Game Title: Azure Reflections
Company: Unties / Sony Music Entertainment Japan
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Digital Download
Battery Life: 2.5 – 3.5 hours
Download: 3.3 GB

The Touhou Project is a massive selection of games in Windows PC, and has slowly been getting new releases on consoles and handhelds in the past few years. I reviewed a few Touhou games on the PS Vita, and one on the Nintendo Switch. With greater awareness brings in more fans to this franchise that started on Windows and is backed by an expansive lore behind its characters and world.

Yet, many console gamers don’t know what Touhou truly is or what it originated from. Games like Genso Wanderer and Double Focus are more geared as RPGs and 2D Platformers, when the franchise originated as Bullet Hell shooting games.

Last month, handheld fans got a taste of Touhou’s roots, in the form of not another RPG, Platformer, of Fighting Game, but a Horizontal Bullet Hell shooter. Here is my review of Touhou: Azure Reflections (listed on the eShop just as Azure Reflections) for the Nintendo Switch!

Story

azure 2 - story

This game takes place around Reimu, the shrine maiden that is a centerpoint in a lot of Touhou games, whom becomes involved when the “Scarlet Mist Incident” begins to reappear and repeat itself. Trapped with other Gensokyo residents, she travels back to the Scarlet Mansion to resolve the Mist Incident for the second time.

The problem with this game’s story is too little explanation and background. In essence, Azure Reflections is a direct sequel to Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, and does a decent job in its intro of describing the events of that game and what leads up to the incident repeating here. But the problem lies in character interactions that are long-winded and rely on knowing character quirks without explanation. As much as the intro summarizes Touhou 6, it does nothing to describe anything about the characters involved.

This is a problem with console-released Touhou games in general. Double Focus, Burst Battle, and this game throw you in, expecting you to know the backgrounds of all of these characters and the series, itself. While Genso Wanderer babies you too much, giving you incredibly-long-winded conversations every time you talk to virtually any NPC. The franchise has yet to find a good balance in terms of story when a new game comes out.

Gameplay

azure 4 - accessories

Azure Reflections is a Bullet Hell shooter, where you move your character around a 2D plane and shoot down incoming enemies, bosses, and do your best to avoid massive barrages of magical bullets flying your way. Although it is worth noting that, unlike Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, this is a Horizontal Bullet Hell Shooter, rather than a Vertical one.

The game has a few game modes to offer here. You have Start to access the Story Mode levels, Tutorial to learn the basics of the game, Accessory to buy and equip cosmetic accessories for the playable characters, along with a Database to access character information, player information, and other informative parts of the game.

Story Mode is where the meat of the game is, though. When you go into the game, you choose a difficulty, a playable character, and bullet style. These can be altered for different experiences as you clear the game and unlock playable characters and switch up your bullet style for different ways of playing.

azure 3 - pew

The idea here is that you’re thrown into 2D planes and must fly around and shoot down enemies as they show up until you reach a Boss, and then defeat that boss to move onto the next stage. This is pretty simple, but there is a bit more to it than that. Instead of having a long level and a short boss fight, the emphasis is more on boss battles than the levels, themselves.

Bosses have several phases to them, where they are firing off bullets and when they use Spell Cards to switch up their attack patterns. This is important, because each Spell Card has a time limit and your goal is to wear down their health while avoiding bullets quickly enough to rush them and capture the Spell Card before it’s used up. This is a key factor towards access the True Ending path for each run.

The thing about this shooter is all about managing your hitbox and using Rush attacks. Navigating around bullets isn’t too hard, considering only around the character’s heart registers as a hit on your health to stagger you and knock you out of your current position. The game has a focus ability to move slower and show that hitbox so you can carefully navigate around bullets while still firing on your opponent to multi-task your way into being careful and also finishing battles more quickly.

azure 5 - charge

Rush attacks is the other offensive capability you have that the entire game is basically built around. Called a Danmaku Rush (which is japanese for Bullet Hell Rush), it is a recharging skill where you can rush through bullets and absorb them into damage that can then be inflicted upon any enemy you fly into. THe goal behind this feature is to shoot at bosses until their HP is low enough for you to charge through their own bullets and use that power to knock them out and either push them into their next phase or capture the Spell Card they’re using against you.

Now, let’s get to the difficulty of the game. Bullet Hell games are known for the Hell portion of their name. You will have massive barrages and patterns of bullets flying at you that cover the entire screen, creating a difficult multi-tasking game of firing on your opponent while also watching those bullet patterns and finding safe paths to navigate around. This is very difficult, even on the Easy Difficulty, and the higher the difficulty, the harder patterns the bullets are thrown your way.

But, the game does give you ways around it. You can sacrifice some firepower to make a barrier around you to dissipate or freeze bullets, or you can use your own Spellcards for massive damage to any bullet and enemy around you, just so long as the enemy isn’t also using a Spellcard or you’ll automatically fail the capture and risk being pushed out of the True Ending. So, even if you aren’t good at these sorts of games, it is still doable with these features along with the lower difficulty settings.

azure 6 - card

Now, once you clear the game, you’re only partially there. There is the main story, plus the “Extra” stage that can only be unlocked by clearing the game’s True End path with all 3 playable characters. This is right in tune with the original Touhou shooters, and as such, the Extra Stage is incredibly difficult, even on Easy.

That brings us to time. Although you do several runs of the game across unlocking everything, and even more for grinding for currency for all the Accessories, it’s not very long. Jumping between Easy and Normal difficulties, I’d beaten the game with all 3 characters as well as the Extra Stage’s Secret Boss in less than 4 hours of play time. Granted, I still have a lot of accessories to unlock and buy, along with doing Hard Mode and the unlockable difficulty setting beyond it, this isn’t a very long game.

Controls

Controlling the game is pretty easy. The tutorial shows you everything you can do, and you won’t be using all of the Switch’s buttons across the game, especially considering it has Single Joy-Con play enabled.

Moving around is done with the Left Analog Stick or the Arrow Buttons. You shoot right with the A button and shoot left with the Y button. You can use the B button to use a Spell Card and the X for the Danmaku Rush attack.

Finally, all of the triggers are used, but 3 of them share the same ability. The R button uses the Barrier skill while L, ZL, and ZR are all options for activating Focus Mode to move more slowly and do more precise movements.

Presentation

azure 7 - pres

Graphically, this game looks really nice and definitely has some high production values attached to them. While the graphics look pretty smooth and basic when you’re shooting, every time you get close-up views of the 3D models shows just how detailed the game is. There are very few jagged edges, and they look like high-tier anime-style renders, and keep that quality with any cosmetics you equip to them.

The inclusion of many well-done remixes of Touhou music is welcome here, too. I was not a fan of some of the remixes done in Burst Battle, but they did a really good job raising the intenseness of a lot of music here, especially the remix of U.N. Owen Was Her.

Performance is the same. It runs nice and smooth, from start to finish.

Battery Life

I was hoping for high battery times for this game. While this is above the average for 3D games, it’s not as much as we got for Burst Battle. Here are my times, from 100% to 0%

Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 39 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 48 minutes

Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 09 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 22 minutes

As I said above, it’s not as good as the previous Touhou Switch title, but it’s still plenty of time to get most of the game done in one charge.

In conclusion, Touhou Azure Reflections is handheld fans’ first exposure to the roots of the Touhou series. Although these games still haven’t found a true balance in story and it’s a bit of a short experience for the asking price, anyone who’s a fan of Touhou and Bullet Hell games will find a beautiful and intense shooter starring everyone’s favorite Shrine Maiden.

Final Score: 8.5/10