The Touhou series is a popular set of anime bullet hell shooters with recurring characters and progressing plot points. If you’re already familiar with the series, then your joy in playing Touhou Luna Nights will be heavily influenced by your desire to play 2D Metroidvania games. But even if you haven’t played the games before, Touhou Luna Nights is an immensely enjoyable Metroidvania with a couple of interesting ideas.
You play as Sakuya Izayoi, a knife wielding time controlling badass from previous Touhou titles who has been summoned to an artificial reality for the amusement of Remilia. You will battle your way through diverse environments, running into other Touhou characters along the way who will challenge you to combat, help your, or both.
Saying the story of Touhou Luna Nights is lackluster would be unfair only in that it would imply an importance of story to the game. It’s very clear from the get-go that this game doesn’t exist to further any of the characters’ stories or relationships. Everyone is there only to pay homage to the original series and all of the boss battles appear to either follow a “I didn’t like you before so let’s fight” or a “I like you but we’re here so let’s fight” structure.
Strangely enough, the lack of a strong story makes the game more accessible to non-Touhou players than less. You rarely get the sense that you’re missing something – that events from a prior game will have significant bearing on the story. Everyone’s relationships can be summarized pretty quickly in a few lines of dialogue and the plot doesn’t ever feel like it requires outside knowledge.
Gameplay is where Touhou Luna Nights really shines. Gone are the whips and melee weapons of old. Sakuya’s main attacks involve her throwing a large number of knives at her enemies – an attack which never gets old. But throwing knives costs MP, so you have to be careful to not go crazy or you can find yourself trapped in a room surrounded by enemies with no way to fight back.
So what do you do if you run out of MP, suck and die? Well this is where Touhou Luna Nights throws its first curveball. You can regain some of your HP or MP by performing a graze, an action of jumping close enough to an enemy that they can kiss you without letting them hit you. It creates an interesting balance of risk and reward where despite the range of your attacks, you have incentive to get in close and personal with your bigger threats.
Sakuya is not just a HP and MP sucking knife ninja – she has one other great trick up her sleeve. She can mess with time. These mechanics are slowly doled out through the game and implemented to outstanding effect. You start by being able to slow time and progress to being able to stop it. With time stopped, you can dodge enemy attacks, set up a few of your own, and even get some of that sweet graze healing.
The time travel tricks add a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay. Daggers thrown during stopped time can be used as platforms. Meanwhile, some traps, platforms, and enemies will continue to move during stopped time, or will move backwards in stopped time, or will only move during stopped time. Each room varies the enemies, locations, time mechanics, and traps, leading to a game that rarely feels stale or repetitive.
Bosses are another area where Touhou Luna Nights shines. Each boss brings frantic gameplay and a little of that bullet hell feel from the Touhou games. The time freezing mechanics allow you to more easily dodge boss attacks and set up your own, but they by no means make the bosses trivial. Each boss took multiple battles of learning their mechanics and timings to overcome.
Other mechanics in the game don’t fare as well as the time manipulation. There is a mechanic where the money you pick up can be held onto to give you slight passive benefits or spent on consumable items. The problem is that the benefits feel small and the purchases don’t feel useful, so it becomes a trade of almost nothing for almost nothing. Similarly, while there are level up mechanics, one level doesn’t feel much different from the others.
Overall, Touhou Luna Nights is an extremely fun and satisfying Metroidvania which grows the medium through interesting mechanics and a bullet hell feel. While the story feels a little extraneous and the levels, while large, do not feel worth back tracking through, the game is definitely worth a play.