The , also known as Toho Project or Project Shrine Maiden, is a series of manic shooters made by Team Shanghai Alice whose sole member is Japanese game maker ZUN, who does all the graphics, music, and programming. The Touhou Project began in 1996 with the release of the first game, Highly Responsive to Prayers, developed by the group Amusement Makers for the Japanese NEC PC-9801 series of computers. The next four Touhou games released between August 1997 and December 1998 also were released on the NEC PC-9801. The Touhou Project was inactive for the next three and half years until the first Microsoft Windows Touhou game, The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, was released in August 2002 solely by ZUN after he split from Amusement Makers and started Team Shanghai Alice. As of August 2008, five more games in the main Touhou series have been produced by ZUN, along with two games made in conjunction with Twilight Frontier, and a spin-off by ZUN entitled Shoot the Bullet.
The Touhou Project is a one-man project by a Japanese game maker, ZUN, who does all the graphics, music, and programming alone, with the exception of the duel effort with Twilight Frontier
in Immaterial and Missing Power
and Scarlet Weather Rhapsody
The player's bullet power increases on a linear scale as the player collects power-ups dropped by enemies, and eventually maxes out. The player can also collect 'point' icons to earn extra lives; the number needed grows exponentially as the player gains lives. The player can use 'focus', the shift key by default, which slows down the player's movement, makes the collision box visible and (generally; some characters are reversed) focuses the player's attack to make it more powerful. In Imperishable Night
, this mode actually brings in the Phantom teammate. This function is essential for navigating through complex bullet patterns and defeating bosses more quickly. The graze counter tracks how many bullets entered the character sprite but avoided the collision box, and rewards the player with a score bonus for living on the edge.
The player can utilize a weapon called a 'spell card', the X key by default, which is similar to a 'bomb' in most other shooting games. While the player has a limited number, using one makes the user temporarily invulnerable and uses a special magical attack that generally clears the screen. Each character has two cards with different names and patterns. The player can use one during a short period after being hit by a bullet (known as the 'border between life and death') to avoid loss of a life. In Imperishable Night, this consumes two cards. Bosses also have spell cards, but with bosses the term applies to a prolonged pattern of movements and shots that lasts until the player depletes the boss' health by a certain amount, not a one-shot attack.
Perfect Cherry Blossom and Imperishable Night have 'cherry' and 'time' points, respectively. Cherry points are used mostly in scoring, but can grant temporary invulnerability (known as 'supernatural border'.) Time points are essential to restoring the moon before morning arrives, and also determine if the player gets to challenge a boss's 'final spell' on normal or higher difficulties. Mountain of Faith uses 'faith' points, which help tabulate the score the player receives upon gathering point items and bonuses for clearing spell cards without dying or using a spell card. However, since Immaterial and Missing Power and Scarlet Weather Rhapsody are fighting games which are different from the shooters, they vary quite a bit in the gameplay.
PC-98 predecessor games
The Touhou series of games started on the Japanese PC-9801 series of computers and its first five entries are native to that platform; standard PC users are only capable of playing them through an emulator. Also, the PC-9801 series of computers was already on the decline when these games were released. Because of this, they are not well known among players. The group making these games was called "Amusement Makers".
- The first game of the Tōhō series. It is not a traditional shooter, and is similar to Arkanoid instead. Reimu Hakurei, the perpetual protagonist, was introduced in this game. The game was released in 1996.
- Released in August 1997 at Comiket 52. This is the first danmaku game of the series, and also marks the first appearance of Marisa Kirisame (here as the second-to-last boss), the second major player character of the series.
- A two-player, versus-type shooter; similar to Twinkle Star Sprites. Released in December 1997 in Comiket 53.
- Released in August 1998 in Comiket 54. This game introduces the focus mode, a staple of the series hereafter, that slows the sprite's movement to facilitate dodging bullets.
- The fifth and last Tōhō game for the PC-98, released in December 1998 in Comiket 55. Mima and Yuka, final bosses of The Story of Eastern Wonderland and Lotus Land Story respectively, return as playable characters in this game.
After four years of inactivity, Touhou creator ZUN began to develop games for Windows
instead, and left Amusement Makers to make his own group: the Team Shanghai Alice. The playability of the Windows games was substantially improved compared to their PC-98 counterparts. Most dōjin
works derived from the Touhou series are centered on these games.
Embodiment of Scarlet Devil
was the sixth Touhou game and the first on Windows. It greatly exceeded the PC-98 games graphically and musically, and was the first game to gather a substantial Western fanbase. The story, told by conversations between characters during interludes in the action, goes as such: The land of Gensokyo
; (setting of all the Touhou games) has been engulfed by a red mist, and its inhabitants no longer see the sun. As the miko Reimu Hakurei
or the witch Marisa Kirisame
, the player attempts to deal with the source of the mist, a mysterious figure called the Scarlet Devil.
Perfect Cherry Blossom
is the seventh Touhou game. It is unusual among the recent releases in that the English and Japanese titles are not similar in meaning; its Japanese title could be rendered as Bewitching Dream
. As the month turns to May, winter has lasted far longer than normal in Gensokyo, and the denizens begin to suspect foul play. As Reimu, Marisa or the new arrival Sakuya Izayoi
, the player embarks on a search for those who are working to prevent spring's coming. Perfect Cherry Blossom
continues the tradition of the Touhou games, the reappearance of former bosses as playable characters. Sakuya was the maid
of vampire Remilia Scarlet
, better known as the Scarlet Devil, and the player fought her several times in EoSD.
Immaterial and Missing Power
, a collaboration with Twilight Frontier
, is the 7.5th game in the series. Despite being released after Imperishable Night
, it is numbered 7.5 because the events in this game took place before those of Imperishable Night
. Immaterial and Missing Power
is a 2D fighting game
instead of the usual scrolling shooter. Though Team Shanghai Alice was only responsible for the storyline and some of the music, the game was listed as one of the team's official works.
Initially playable characters in this game include some of the characters from previous Windows games, such as the two protagonists Reimu Hakurei and Marisa Kirisame, Alice Margatroid, Youmu Konpaku (both bosses from Perfect Cherry Blossom), Sakuya Izayoi and Patchouli Knowledge (both bosses from Embodiment of Scarlet Devil). More characters become playable as the player finishes the story mode with the initially playable characters, and so on. An official patch to the game adds Hong Meiling (from Embodiment of Scarlet Devil) as a playable character, but she is not available in the story mode.
is the eighth Touhou game. It was released at the Comiket
66 Convention in August 2004. This story's focus is on a rather more insidious evil than past games. Gensokyo's yearly event, the Moonviewing Feast, is only one dawn away, but someone seems to have replaced the moon with a fake that will not grow full. A team of human and phantom set out to remedy this before the night is over—the story says that the team the player selects is the only
team heading out to investigate. This is true for most of the Touhou games; the only character heading for the final boss is the player-chosen one—exceptions to this are Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream
and Phantasmagoria of Flower View
Each of the usual playable characters gets a teammate from the non-human side of Gensokyo; in this entry. Reimu Hakurei allies with Yukari Yakumo, Youkai of the Boundary; Marisa Kirisame with Alice Margatroid, Seven-Colored Puppeteer; and Sakuya brings her mistress, Remilia Scarlet. The new team is half-ghost Youmu Konpaku and full-ghost Yuyuko Saigyouji, end-bosses of Perfect Cherry Blossom. All the other characters (except Remilia) appeared in Perfect Cherry Blossom as well.
Phantasmagoria of Flower View
is the ninth Touhou game. It was released in August 2005 at the summer Comiket
68 convention. This game is a versus-type shooter like Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream
, and has very different gameplay from the past three entries in the series. The story puts the characters in an investigation on why the flowers of Gensokyo are blooming out of season and more than usual. Initially playable characters include Reimu, Marisa and Sakuya as usual (as well as two other characters from previous games), but the list adds on as the player progresses in the storyline of each of the players.
Shoot the Bullet
is the 9.5th game in the series. It was released at the Comiket 69 convention in December 2005. The game is meant to be the game version of the official fanbook, Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red
. The player, as tengu
reporter Aya Shameimaru
, is tasked with taking pictures of bosses for her newspaper to clear successively more difficult stages. The game is unique in that the player has no standard shot or bombs; rather, the camera is the main method of offense and defense as it clears bullets from the screen. Scoring is based on the contents of each photo, boss location, number of bullets, and Aya's position. Notably, this is the only game in which Reimu Hakurei
is not a playable character - in fact, she does not even appear as an enemy.
Mountain of Faith
is the tenth Touhou game. It was announced in early May 2007, and a trial version was released at the Reitaisai 4 convention on May 20 2007
. The full game was released on the first day of Comiket
72, August 17 2007
. Reimu receives an order to close down the Hakurei Shrine, or it will be torn down and the god of Youkai Mountain will take it over. As either Reimu or Marisa, the player has to ascend to the top of Youkai Mountain to find the god behind the happenings and prevent the shrine from being taken over.
Scarlet Weather Rhapsody
is a versus fighting game similar to Immaterial and Missing Power
that was made with Twilight Frontier as well. It is numbered 10.5 in the series and was released on May 25 2008
is the eleventh Touhou game. It was announced on May 1 2008
. A demo was released at the Reitaisai 5 convention alongside the full version of Scarlet Weather Rhapsody
. The full version was released on August 16 2008
at Comiket 74.
In addition to dōjin games
, Team Shanghai Alice has also used the Touhou characters in commercial media.
- Written by ZUN himself, Curiosities of Lotus Asia is a story being published in installments. First it was published in the Colorful Puregirl magazine, but was moved to Magazine Elfics of the BiBLOS company after the discontinuation of the former. However, as BiBLOS went bankrupt, the series has moved again. Finally, it was published in the magazine Dengeki Moeoh from the August 2007 issue until the December 2007 issue, where the series ended. In addition, some instalments of Curiosities of Lotus Asia were published on the Elnavi website. A compilation is slated to be published in 2008. Interestingly, the protagonist Rinnosuke Morichika is the only male character shown in Touhou.
- Eastern and Little Nature Deity is a manga being published in Comp Ace, a Japanese comic magazine. The base story is written by ZUN, and the art is by Nemu Matsukura, a known fan of the Touhou series. The story centers around three fairies and their daily mischiefs to the visitors of Reimu's shrine. Starting May 2006, Matsukura stopped drawing the manga for health reasons, and that responsibility was given to Makoto Hirasaka. The new version is titled Strange and Bright Nature Deity.
- Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red is the official fanbook of the Touhou series. The book includes mock newspaper articles, an interview of ZUN, and a compilation of some dōjinshi. A CD-ROM is attached to the back cover, and in it are new music tracks by ZUN, a demo of Phantasmagoria of Flower View, and a wallpaper of the book's cover.
- Seasonal Dream Vision is an anthology of dōjinshi published by Tora no Ana. Also included is ZUN's setting of Gensokyo and a CD of various rearrangements of his music.
- Perfect Memento in Strict Sense is a guide and bestiary of Gensokyo, as told by Hieda no Akyu. It was released in late December 2006, published by Ichijinsha, but was originally slated for August of that year. A manga that uses the story's premise is published in the December 2006 issue of the Comic Rex magazine.
- Touhou Bōgetsushō is a continuation of the story from Imperishable Night. It consists of a manga, a novel, and a yonkoma serialized in three Ichijinsha magazines. The manga Silent Sinner in Blue began serialization in the Comic Rex magazine in the July 2007 issue. Drawn by Aki Eda, the manga focuses on the human characters - Reimu and Marisa. The novel Cage in Lunatic Runagate is being serialized in the seasonal Chara Mel magazine, debuting on June 25 2007. It is illustrated by Tokiame, and the plot being a deep submersion into the manga, taking a non-human perspective. Finally, the yonkoma , illustrated by Arata Toshihira, is a light-hearted discursion from the main story, featuring Reisen and Tewi Inaba. It debuted in the August 2007 issue of the Manga 4koma Kings Palette magazine, which was sold on June 22 2007.
The plots of the Touhou Project revolve around the strange phenomena
that occur in the fictional realm of . Gensokyo is located in the Far East
(ostensibly Japan, given that many of the characters have Japanese names, and Hieda no Akyu makes various comments about Japanese settings in Perfect Memento). Long ago, it was a desolate place haunted by yōkai
who preyed on lost wanderers in the area. Soon exorcists were sent into the area to resolve the yōkai problem, and they eventually settled in the area as a check on the yōkai. As human civilization advanced elsewhere, the power of yōkai began to diminish and they chose to seal Gensokyo away from the outside world as a haven for themselves.
As a result of the seal the isolated community developed its own civilization. As opposed to the outside world, magical and spiritual qualities prevailed over science and while yōkai and humans coexist, they still fight with each other. The only known gateway from the outside world into Gensokyo is the Hakurei Shrine on the border of Gensokyo. However, due to the urban sprawl in the outside world the seal has weakened and more humans are able to wander into Gensokyo from the outside.
With its focus on bishōjo
characters, the Touhou series possesses a large cast compared to other shooting games. While they aren't developed nearly to the standards of a story-based game, many players love them, and even obscure stage bosses who only appear once have a fanbase. One example is Hong Meiling, affectionately known as Chuugoku (China), the stage 3 boss of Embodiment of Scarlet Devil
, who won a popularity contest in Japan out of all Touhou characters. Among the vast array of characters, only three are male. One is a turtle, one is only mentioned in passing, and the only active male character is only featured in the serialized novel.
Though each game features a collection of different characters, the main character of the games is always Reimu Hakurei, joined by Marisa Kirisame after the second game. The only game where this is not the case is Shoot the Bullet, where only Aya Shameimaru is playable. Most of the games also "borrow" enemy characters from the previous installments as playable characters. (If one excludes Marisa from consideration, however, then Lotus Land Story, Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, and Mountain of Faith are exceptions.)
Reception and fanworks
A prodigious amount of derivative works
based on Touhou have been created since the release of Embodiment of Scarlet Devil
. These include dōjinshi
, dōjin music
, and dojin games
, even though the Touhou games themselves are dōjin games. These activities are mostly responsible for adding original attributes to characters that ZUN may not have intended. For example, Alice Margatroid is described in the original games as aloof and rarely caring much about others, while in dōjin she is a fragile and oversensitive girl who desperately seeks Marisa's affection. Yuri
pairings are prevalent among Touhou dōjinshi.
In terms of publication volume, there were no circles publishing Touhou derivative works at Comiket 64 in August 2003. The first recent publication of such works occurred during December 2003, following the release of Perfect Cherry Blossom; seven circles sold Touhou derivative works at Comiket 65 in December 2003. As of Comiket 74 in August 2008, a total of 885 circles are scheduled to have Touhou derivative works on display or for sale, out of a total of 35,000 circles participating at Comiket.
Japanese fans have a habit of giving their favorite characters nicknames, often based on in-references. Hong Meiling is "Chuugoku" (China), Yuyuko Saigyouji is "Yuyusama", Ran Yakumo is "Tenko", and so on. The dōjin games based on Touhou are mostly adaptations of other game series' mechanics with Touhou characters, such as Super Marisa Land (an obvious parody of the Mario games with the title being a pun on Super Mario Land), MegaMari (based on the Mega Man series), Moedan (based on Moeru Eitango Moetan), and Touhou Soccer (based on Captain Tsubasa). Touhou's music is also very popular and many arrangement CDs can be found for sale at Comiket and other Japanese conventions.
One set of derivative worth mentioning is the series of Flash videos created by the dōjin music circle IOSYS. Many of them, most notable of which is "Marisa Stole the Precious Thing", are popular on otaku internet forums and Nico Nico Douga.
The Touhou Project was nominated for the eleventh annual Media Arts Plaza awards held by Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs, under the Entertainment category. However, Nintendo Wii Sports was given the Grand Prize award and Touhou Project failed to win any awards.
The is the largest of the many dōjin conventions hosting only Touhou content. It first started in the year 2004 as a way for Team Shanghai Alice to publicly distribute the trial version for their upcoming games to the fans well in advance of releasing them on the internet; in addition, the 2004 Reitaisai featured a total of 114 participating circles. Since then, many Touhou derivative works are also gathered and sold there. Commencing every year in April or May, the convention has been hosted in Ota, Tokyo
in 2004; Naka-ku, Yokohama
in 2005; Sunshine City, Tokyo
in 2006 and 2007; and the Tokyo Big Sight
in 2008, in which 1,086 circles participated. Although the coordinator of this convention has nothing to do with Team Shanghai Alice officially, the name "Hakurei Shrine Reitaisai" was given by ZUN himself.