Touhou: Luna Nights
Before you read
I am well acquainted with the Touhou franchise. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a huge fan, but I have played multiple games and know a decent lot about the characters. I am also very experienced with Metroidvania’s, making this a game up my alley. There is no difficulty option as far as I’m aware, so I’ve played on the difficulty that was given to me. Before I wrote this review, I made sure to obtain every item and explore the map 100%, though I didn’t bother with the boss rush ranks since I didn’t feel the need to have nightmares for days. The game was played on Steam. Apparently there’s extra content on the Switch including a new boss, but I have no way of knowing.
The Touhou franchise is known for its great music, so it should come as no surprise that Luna Nights is no exception. These are all remixes from previous games, give them a listen!
Sometimes I lose track of how many Touhou spin-off games there even are and if they’re official to begin with. I mean, there’s a game on Steam called Sakuya Izayoi Gives You Advice And Dabs and I’ve never heard of that before. That said, I do like to play the spin-off games every now and then because they’re slightly less likely to kick me down multiple times with their bullet-hell gameplay. One of these games has the before-mentioned Sakuya Izayoi as the main protagonist in a Metroidvania! This was a birthday present from one of my good friends a year ago and I was actually very interested in picking up a Touhou game again. And hey, it’s a Metroidvania. I’m the self-proclaimed master of Metroidvanias so that is something I should thoroughly enjoy. But is this a worthy Metroidvania, and something only fans of Touhou can enjoy or also outsiders?
Totally not Castlevania
If there is one thing I genuinely smile about when thinking of Touhou: Luna Nights, is how it’s a literal parody of Symphony of the Night in some regards. Items Sakuya uses are very clearly inspired by that game such as a chainsaw she throws in a curve like the Belmonts throw an axe. This is also applicable to the castle itself, clock tower included. The castle itself is fairly linear overall though, with there always being only one way forward. There are at least a good amount of branching paths however, so it doesn’t feel that linear. That, and there are quite a lot of hidden rooms to be found. Like, 20% of the entire map probably consists of hidden rooms alone. Best thing is that most, if not all of them require no abilities to get inside. It is very much possible that you do need an ability inside of that room like the double jump, but you’ll at least have it registered on your map. There are a decent amount of rooms to revisit after you’ve gotten a specific ability, and they’re all optional containing weapons- or upgrades. In general, this copy of Gensokyo is not amongst the best when it comes to freedom, but it does a good job at portraying Sakuya’s abilities. While I will go into gameplay later, I can at least tell you now that if you’re familiar with Touhou, you’re probably aware of Sakuya’s main ability: manipulation of time. This is implemented well in puzzles which are not difficult to understand when you learn how Sakuya’s abilities work. I had a good amount of fun going through the castle because it kept me at edge at all times.
The main appeal to Touhou: Luna Nights however, is Sakuya herself. I mean, she’s a master of time with an endless supply of knives for crying out loud, what’s not to love? Most abilities she learns are staples to the genre like double jumping and sliding, though Sakuya does step it up a notch and adds a knife to every single one of them. Alucard might slide into enemies as well, but Sakuya does it with a massive kitchen knife of death and destruction attached to her leg. There is also a benefit to getting up close as you’re able to recover HP and MP by being in danger but still dodging attacks. I never truly understood how most of it worked because sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and at other times I had no idea how to recover which stat, but it worked when I needed it to at least. MP is needed for all of her attacks though, so it is important to keep it away from the low side of the bar. Her main attack is nothing special, just a flurry of knives she can throw at a fast rate with deadly accuracy. Nope, nothing special. Other special attacks are found hidden in the castle and while they are not unique either like the abilities, they are very fun to use. Especially the ”thousand knives” attack which does massive damage and is a candidate for most broken tactic in the game for sure. Not that I mind of course~. But with all the normal- but very good attacks and abilities out of the way, let’s dive into the real meat shall we? I mean this is cool and all, but nothing can beat the ability to completely stop- or slow down time for everything surrounding you. Obstacles, enemies, bosses; they’re all at your mercy when you stop time. She could be a memelord and draw a clowns mask on your face, drink a cup of tea and do the dishes while time is stopped but no, she prefers to place a bunch of knives everywhere. Undo the time stop and voila, it’s a total masquerade~. This is obviously what sets Sakuya apart from other Metroidvania protagonists, since controlling time is just so much fun and very effective as well. Like MP, it does have its own gauge so it can’t be abused completely, but it can very well be used to recover MP since all attacks consume the time gauge instead of MP. Oh, and she can use the knives she throws during her time freeze as makeshift platforms. I love time stop so much.
Bullet hell Metroidvania
Touhou games are pretty infamous for their high difficulty or to be more precise, testing your ability to learn patterns. Being a spin-off, Touhou: Luna Nights is not nearly as difficult as the main games. As per usual with most Metroidvania games, there is just always that one abusable weapon or mechanic that makes or breaks the game, in this case being the ”thousand knives”. But being ”not nearly as difficult as the main games” does absolutely not mean this game will be a breeze. This is mainly due to Sakuya not really getting much stronger in terms of health- and strength throughout the course of the game. Levels don’t grant HP increase for example, and the only way to get more health is to find a few stat-boosting items hidden in the castle. Apparently gems that are dropped by enemies–that are also the currency–have stat-boosting elements to them but I hardly noticed it. Don’t just expect to power through bosses because you’re guaranteed going to fail. While not as clustered as the main games, bosses will still occasionally launch everything they’ve got at you so mastery of the mechanics is recommended. I did really enjoy fighting the bosses; they were a fair challenge, and their patterns were easy to learn. Same can be said for the enemies in the castle itself, though I really hated the ghosts that would teleport away when you fire at them constantly. Even time stop did not always help with them, and I usually just ignored them. But aside from them, most enemies were pretty good as well. I mean, what games other than Touhou has a fairy with a heavy machine gun? I rest my case.
It’s probably a good moment to bring up the question I asked earlier: can outsiders that are not familiar with Touhou enjoy Luna Nights? While that’s hard for me to say as I am a Touhou fan, I’m of the opinion that it’s a very solid Metroidvania that anyone should be able to enjoy. You could say that it’s a budget Metroidvania to an extend with how short it is and how much it ”borrows” from other Metroidvania’s, but the developers executed it pretty well regardless and that’s what matters most. The castle is fun to explore, there are a ton of secrets but most of all: controlling Sakuya Izayoi is an absolute joy. It is a decently difficult game with stats that barely increase over the course of the game, yet encourages risky play to recover HP and MP. Stopping time is a great mechanic to use and balanced since it’s on a cooldown–at least, for most of the game. It is true that you unlock an ability that breaks the game later on but eh, that is pretty late-game and it’s very much optional. I’ve had a good time mastering the game and especially the fun boss battles, and therefore my recommendation is to beat and complete it!
And that’s the game for this week! I was having a good time pretty much my entire playthrough. I had a bit of trouble rating this game’s difficulty though, but I feel it’s pretty accurate. I did die several times in my playthroughs–even to normal enemies–but it was perfectly doable in the end once you learn the patterns. I personally didn’t even use the ”thousand knives” ability that much; true men of culture use another well-beloved item that I won’t spoil. Trust me, once you found the weapon you know exactly what I mean. I’m already working on the next review so that should be ready for next week!
Games like Touhou: Luna Nights:
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – I’ve been making comparisons to this game the entire review, so it should come as no surprise that I bring up one of my favourite Metroidvania’s ever as comparison. I think this game has already been well-known by the gaming industry as the game that defined the Metroidvania genre so if you haven’t played it yet, you’re missing out!
Record of Lodoss War -Deelit in Wonder Labyrinth- – This is currently an early-access game but is looking to be very similar to the previously mentioned games. And it’s made by Team Ladybug as well who are the developers behind Touhou: Luna Nights!
Braid – One of the OG indie games, Braid is not a Metroidvania but also uses the ability to stop- and revert time as a main mechanic.
Question of the Review: If you could have a Metroidvania with a main protagonist having any superpower you desire, what would that be? Let me know down below or reply to me on Discord or Twitter!