Developer: Twilight Frontier
Platform: PC, Steam, Sony PS4, Nintendo Switch
The characters in Touhou are just about everywhere nowadays, to the point that it’s getting to be impossible to escape from them. Now, an official installment of the Touhou franchise has come to Nintendo Switch, this one in particular from among the fighting games in the series.
Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers follows the adventures of Reimu Hakurei and a handful from among her many, many acquaintances as they investigate a strange phenomenon known as “perfect possession”, which allows a pair to swap places with each other at will, even in the middle of a fight. It’s basically an in-universe explanation for the tag battle mechanic. It can be really hard to be the fourth wall in Touhou, sometimes.
As you might imagine, some more ambitious characters are using perfect possession to gain more power, using it to their advantage in matches. But the story mainly revolves around a pair of tricksters who have found a way to misuse perfect possession as a way to amass wealth for themselves, and effectively become an unbeatable tag match. Complicating matters is that the very use of perfect possession has unintended consequences for a parallel universe known as the “Dream World”.
The story mode has you selecting a duo and following their quest over the course of a few relatively-simple battles (difficulty may be adjusted, depending on whether you’re a super-soldier or drunk). At first, there is only one story, but as the story progresses, more stories become available, perhaps even a few at a time. The game calls its overarching story “bittersweet”, which is fitting, as even completing a duo’s story segment may result in setbacks that are a part of the narrative.
If you’re not already familiar with Touhou, you may be taken aback by the sheer amount of lore surrounding each of the characters. It’s not necessary to know what motivates the game’s handful of characters, as you can just half-pay-attention to the story and focus on winning matches. However, some in-game bios would have been nice to provide some background on these characters, which may have helped to better appreciate the story. An example in which this might have helped involved a cameo of Kaguya. If the player knew that Reisen was Kaguya’s pet rabbit, that may have helped the player to better understand the interaction between the two.
But it’s the gameplay mechanics that make it a game, and for AoCF, they mostly hold up.
In concept, I think the idea of anime waifus throwing bright, colorful attacks at each other sounds brutally awesome. In execution, however, most in-game matches come down to finding out how to cheese the opponent to take their health bar down, at which point they’ll move on to the next phase, which usually takes a different strategy to defeat. While that may make matches against story opponents highly predictable, it seems as though the game intends for players to find the right cheese strat for each phase, and the match usually ends before the process gets too old. Which is clever, in an odd sense.
While this is a tag team game, I found myself going through most battles with just the Master of the pair, just fine. One in-game opponent switches things up by using a special bullet that doesn’t affect the Slave of the combo, which is one way the game encourages the use of the perfect possession mechanic.
The characters in Touhou fly. What this means in this game is that the battles don’t take place on the ground, but in the air. Instead of jumping, when the player presses up, the character floats up, but then returns to the same horizontal point she originated from. Pressing down works in the same general principle, but with a downward movement, instead. Avoiding projectiles in this manner can be tricky, though a mid-air hang can be achieved through the use of certain attacks. In many cases, it’s better to use a barrier to block attacks.
The controls are pretty simple, with a basic principle that carries over for each character. There’s a button for basic attacks, which can be expressed differently based on the direction held. The same goes for a special attack button, but characters also have super-strong attacks which are usually pretty broken, but is limited in use depending on whether a meter has filled to a certain point. There is also a defensive shield, which may be the best choice against attacks that seem nearly impossible to avoid.
In non-story matches, players are free to choose their own combination of characters, rather than what the story calls for. It’s probably best to pick the character duo that would most effectively complement each other’s abilities, but I can imagine that many players would just pick their favorite characters and team them up, regardless of how well they’d perform. Which is something I could identify with.
It’s quite a shame that the fighting mechanics weren’t polished to a higher degree, because this game is great in just about all other areas. For one thing, the sprite art and portraits are crisp and clean anime-style art, and as far as that goes, it’s just right. The music is… well, it’s Touhou music. Of course the music is great. I’ve had at least a couple of these songs on YouTube playlists before even playing this game, they’re that charming.
One potential gripe is that the English translations have numerous errors. But hey, if you like campy anime-style games, you were forgiving of that kind of thing to begin with.
Did I feel like I got my money’s worth with Antinomy of Common Flowers? In a word, yes. The game is flawed in ways that I’m aware of, but it’s still a satisfying game to play which, for many players, may be welcome as a guilty pleasure. Or, more than that, something to bust out at parties which might amuse the guests.
Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers gets a score of 6.5 out of 10.
Don’t worry about it if you still don’t know what the name means.