For those unfamiliar with the Touhou Project, it’s a series of Japanese bullet-hell shooters developed by ZUN from Team Shanghai Alice. The colourful cast of characters that the Touhou games’ feature have grown into somewhat of a worldwide phenomenon over the years and have gathered a significant following.
Touhou has had multiple merchandise agreements and partnerships formed since its initial creation and Azure Reflections builds on this even further. The game is being marketed in the West via a fully translated PlayStation 4 release and has the original Japanese voice actors reprising their roles as the characters gamers have grown to love over time.
With the formalities out the way, Azure Reflections is set in Gensokyo and follows the story of 3 heroines. Players will at first only be allowed to play as Reimu Hakurei and will have to unlock the other two characters upon completing the game’s story mode. Thankfully, the game is newbie friendly and won’t punish you too harshly unless you start out with the hardest difficulty. Those that are interested in the story and those that are new to the Touhou franchise can rest assured that playing on easy will still give you a great gameplay experience. Bullet-hell shooters can be overwhelming at times for newcomers but Azure Reflections has an incredibly fair difficulty scale.
Players will be presented with a tutorial which they need to play through to understand how to survive the bullet-hell that awaits them. Gameplay in Azure Reflections is incredibly simple with the player being able to shoot in two directions and move around on a 2D side-scrolling plane as per normal in a game such as this. However, Azure Reflections introduces a Danmaku Rush system where the player can absorb enemy bullets and unleash a powerful dash attack to damage enemies, destroy bullets and defeat bosses. And defeat bosses you shall since this is the major selling point of the game.
Azure Reflections features multiple boss battles with each boss being an important Touhou universe character with their own unique personality. Upon facing each boss a visual-novel cutscene will trigger and players will be treated to story content. Some of this is genuinely funny and enjoyable. The story, however, is supplementary to the incredibly addictive, fast-paced gameplay but thankfully, the fully Japanese voiced characters add a unique flair to the title. There are of course tropes at play in the game with stereotypical anime writing being used but the game is enjoyable nonetheless.
Mastering the art of dodging enemy bullets, shooting back at enemies and collecting various coloured blocks that serve different purposes in the game is what Azure Reflection’s gameplay revolves around. Enemies may fire bullets in mesmerizing patterns and learning these patterns and how to dodge, absorb and shield yourself from the bullets is incredibly satisfying. Being able to survive a hailstorm of bullets and come out on top leaves you with a sense of victory and the score meter eggs you on to do better than the last time. This however only really comes into play if you’ve invested a significant amount of time into the game and have unlocked all 3 characters and want to spend more time with the title unlocking all there is to offer.
Graphically Azure Reflections looks pretty with detailed 2D characters and enemies but the side-scrolling backgrounds could have used some more work. The anime-esque visuals save the title somewhat but when games that make use of similar art styles can be so visually pleasing, Azure Reflections lets gamers down somewhat. The soundtrack used in the game is great and the voice acting is superb so this makes up for the lackluster visuals.
Overall, Azure Reflections story is a rather enjoyable experience but since the game makes use of a time-loop as part of its narrative, some may be put off with facing the same bosses multiple times to get the full story. That said, the game itself is rather addictive with its bullet-hell gameplay and side-scrolling shooting goodness so those that are fans of the genre will find themselves right at home. The unlockables extend the longevity of the title and Azure Reflections is a worthwhile entry in the Touhou franchise.