Touhou: Double Focus Review

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Game Title: Touhou: Double Focus
Developer: Aqua Style, NIS America
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Download: 696 MB
Availability: Digital Download (NA, EU)
PSTV Support: No

Never thought I’d see the day when a Touhou Project game would hit mainstream consoles, let alone one that I cover on the website. If you don’t know, The Touhou Project is a series of bullet-hell PC games that have been made by a single person way back in 1996 and has since expanded into a huge phenomenon in the 21 years since. Bullet Hell games. Spin-offs. And now, console games.

Although Bullet Hell is where the series is most recognizable, two games recently released for the PS4 and PS Vita that are anything but that. Call it experimenting with other genres or whatever your opinion on the matter is. But, Vita fans who love Touhou just got 2 games they can dive into and enjoy to their heart’s content.

Today, I’m starting with the smaller of the two. Just released a few days ago, here’s my review of Touhou: Double Focus!

Story

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Double Focus takes place in the realm of Gensokyo, a fictional realm from the franchise that resides somewhere in the mountains of Japan. A curious reporter for the local newspaper is digging around a bookstore and happens upon a magical book. One thing leads to another, and the residents all get sucked into this book’s world, void of all of their magical abilities and trapped. The game is about them finding a way out of the book’s world.

The story of Double Focus is very cute and light-hearted but also very lacking in explanation. You have a lot of characters that get little to no character development, as if the game assumes you know who who is, what they do, where they came from, etc. There’s just a severe lack of explanation for newcomers to the series, from characters to even Gensokyo itself.

It’s got a lot of lighthearted humor, but you need to be a fan to really appreciate it.

Gameplay

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Double Focus is not a bullet hell like the PC games, and it’s also not a rogue RPG like Genso Wanderer is. It is actually a Metroidvania title that is far more Castlevania than anything else. From the moment you start moving through the first area, it feels like you’re playing an anime version of Castlevania. From the door sequences, boss fights, etc. It’s all very Castlevania-feeling.

Progressing through the game is a matter of exploring areas with your two playable characters and learning the maps of each area. In every map, there will of course, be enemies to fight and items to find, but a story quest (or 3) to do in order to gain access to the boss room. Your task is to find the NPCs for this quest and fulfill that quest and the path to the boss will open up for you.

Sounds easy, but it isn’t as easy as you might think. First off, you’ve got 2 characters to switch between with different abilities. One walks slowly, attacks quickly, and can temporarily hover in mid-air while the other moves faster, attacks slower, but can run up walls to reach areas the first cannot. Your initial task is to use these abilities to find hidden rooms. Once you start clearing areas, you unlock new skills that help break down obstacles to open up new areas. For example, in the first dungeon, there are a lot of cracked walls you can’t break, but the skill obtained from that area’s boss allows you to access those areas. You’ll be doing a lot of backtracking every time you get a new ability for new area access.

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Skills is another thing that I would call a bit of a challenge. You have magic skills you can use if you find skill books. Story-based skills are permanent, but generic skills like healing magic and creating portals back to your base (where the only save point is), uses up a skill book. Basically, have 3 Cure books and you can only use Cure 3 times until you find more books. It makes you think twice before spamming skills.

The main thing you’ll want to be looking at is Boss Battles. The game is all exploration, learn simple attack patterns for normal enemies, learn how to run up walls to get into this room, go do this side quest, but when you get to a Boss, the difficulty shoots up through the roof. Every boss is fast on their feet and has an attack pattern you must learn to defeat them. Whether it’s learning where a magician teleports before launching plasma balls at you or where a monk will land after each of their attacks, you will have to try, learn, and retry each boss you come across.

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And that’s the thing about this game’s difficulty. It is brutal throughout. If you pick Easy Mode, bosses are still very hard to take on, let alone the nightmarish difficulty in Normal and Hard Modes. This is, in no way, an easy game to master. Exploration, sure, but once combat comes into play, especially the enemies in the fourth area that parody horror movie villains, things get very hard very quickly.

Finally, one thing I didn’t like about the game was its length. Across the four areas the game has to offer, you will only be spending about 3 hours on it. That is including time to get lost and have no idea where you’re supposed to go. I got lost for a good 30-40 minutes in one section and I still finished in around 3 hours. There’s even a Time Attack Mode meant to have you race through the game as quickly as possible.

Controls

Oddly enough, Double Focus is not compatible with the PlayStation TV (while Genso Wanderer is). The game features no motion or touch or camera controls, so I’m at a loss as to why this is the case, but I’ll surely mention it to NISA when I send them this review.

To move around, you can use the D-Pad or Left Analog Stick, though I’d highly recommend against the Left Stick with how intricate some of the platforming is. The two triggers are used for characters and dodging/blocking. L lets you swap your controlled character with the other and R lets you dodge and block (dodge with Aya, block with Momiji). Finally, X lets you jump and the other three face buttons can have skills assigned to them, like physical attacks, healing magic, or special character skills.

My main issue is that the controls and a lot of gameplay features are not explained at all. What buttons do I use to run? What do I press to run up walls? How to I equip skills? None of it is explained outside of vague comments if you choose to talk to the NPCs at your base. It’s very confusing. I had no idea I could run up walls until I’d been playing for a good 20 minutes.

Presentation

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Visually, the game looks very nice. The 2D art style looks very polished and the animated character models look straight out of an anime game like Dust. Even the little movements show just how much attention to detail was put into this game’s graphics engine.

The problem comes with frame-rate. Every once in a while, you’ll see tiny little dips in the game’s fps. At first, I couldn’t really tell what it was, but I saw it often. It was only for a millisecond. However, when you get to the 2nd boss of the game, it becomes very clear. During that boss fight, I would wager the game drops from a nice 30 fps to about 12. It’s really bad for the entire boss fight. You can get through it, but it’s a pain.

Summary

Touhou: Double Focus is a nice and challenging Castlevania for Touhou fans. Although newcomers will be confused with the story, the game only lasts a couple hours, and there are some huge frame-rate issues in a certain boss fight, it’s still a cute little game worth what little time it can give.

7/10

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