Touhou 16 shoots onto Steam

Touhou 16

Touhou is a phenomenon. Despite niche appeal, this long-running series of bullet hell shmups has grown into an enormous shared franchise in Japan. It’s an indie scene unto itself, enabled by creator Zun giving his blessing to people making and selling fan works. Touhou boasts twice-yearly conventions dense with cosplayers, multiple official comic lines and fan-made works including music, anime, and games spanning every genre, including boozy RTSs and even football RPGs. And yet, it’s still an almost impenetrable mystery to those standing on the outside.

That barrier has become a lot easier to traverse yesterday, as Touhou 16: Hidden Star In Four Seasons has arrived on Steam, accompanied by a three-level free demo, and a comprehensive – albeit unofficial – localization patch.

Update: The full release of the game came with a little more DRM than anticipated. The Touhou translation crew are attempting to work around it. Please wait warmly until it is ready.

Update Again: Well, that was fast. The translation patch is fully compatible with the Steam version of the game now.

While there have been many opportunities in the past to import these games from Japan, and I know of at least one fan-game to get official blessing for an international console release, this is the first time the long-running series has been available via a major global storefront, although Touhou 14 got a similar release on Playism back in the day. Despite being a Japanese language only release, the Steam version is fully compatible with the community-made English patch made months ago for the original retail release of the game. Series creator Zun has stated that he has more faith in his fans to handle localisation than a third-party company, so an official translation seems unlikely at this point.

Touhou 16

Set in the strange parallel world of Gensokyo, much of the Touhou series revolves around shrine-maiden Reimu Hakurei and her quest to avoid doing any work. She’d rather just hang out with friends, drink, sleep in the shade and count her shrine donations, but unfortunately living in a magical realm full of fairies, spirits, monsters, vampires and more means that incidents happen from time to time, and nobody is going to calm down until someone sets things straight. This time round, all four seasons seem to be happening simultaneously in different locations around Gensokyo, so it’s off to the skies to shoot at fairies until someone explains what’s going on.

This adds a little wrinkle to the usual Touhou action. You’ve got your usual movement, shooting and a screen-clearing smartbomb, but clearing enemies and ‘grazing’ enemy bullets (have your character’s sprite touch them, but not the central hitbox) will increase the Season gauge. Hitting the Season Release button will create a bullet-eating temporary safe zone, and also give you a hefty slab of points if you manage to absorb a lot of a bosses attack. Beyond that, this is as straightforward as Touhou gets, and a solid enough introduction to the series.

As mentioned, the enormous shared dream that is Touhou extends far beyond any officially released game. Due to the often-commercial nature of Touhou fan-works, it’s hard to get hold of them outside of Japan in any legal capacity, but it’s worth being on the lookout for the Koumajou Densetsu series, transplanting the Touhou cast into a super-polished Castlevania tribute replete with some astoundingly good gothic interpretations of the characters, all backed up by an official (if slightly patchy) English translation.

Touhou 16

There are also some professional-quality animated shorts, treating the setting as if it were a long-running TV anime series, and even a series of Touhou fighting games developed by Twilight Frontier that are counted by Zun as series canon, making them numbered releases along with the mainline games. The latest of these is rumored to be headed to Steam as well. Good news, as they’re genuinely unique games, mixing shmup elements into the fighting game genre, and where the story mode plays out more like an arcade boss-rush than a traditional series of bouts. Until then, we’ve got Touhou 16.

Touhou 16: Hidden Star In Four Seasons is out now on Steam for £11.39/€15/$15, and if you want to play it in English, just grab the patch here. There’s a three-level demo on the storefront as well, and is compatible with the same translation patch.


  1. Dominic Tarason says:

    Worth a mention that this game is selling like hotcakes right now. It’s been out for less than a day and is already up to 1500+ user reviews on Steam, nearly all of them positive.

  2. NetharSpinos says:

    Always good to see Touhou still going strong. I never played any of the main games, only Hisotensoku (though I had an absolute blast with it)- and my universe knowledge fades at more or less the Ten Desires mark- but it remains one of my favourite game franchises.

  3. Seafoam says:

    Touhou is one of those things that you know about just by the sheer osmosis.
    Might as well take matters to my own hands and get real hand to hand experience for once.

  4. Esteis says:

    I’d also like to put in a word for the soundtracks. They are something of a cross between pop songs and fugues: like in pop the same two or three motifs keep returning within a song, but like in fugues the motifs are played different each time. Also fugue-like: the songs are usually up-tempo, busily-ornamented, and rapidly-played.

    Secondly, feast your eyes upon these song titles: A Soul as Red as a Ground Cherry — A Tiny, Tiny, Clever Commander — Because Princess Inada is Scolding Me — Reach for the Moon, Immortal Smoke — Beloved Tomboyish Daughter — Faith is for the Transient People.

    Lastly, the melodies are interesting enough that the number of remixes (covers, in styles from speed metal to smooth jazz to full orchestral) is off the charts. Hit up YouTube for ‘Touhou OST’ or ‘Touhou remix’, there’s gold in them thar hills.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Yeah, it’s something I didn’t quite have the space for in the article itself. Zun may have a bizarre love for MIDI synth horns, but his compositions are top-tier and astoundingly flexible, fit to be arranged for just about any set of instruments imaginable.

      It’s a bit like how he has an eye for oddly creative character and clothes design (Flandre’s wings, and Utsuho’s… everything, I guess, are really clever visual quirks) despite not being able to draw worth a damn.

      The one thing he is universally good at is geometric bullet pattern design, a lot of his style having been imitated by other shmup developers. He’s a great inspiration for a lot of creators, even if he has a lot of holes in his personal skill-set.

      Edit: Oh yeah, Utsuho’s boss theme seems to have been covered by everyone at this point.

      • NetharSpinos says:

        There are many reasons why Utsuho remains a solid contender for My Favourite Awesomest Character. This is but one of them.

    • DarkFenix says:

      The soundtracks (or to be accurate, their remixes) are what introduced me to Touhou in the first place (can’t say I have much interest in the games themselves, or in other words I tried and sucked). Zun has a great deal of talent in composition, but the technical implementation is rather more limited.

      Cue the absurdly dedicated community Touhou has, and you’ve got remixes in every conceivable genre (my personal favourites being the orchestral remixes).

    • Daiz says:

      To give some idea of how off the charts that “off the charts” statement really is…

      There is a thing called the “Touhou lossless music collection” consisting entirely of fan arrangements of Touhou music, and as of mid-2015 (when it was last updated), it clocked in at an enormous 1.35 terabytes of space. If you were to listen to all of it, it would take you over 18 weeks of non-stop 24/7 listening. Now, just like with everything else, Sturgeon’s Law very much applies with Touhou fan arrangements. But even if 90% of them is crap, that’d still mean you could find 300+ hours of fantastic music in there.

      And again, that’s for a collection that hasn’t been updated in over two years, which mean that it’s actually missing a whole lot of stuff as every single year the amount of Touhou fan arrangement CDs released grows by dozens, if not hundreds. You can take a look at the VGMdb page for Touhou to get some idea of this.

      The Beatles’ “Yesterday” holds the Guinness World Record for “Most Recorded Song” with some 1600 versions/remixes/arrangements of the song made. I’m pretty certain that several Touhou songs could outdo that with ease.

      Anyway, with all this talk about Touhou I’d be remiss not to share some of my favorites. I’m quite partial to electronic music myself, and when it comes to that Shibayan is probably my favorite artist of all time. I’m also a pretty big fan of Alstroemeria Records, with their Dancehall series of albums being probably my favorites. Outside of electronic music, I’m also really partial to Demetori‘s amazing power metal arrangements.

      PS. Gotta say I’m really happy with the mention of Koumajou Densetsu and especially its character designs – they’re probably some of my favorite character designs of all time. Been using this avatar of Koumajou Densetsu Remilia for the past four years and counting!

  5. Kitsunin says:

    There really aren’t any games like the Touhou games. Well, there are, but they are strictly not as good.

    As shoot ’em ups, their design focuses on a short and highly precise gameplay. I didn’t really “get” the games until I realized I needed to approach the the patterns as though they were a maze, rather than something to dodge, kinda like those old “mouse avoider” flash games. It works fantastically, bringing forethought, precision and pattern recognition to bear as far more important skills than reaction time and mechanical mastery. It also makes you feel like a super badass, more than any other games, once you get good.

    I don’t like “shoot ’em ups” at all. But the Touhou series is my favorite series bar none.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Some of Zun’s own Touhou spinoffs are really creative takes on the genre. The Shoot The Bullet games are about snapping a picture of the boss and as many bullets from as close range as you can, and no way to fire back.

      Impossible Spell Card is almost a puzzle game, with you using an inventory of fun gadgets to defuse otherwise nigh-undodgeable patterns. One boss likes to swap places with you after firing a circle of inward-aimed bullets? Use a decoy, so the boss just swaps into your attack range instead while the dummy gets pummeled.

      Zun may have issues with instrumentation and drawing and even character-writing, but he’s damn good at game design.

      • cuc says:

        His character writing can be good when he cares, which has been increasingly sporadic over the years. But for the most part writing in Touhou is about dark humor and ideas more than characterization.

  6. Koakuma_bot says:

    Our Head Priest’s name is “ZUN”, in all caps.

    Solid write-up nonetheless.

  7. MrUnimport says:

    Good old Touhou. Was deep into it in high school and uni.

    I think something that deserves mentioning, alongside everything else, is the weird, halfway nature of the setting. It takes its substance from 90s moe, with lots of cute girls in dresses with fantastical powers, but ever since the seventh game, Perfect Cherry Blossom, it’s been dipping more and more into folklore and mythology to give weight and meaning to its characters.

    Arguably the culmination of that process was with Junko, a riff on an obscure personage from an ancient Chinese chronicle who had her backstory mashed up with the famous story of Houyi and the ten suns. The result is that Touhou constantly skirts the line between playfulness and seriousness. Combined with the intoxicating soundtrack and weird programmer-art graphics, it all produces an interesting and powerful dreamlike aesthetic that refuses to be pinned down as a mere masturbatory exercise or a slavish recitation of mythology.

    For those who are into it, anyway.

  8. Chicago Ted says:

    The English patch seems to be just for the demo.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Added a note about that. It seemed like it was going to work fine up until the moment it didn’t.

      Knowing this fanbase, it’ll be fixed within a day or two.

  9. Yuyuko The Hungry Ghost says:

    Zun? No, ZUN. All caps.

    Do your homework more. Dominic Tarason

  10. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I cannot into bullet hells. But I did like Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, the 2d fightan toohoo.

    I kinda want to look into that castlevania one now, given that I’d never even heard of it before.

    • Baines says:

      It is closer to original Castlevania than the sequels (so it is mechanically pretty basic), and with bullet hell bosses. With a bit more boring level design.

      You can dodge the bullet sprays and laser grids because tapping jump while already in the air will put you into a free flight mode. The trade-off is that you cannot use your whip attack in free flight, you can only use your “sub-weapon” attack (which consumes hearts).