Thanks to NIS America for the review code
Title: Touhou Double Focus
System: Playstation 4
Price: $19.99 (Solo) $49.99 (Bundled with Touhou Gensou Wanderer)
Release Date: 03/24/2017
In this strange spinoff of the Touhou series, a magical book teleports the entire population of Gensokyo to the Book World, leaving them trapped! It’s all up to Aya and Momiji to work together, explore the book world and find out what needs to be stopped to find their way back home! It’s a fairly simple story that never takes itself seriously, as evident with all the absurd dialogue dropped throughout the adventure.
Visually, this game has a goofy looking artstyle that seems cheaply made at first, however that notion is quickly thrown out the window after exploring the first area of the game, where the enemy designs are so adorably cute and silly that it’s clear this whole game is meant to be a parody of the Metroidvania genre, poking fun at common tropes. For example, one of the enemies is an axe knight, akin to what you would encounter in the Castlevania games. However when you go to attack it, you find that it’s just a bunch of fairies hiding in a suit of armor! It’s clever touches like these that made me pretty amused during my multiple playthroughs of the game.
Pre-boss cutscenes are done through slideshows where the main duo interacts with each of the bosses, and both the opening/ending scenes are fully voiced, and outside of voice clips that play when using the abilities of the duo, there’s really little in the way of voice acting, although what’s here is tolerable. (Even if it’s all in Japanese.) The music is also fairly catchy and memorable as well, with the boss theme and final boss themes being my absolute favorites from the OST.
Being a parody of the Metroidvania genre, Touhou Double Focus plays a lot like your typical exploration-focused adventure, with multiple paths to explore, areas that are blocked off until you gain upgrades, secrets to find, pretty much the usual elements you’d find in a game of this genre, which isn’t a bad thing since Double Focus uses these elements pretty well, keeping things nice and balanced depending on which difficulty you choose, will be between three difficulties: Easy, which is the same sort of difficulty you’d expect from the normal mode of most other metroidvanias, Normal, which starts off as challenging as the end-game of the Easy difficulty before getting a bit into hard mode territory halfway through, and the titular Double Focus difficulty, where every single enemy can murder you in a couple hits.
I started off on the easy difficulty to get a feel for the game, and I found myself pretty addicted right off the bat, as this game doesn’t hesitate to get right into the fun. Going through the first area of the game I found it pretty easy to use the unique traits of each character. By default, Aya has a speedy airdash move (along with a backdash that can go through enemies) while Momiji can run up walls with her paws, although she can’t run as fast as Aya. Their combat skills are different as well, with Aya being the projectile user while Momiji uses her claws for close-quarters fighting. Switching between the two is as simple as a tap of the L2 button, making it very easy to swap between them on the fly if you need to constantly change multiple times in a single room, or doing boss fights. Along the way, you’ll gain abilities that’ll open up access to the other three areas along with extra attack and passive skills. Most of the time I found the passive skills to be pretty useless, as you can only have three skills active at a time, and since you only have three sets of those skills your space is pretty limited for moves, making the passive skills feel unnecessary most of the time.
It should also be noted that as soon as you start the game, swiping up from the bottom of the touchpad is strongly recommended, ESPECIALLY in any difficulty above normal! This will open up a menu where you can change some minor settings, along with a major one labeled “Respawn”. By default, this option is off, meaning that if you die at any point inbetween saving, all progress since the last save will be lost forever, akin to a few of the old-fashioned Metroidvanias. I didn’t find out about this being an option until I opened it up on accident in the final area of the game on my easy playthrough, which made the game feel a lot more fair on the normal difficulty due to it reducing the pain of one of this game’s flaws, that flaw being the complete lack of invincibility frames from some enemy attacks.
In easy mode this isn’t too bad as most of the attacks will only take a small fraction of your life bar, but on Normal mode or higher? Good luck surviving if you get caught by a projectile, as it’ll decimate your healthbar without hesitation. If I hadn’t known about the respawn option, then the end-game of normal mode would be next to impossible considering how higher difficulties add tougher enemies to face, and combined with the increased damage output that leads to a deadly combination! This one flaw can make the difficulty feel very cheap if you play it without the respawn option turned on, so be aware of that to save yourselves from frustration.
In conclusion, Touhou Double Focus is a game that I enjoyed a lot more than I expected! It does have a lot of the foundations for a good metroidvania, and on my first, blind 100% playthrough it took me about 5 hours to grab everything on the easiest difficulty. Once I knew what I was doing, beating Normal mode took about 3 hours to 100%, so this is far from a long game. However, the lack of invincibility frames at times can be a big pain, especially on the Double Focus difficulty. (Which to my knowledge is the only way you can 100% the Snap Archive, as trying to do so on the prior two difficulties led me with a few empty options even upon checking absolutely everything) Still, as a bonus that comes packaged with Touhou Gensou Wanderer, I feel this is a great bonus game that may be better than what it comes bundled with for all I know. (As I plan to be starting Wanderer in the near future now that I’ve had my weekend of fun with this game)
If you buy the game by itself, then it’ll cost you $20, and while this is a fun game, the price is rather steep, especially considering how you can get Guacamelee for $5 less. (despite the latter being the longer game) So if you’re on the fence, I think it would be best to wait for a sale if you are only interested in this title. As a pack-in with Wanderer, however I can’t fairly judge it on value, since I haven’t touched Wanderer at all as of this review. When that review goes live, I’ll update my thoughts for this game accordingly.
In the meantime, judging it as a standalone package, I do think metroidvania fans will have a ton of fun with this title, but the steep price could be a big turnoff. That being said, if you’re a big fan of the Touhou series/metroidvania games in general, then I do think the steep price will be worth it for a game this fun, even if flawed. I give Touhou Double Focus a 7 out of 10. Regardless of price, this is a flawed but addicting metroidvania that it wouldn’t hurt to check out if you’ve exhausted all other options.