing. Somehow the combination of music, geometry and intense concentration converts the stress into a state of gaming zen, occasionally broken by fits of swearing and rage.

        Also, you don’t really have to ‘memorize’ the patterns, with a bit of practice, instinct and muscle memory can see you through.

  4. NetharSpinos says:

    “The other half is the games’ cast of anime witches”

    Well, no. There are like, two witches. Three on a technicality.

    “The other half is the games’ cast of anime Youkai (Eastern spirit/demon/mythology creature/etc)” would be more accurate :)

    (I wholeheartedly apologise for nitpicking though)

    • Urthman says:

      As if that argument would carry any weight with the Puritans in Salem, Mass. The real question is whether Youkai weigh more than a duck.

  5. Dilapinated says:

    Yesssssss
    [continues]
    sssss
    […]
    s!

    I am very happy about this. The Touhou games are some of my alltime favourites.

    If you’re looking to dive into the series before this, Imperishable Night is the most accessible. But they’ve all been pretty hard to legally obtain til now.

  6. vlonk says:

    This YT Video looks like a comprehensive list of the complete design space of top-down autoscrolling bullet hell games. I can appreciate that. Clicking through the video I can see lots of variations, patterns, speeds. Complex, non-repititive in its own way. Looks marvellous from a geometry and gameflow perspective.

    Yet I feel the combination of Anime story with perfectionist dodge gamestyle is not meant for ppl like me. It seems a frustrating experience to no end and reminds me at every chapter start/end that I could watch a cutesy anime cartoon instead of grinding my teeth on bulletpattern recognition. *shrug* I guess my cultural indoctrination of 3D environments is too complete, since Serious Sam and Tower of guns fit my taste quite nicely. #Doomkid

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Oh, if that’s your problem, never fear. There is, predictably I suppose, a fanmade 3d Touhou. The same bullet patterns lovingly recreated in 3 dimensions.
      link to youtu.be (Because it’s not nuts enough in 2d, right?)

      Alternatively, if the doomkid in you is crying out for some danmaku lunacy, there is, also predictably, a mod for that.
      The catch being that it’s absolutely terrible.
      TerminusEst13 played through it together with his own Demonsteele mod a little while back, if you feel like subjecting yourself to it. Worth a few giggles.
      link to youtu.be (Can I add two youtube links in one comment? Let’s find out!)

      – This post not meant to be taken seriously.

  7. Soulstrider says:

    After Kantai Collection stole the tit that Tohou used to drink from, I guess they really needed to expand to the west for fresh cash.

    • KevinLew says:

      KanColl isn’t even remotely close to Touhou in genre or theme. Touhou isn’t online, nor is it about collecting units, nor turn-based strategy. The real problem is that Touhou hasn’t really evolved that much, and Kantai Collection is the flavor of the week game in Japan.

      Part of the problem with Japanese games is that they don’t like to change anything and they love making their games stagnate. It creates this weird niche gaming mentality, where if you’re playing it then you’re a diehard fan and everybody else just moves on to something else.

    • MrUnimport says:

      I’d be rather surprised if ZUN was concerned with profitability.

  8. Kaeoschassis says:

    Damn, this is fantastic news. The fan translations are really pretty good, but it’s nice that we’ll have an easier way to throw money at that nutter so he can keep making these things.
    Personally Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom was my fave, and also my first. It’d be nice if the back catalogue got some english love. Time will tell, I suppose.

    Some of the spin-offs are also great. The fighting games in particular bring a very different spin to that genre.

    As a side-note, whether you’re into playing bullet hells or not, the good ones are really fun to watch. That’s what got me into them to begin with. A lot of the time it just becomes a pretty lightshow loosely synched up to the music and the actual characters/ships are incidental.

    • Angelfruit says:

      Yeah! I watched someone do the final boss in mushihimesama and was hooked on stg ever since.
      I totally loved perfect cheery blossom! I played it for hours and hours over a year. It was my first 1cc in shooter games :D I played a lot more subterranean animism though. The full soundtrack to that game from start to finish plays in my head constantly lol. I have a lunatic 1cc in that game :/ so many hours! And yet I have never finished any extra stages!

  9. MadTinkerer says:

    Awww… Now I can’t as easily test whether someone who is talking at length about Japanese video games actually knows what they are talking about. Farewell Touhou Project: the most popular untranslated series of all time, hello Touhou Project: the series that English-speaking hipsters think they just discovered themselves.

    Oh well. I’ll always have Monster World IV.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      (I hit “opinion away” before I realized that might seem more like a troll comment than a self-deprecating joke. I actually welcome and encourage any and all translation of good games from other languages.

      Plus, now I get to try to figure out what the “new Touhou Project” is before all the other weeaboos, which is extra fun when you can’t read any of the things the creators write.)

    • MrUnimport says:

      Touhou games have been translated with varying degrees of faithfulness for years and years. The spillover of fanworks has brought it to cult status even in the west. If there was ever a time when it was an obscure mark of passage to know about the games, or what the games are about, that time is long past.

    • Oakreef says:

      this is the most pretentious thing I’ve read concerning computer games in at least three hours

  10. elevown says:

    I love Touhou – I’ve read tons of doujins, it has a really great cast of characters.
    But as for the games? Lol – I know I’m nowhere near good enough.

  11. Terics says:

    This is great news. I don’t really care much for the story in these games. Most of the story seems to be fan-made anyway and the in-game stuff is just a few back-and-forths between boss fights. The gameplay is super fun though and not nearly as hard as it looks, but still pretty hard.

    Also Jaimers has some pretty great videos on all sorts of bullet hells and regular shooters. Definitely check his stuff out.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I actually really enjoy the ‘story’ in Touhou, but that’s mostly because there isn’t that much of it. What it usually amounts to is that someone does something dangerous that could potentially destroy or unbalance the world because they want to see what happens, someone else goes and beats some sense into them, and then everyone shrugs and goes “eh, no harm done”. It’s an incredibly light-hearted affair despite the fact that half the characters could turn you into a fine red mist if they felt like it.

      Indeed, the “spellcard” rules that everyone abides by in Touhou are basically a case of “look, we all have so much power we could blow up half the region without even meaning to, so let’s throw coloured balls at eachother instead”.

      The rest is just cute characters shooting eachother, what’s not to love about that?

    • leo412 says:

      IMO it has some of the best story. However most of the stories are being publish in Novel, Audio CD, Manga etc and in Jap only.

  12. BooleanBob says:

    I don’t really care about Touhou, but I’m happy for Playism. They’re running a really neat project and this is going to land them a lot of money and interest I think.

  13. TheTourist314 says:

    “Touhou creator ZUN now works under the company name Team Shanghai Alice, which is coincidentally also a three-word story explaining how we got Alice to work here.”

    lol

  14. Haborym says:

    But will they release the older ones too?

  15. Ejia says:

    I think I may actually have Embodiment of Scarlet Devil on my computer somewhere.