Touhou Project 8: Imperishable Night
by Polly

Manic Shmups, curtain-fire shooting games, fuck me in the ass till I quit and come crawling back sessions. Whatever the fuck you wanna call them, it really just means one thing: You are about to have your ass handed to you on a silver platter and will surely utter profanity that would make even myself blush. Perhaps the most well known of games in this particular genre would be either Radiant Silvergun on Sega Saturn or perhaps the Dreamcast/Gamecube cult hit Ikaruga. Maybe even Mars Matrix. They've been around forever and have a following of dedicated players 'round the net.

Imperishable Night is the eighth a looooong running series of insane shooters that have roots as far back as 1996 on the NEC PC-9801 microcomputer. The series spanned five games before a small hiatus and a return in 2002 bringing the series to the Windows world of wonder. Since then, the Touhou series has been carefully crafted by one insanely malicious little Japanese man who obviously has a grudge against every shmup player that ever existed. That's right! Now, when you inevitably go out and buy/download this game, you'll know exactly who to throw all those "fuck you"'s at since the game was made by ONE GUY! The Touhou series is pretty niche here in the states, though the previous game, Perfect Cherry Blossom, seemed to have quite a little following going on in and around the various shmup cummunities.

The Moon, Bunnies, Witches, And What They All Have In Common
The Touhou series is also known for having quite an expanded little universe of characters all with very detailed backstories. I in no way profess to know what the hell is EVER going on here, but these guys do and you'd be far better off than listening to me try and explain it.

The simple premise for this game's story though, is that Gensokyo's Moon Viewing Festival of some sort is coming up but THE MOON HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED BY BUNNY GIRLS! It's up to you to be a bad enough bitch to go and save it.

The story progresses in the form of dialog exchanged between your character and other boss characters (I'll note that the entire cast is all female) before and after you fight them. Even with an English patch (provided by Non-Directional Translations which you can find here) I couldn't make heads or tails of it and still couldn't tell you the name of any of the girls I fought. I am one hopelessly shitty reviewer. And I just don't think shmups need stories, but that's just me.

Death in Rainbow Flavor And A Pop Soundtrack
Imperishable Night is a game that's rather beautiful in its simplicity. The backgrounds are simple layered polygonal scrolling backdrops with various effects placed over them as they whizz by giving the game a real feeling of speed at times. It's clearly got nothing on other 3D rendered games in the genre like Ikaruga or Raiden III, but it gets points for a lot of charm. Player character and boss sprites look very nice and have a good deal of animation, but they don't really need much more to get their point across for this kinda game. Normal stage enemies tend to be pretty hit or miss and mostly appear copy/pasted throughout the series, but with the game's breakneck pace most of them are gone before you even know it... or buried under a FUCK ME sea of bullets.

Speaking of bullets, GOD DAMN death never looked so good. The bullet sprays in the Touhou games can be down right gorgeous sometimes. It can be somewhat distracting when you see a Spell Card play out for the first time with pretty colored bullets zipping every which way. Spell Card effects are also nicely done with lots of layered effects going on and large anime-style portraits of characters popping up on the screen announcing the attack. They never get in the way and go a long way toward giving the game the slick presentation it was clearly going for.

The music is another high point. Most shmups tend to take the techno or techno-rock route, but the Touhou series has always had music that could only be described as videogamey, giving us some very hummable and memorable tunes to compliment stages and bosses. It's very comparable to soundtracks you'd hear in SNES/Genesis games, but obviously higher bitrate.

Imperishable Night's gameplay can be looked at two ways. You're either:

              1. The casual player who just wants to get through this mess and see things through till
                   the end.


              2. The hardcore player who wants to dig deep into the beast and uncover every little
                   nuance of the game there is to be seen.

The game can be very rewarding to both types of players. For the casuals, surviving this game is no easy feat. You will get creamed until you get everything down to a science. For the hardcore, the various difficulties, capturing Spell Cards, and complex scoring system are going to keep you busy far longer than other shooters might.

At its core the gameplay is rather simple. You pick from a starting stable of 4 unique character duos, each one offering different styles of play and various strengths and weaknesses. Your team operates sort of like heads and tails on a coin. When not in "focus mode" you're the main character of your team. YOu move fast and have a normal attack shot that tends to spread out and hit more enemies but isn't necessarily always strong. When you enter "focus mode" you switch to your Phantom Partner. She's slower, and has a more focused stronger attack and you have the added benefit of seeing your character's hit box (if anything hits this, you die.) Switching between focused and non-focused modes is essential to both surviving and scoring. Without going into elaborate detail, staying non-focused during stages lets you rack up tons of points, but being focused during tight situations in stages or boss fights (which should almost always be done in focused mode) let's you maneuver between bullets with greater precision. The scoring system hinges heavily on how you choose to play and there are benefits for both modes that you can read all about in the Touhou wiki linked earlier in the article.

The game offers 4 different difficulties ranging from Easy to Lunatic. Each difficulty has its own characteristics and more often than not, stage enemy patterns will always change and bosses get meaner gaining access to even more bullets and Spell Cards drawing fights out even longer. This game is pretty damn hard no matter what difficulty you go with. Easy is a pretty good introduction and might be where most people will wanna stop. It's not entirely frustrating, but the last few points of the game ramp up to incredibly tough but fair challenges that are likely to eat more than a few lives and continues. Those who soldier on into Normal mode will see the game's true colors come out early. Hard and Lunatic are as you might imagine, seeimgly fucking impossible and it's hard to tell a real difference in them other than when bosses play new Spell Cards. While there's enough difference in difficulty to satisfy most players, I feel the ramp from Easy > Normal > Hard > Lunatic could have been balanced a tad better.

Shrine's Closed Due To Bullets
Imperishable Night is the most complete and fully realized game of the series. Everything that could have been done right was done. It's short, sweet, and to the point. A small package of perfection that you can easily see was carefully and lovingly crafted from the ground up. There's more than enough to do here to keep most shmup players happy and coming back for more, and even for the casual gamer to say they took on the beast and won would be quite an accomplishment in itself.

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