Touhou is not a mainstream game series. As a result, Touhou cannot be played with the same mindset and attitude as a mainstream game. The more you play Touhou, the more you will start seeing videogames in a completely different way than you used to. Here is a guide that will help you adopt the mentality of a Touhou gamer, as well as some general tips that will help you get better at dodging these massive barrages of shots.
- 1 Basic
- 2 Intermediate
- 3 Advanced
- 4 Community rules of conduct
Golden rule: it's OK to lose
Mainstream games usually have an extremely merciful Easy mode aimed at people who might not like paying for a game that cannot be easily finished. As a shmup series, Touhou does not follow this convention. Touhou is a very difficult game, a game of skill, a game of self-improvement, a game where every player strives every day to be better and better. The difficulty might be daunting, but that doesn't mean the games are unbeatable: just look at all the people who can clear the Extra Stages or the storyline on Lunatic difficulty.
This is why there is absolutely no shame in losing all your lives; it's a normal part of everyday gameplay, and it doesn't mean you suck at the game. It just means you have to practice more, and if you keep practicing, one day you will be able to 1-credit-clear (1CC) the game in the difficulty of your choosing. So don't panic if you hear your girl going pichu~n due to a bullet you haven't even seen; keep playing, no matter how much you keep losing, and eventually these barrages that at first seemed impossible to dodge will become manageable, you will finally reach the final boss, and you will learn to navigate through densely packed shots like it's second nature.
Focus only on clearing
You will see some players boasting about how good they are at grazing, saying you're not supposed to bomb, or dismissing some characters as "easy mode". Do not listen to them. Your goal, as a beginner, is to only clear the games, pure and simple, and nothing more -- if you try to do anything beyond your league, you will fail. Be pragmatic, and use to their fullest extent the resources the game provides to give you a better shot at clearing the game. Drop as many bombs as required, experiment with different characters and only use the ones you are best and feel most comfortable with, and look which cards are easier to survive by defeating the boss or by waiting them out.
Use continues and practice modes
Too often there's a stage section, a boss, or a spellcard that for some reason you might find particularly difficult; maybe it's because you haven't figured how to dodge it, or you can't follow the shots properly, or you lack dodging skills. That's why the stage practice mode exists, and that's also why Imperishable Night, Ten Desires, and Double Dealing Character have a spellcard practice mode. Not only does this make it possible to practice only the parts where you lose most of your lives, but it will also keep you motivated by allowing you to measure your progress in terms of concrete metrics, such as capture rate in the case of spellcards or score in the case of stages. In addition, grinding a troublesome spellcard can also result in perfecting that one skill you lack, which can be greatly beneficial to your overall gameplay.
In addition, if you cannot clear the game with a single credit, don't be afraid of using your continues. They give you an extra chance to polish your performance in a stage and hopefully advance one stage further, and this way not only will you improve at that one stage that is giving you trouble, but you will also get to practice more stages than if you give up after spending your first credit.
Learn the hitboxes
Danmaku games specialize in using visual distraction to confuse the player. The main component for this is the hitbox, which is almost always smaller than the actual sprite. This applies to both your character and the bullets. Experience will show you just how close you can get to a bullet without fear.
While the PC-98 games as well as Embodiment of Scarlet Devil have no indication of your character's hitbox, all the rest of the games have cut down on the guessing a bit. They have a white dot that appears when holding the slow/focus key; this dot is your hitbox. Even when the actual hitbox isn't visible (during unfocused movement), there usually are visual clues on the character's sprite that can give you a more-or-less precise idea of the hitbox's whereabouts.
Use the whole screen
There is a tendency for new players to hug the bottom of the screen to try and get as much response time as possible. The problem with this is that you restrict yourself to only one dimension, left and right. Many advanced patterns require the use of the second dimension to successfully escape, and the only way you'll figure these out is if you are comfortable with the idea of using the whole screen.
The point of collection helps erase this tendency, but you should still make an effort to stay off the bottom during bosses.
Keep track of your statistics
If you can't clear for the life of yourself a certain difficulty or boss, keeping track of your statistics can help you stay motivated. Most of the games present you with a score and a clear percentage, and you can use this to keep track of how far you get every time you try to beat a difficulty you can't clear. On Extra Stages it is also a good idea to keep track of how many spellcards can you beat and how far can you get through the one that you die on.
Streaming, or herding, is the basic principle of controlling bullets in danmaku shooters. The majority of the enemy shots are aimed directly at you, so by standing still, you're effectively luring the enemies to shoot at the spot you're in. To take advantage of this, move as little as possible so that you can gather all aimed bullets in one tight stream slowly following you from one side. This way, you can dodge most of the incoming bullet bursts with just a small tap away from the stream, giving yourself more freedom to move in case of emergency.
To change the direction of the herd, do a quick move away from the stream (called a "jerk" or "cutback") to make an opening, wait a bit to let the enemies re-adjust their aim to your new location, then proceed streaming to the opposite direction. It is advised to make cutbacks perpendicular to the stream source to increase the size of the opening (i.e., if the majority of the bullets are shot from the center of the screen, and you're streaming from left to right, cutback diagonally towards the top-right corner of the screen). If you're doing it right, the opening will be large enough to let you go through, no matter how dense the bullet stream is. As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to cutback when you're reaching one third of the screen.
The more experienced you get, the more calm and confident you become about the streams and going through openings. As such, the technique becomes the key to evading most aimed attacks. Danmaku shooters developed by Cave popularised the U-shaped movement pattern based entirely around streaming and doing cutbacks at the edges of the screen to be able to survive the bullet onslaught during the stages.
This technique is the key to getting many graze points from any streamable attack.
This is a necessary skill to get good at all games. While there is enough randomization to keep it interesting, learning the general flow of the patterns is essential for success, particularly in the Extra stages.
Memorization is especially prevalent if you're doing scoreruns as opposed to playing for survival, since scoring systems in games like Perfect Cherry Blossom and Mountain of Faith require you to remember the correct bombing locations and enemy appearance timing to succeed.
Expand your visual range
Don't focus on just your character and the boss marker on the bottom. Try to look at a greater area, so you can read more bullets and try to determine their paths. With enough practice, you should be able to interpret the bullets around you and figure out the best way to move.
Combined with effective use of streaming, you can safely observe the whole screen and react accordingly. Certain players also advise looking at your shot to determine the precise horizontal position without having to look directly at the character.
Community rules of conduct
Forming part of a community of fellow players can greatly enhance your experience as a Touhou player, especially considering many Touhou players have a significant emotional commitment to their hobby stemming from all the effort they have invested in clearing the games. In addition, being around greatly skilled players can be an excellent way to learn and to receive feedback about your skills, and being around people who have your same interest can lead to making new friends -- it is in fact not uncommon for two Touhou players who have only seen each other online to strike an offline friendship and act like they were best friends. However, like all communities, there are some implicit yet necessary rules to follow:
- Be humble; don't brag. Regardless of how skilled you consider yourself, in a medium as far-reaching as the Internet there are lots of fellow Touhou players who are much more skilled than you. So if you brag about having cleared Imperishable Night on Normal, chances are you'll get an ego-crushing retort like "Ha! I've finished UFO on Lunatic with both legs cut off, in the night, drunk, with three IRS collectors knocking on my door, on the run from two Russian Mafia henchmen".
- The same goes the opposite way: even if you're skilled, don't brag. You don't want to crush a poor budding player's motivation by rubbing in his face his lack of skills. Even if you can clear UFO on Lunatic and the other guy still hasn't figured out Cirno's Icicle Fall Easy, this is absolutely not a cool thing to do. It scares newcomers away, and you never know if today's newcomer could be tomorrow's Touhou champion.
- If you're a newbie, it might be intimidating to be surrounded by so many experts. However, rest assured that these experts usually appreciate when someone shows willingness to learn. Even if you're literally the worst player of your entire Hisoutensoku community, even if Soku is literally the only serious fighting game you've played in your life and you can barely defeat the story mode, and even if you have to resort to calling yourself the group's resident punching bag, if you show you want to become a better player you will get respect even from the cream of the crop of the group -- sometimes even more than a self-centered expert!
- Discussions about the literary side of Touhou Project are part and parcel of any Touhou community, what with all the official expanded universe that has been written over the years. In these cases, make sure you distinguish between canon (stuff that actually happened) and fanon (fan theories that are at best merely plausible and at worst blatant untruths). It is generally considered very bad form to mix them up. Referencing this wiki can greatly help.
- Unless your community explicitly states otherwise, do not ask for download links. It is a controversial issue among some communities and it's better if you avoid it altogether.
- Remember that all people are different. The people you're talking with could very well know you're just kidding, and the next people you're talking with could take your insults seriously and feel offended.
- In the same way, remember that all communities are different: two different forums about the same thing and sharing the same basic culture will have different attitudes, different people, different opinions, and what one group might find acceptable, another could find offensive. If you have already gotten to know a certain community and yet don't feel satisfied, don't hesitate to move -- there are plenty of them, from Steam groups to Facebook groups to dedicated online forums, and it's not like there's anything that prevents you from freely moving to another forum.
- Don't test your moderator's patience. They hate people who ask questions that have already been covered by an FAQ, they hate people who badger other fellow players or disrupt the peace and order of a community, and quite often they actually enjoy punishing trolls and shitposters with extreme prejudice.
- Act decently; don't be lewd. Even if it's the internet, it leaves a very bad impression about yourself and the group when you start sharing your dirty thoughts about a fictional character. Mind you, this doesn't mean you should be a square, you just need to act like you'd act in an IRL group setting.
- Even if you're tired, write correctly. Use a spell checker, and if English is not your first language, use a thesaurus, a dictionary, and help yourself, but don't abuse Google Translate.
- The final golden rule of Touhou, and all videogames in general, is to play to your fullest and have fun: give all your effort and have fun, but don't force yourself to the point of turning it into heart-wrenching suffering. Play for yourself and only yourself, and have fun in doing so -- it is admittedly easy to fall into relentless competition due to the way people sometimes express themselves on the internet.
- It does not matter where you come from or what you used to do, you are welcome to the world of danmaku. Do you come from playing a lot of Dodonpachi or other CAVE shooters? Welcome aboard. Were you a pro-level Starcraft or LOL champion? Welcome aboard. Were you the top-ranked player of a huge Counter Strike server? Welcome aboard. Was Candy Crush the last game you played? Welcome aboard. Did you use to play absolutely everything on Easy out of fear of losing? Welcome aboard. What you used to do does not matter, the only thing that matters is where you stand here and now.
- Don't feel bad if you're not naturally good at danmaku. Comparing yourself to others on the internet is pointless, simply because on the internet there will always be someone better than you -- if you can clear UFO on Lunatic without holding Shift with no bombs, there will be someone who can do the same but with the Ultra mod. Different people advance at different paces, and nobody has ever declared that this was a competition. As stated before, people can show more respect and encouragement for someone who is putting effort in his playing technique, than for someone who is already at the top -- even if it takes you three years to clear Imperishable Night on Normal, it's the three years of effort that count.
- If you're not naturally good at danmaku, don't quit! It does not matter where you come from otherwise, your skill will quickly decay, and it will be very demotivating to keep going afterwards.
- Once again: Touhou is not a mainstream game series where anyone who is skilled enough can start from a high difficulty right off the bat and figure out stuff on the fly. It requires far more skill than your average modern videogame. It can take years of practice and a good heap of natural talent to clear a game on Lunatic. If you're a beginner and try to pull this off, you'll just end up getting crushed with extreme prejudice.
- Some players suggest starting from Normal mode, not Easy, arguing that discovering Touhou on the easiest difficulty setting will ruin your skills forever. This depends greatly on your natural talent and your ability to endure repeated defeat, however, so don't hesitate to go for Easy if you really find this learning curve way too steep.
- Unlike mainstream videogames, Extra Mode is not playing the game once again with extra bonuses -- it is a one-shot, very difficult stage usually comparable in overall difficulty to the normal game on Hard.