Spell cards (スペルカード Superukādo) appear to play an important role in casting powerful character-specific magic. During a spell card trance, the user's offensive and defensive capabilities appear to increase greatly. In some cases, the user becomes completely invincible for the duration of the trance. However, the user may only cast the spell that was specified by the spell card until the trance ends, limiting its overall usefulness.
Game Spell Cards
In the Touhou Project games, spell cards manifest themselves in a few ways.
In the shooting games, spell cards primarily act as a source of danmaku by enemy characters as they shoots a pattern or sequence of bullets at the player character as they try to dodge them. They each have a name of some sort that's required, and the names notoriously uses quotation marks (「example」). The spell cards contain health bars as usual that needs to be emptied in order to defeat the spell card. These are usually used by bosses and midbosses on stages and have never been used by a stage enemy. As well, they are used as life-saving "bombs" by the player characters to act invincible and cancel out the bullets.
In the game UI, enemy spell cards are clearly denoted. A sound effect plays, the name appears on-screen along with a portrait of the user, and the background changes into a dreamy pattern associated with the user. Since Perfect Cherry Blossom, a thin white spell circle also forms around the user and gradually shrinks until the time limit of the spell expires. This is distinct from the red magic circle that appears around bosses, regardless of whether they are currently casting a spell.
In the fighting games, spell cards generally exist as "supers" (special-condition, high-damage, high-priority attacks used in many 2D fighting games). In addition, during the story modes, they act as special movesets used by enemy characters. In Scarlet Weather Rhapsody and Touhou Hisoutensoku, in addition to spell cards, two other types of cards are used: system cards (which are the same for everybody), and skill cards (which affects special moves of the chosen character).
Spell cards were probably the first known instance of a shooting game's bullet patterns being given official, personalized names. Many danmaku fans appreciated this extra touch, as it clearly showed that ZUN cared about the patterns as much as the fans did. This fact also holds true in the Twilight Frontier fighting games as well. The first boss to use the system in a game was Rumia.
Spell Card System
It was specified in Perfect Memento in Strict Sense that the spell card system was developed by Reimu Hakurei (however, the original draft being written on a youkai contract has called this into question) and first used in the Scarlet Mist Incident. They were designed to give even weak youkai and humans a chance to win, as well as to provide youkai a way to defeat the Hakurei Shrine in a fair duel. This reason was explicitly used in Silent Sinner in Blue, where Marisa Kirisame convinced Watatsuki no Yorihime to use the spell card rules in order to make fights equal and, as Yorihime puts it, to prevent bloodshed.
In Silent Sinner in Blue, Marisa Kirisame describes them in terms similar to a regular duel: You must dodge your opponents or be crushed by them. However, the difference between spell cards and a normal duel is that "the most beautiful one wins. It's a very mental contest." Reisen Udongein Inaba clarifies in Cage in Lunatic Runagate Chapter Six that "beautiful" in part means without dirty tricks. As it seems in the following, spell cards regulate rules for the time a duel is held such as: Used equipment, a time limit, winning and losing conditions and restrictions (mostly for the dodging part).
Spell cards however don't seem to be limited to magic. Sanae Kochiya is able to call upon the power of a god, while Nitori Kawashiro or Marisa are able to use equipment, such as the Mini-Hakkero. Everything that can be used as an attack counts as a spell card, including everyday objects. Kogasa Tatara throws umbrellas in some of her spell cards while Minoriko Aki uses potatoes. Not having such equipment cannot create unique spell cards. If Marisa didn't have her Hakkero, then she wouldn't able to use her Master Spark.
It has been noted that some characters aren't the type to use spell cards, such as Rinnosuke Morichika.
Spell cards were initially described as pieces of paper bearing the descriptions of their respective spells (along with the possible approval of the shrine maiden) in Perfect Memento in Strict Sense. Immaterial and Missing Power features a very concrete gameplay interpretation of this setting element: before they become available for use, spell cards must be declared with the input 22D, which darkens the stage and displays an animation of the character flourishing the card. Nowadays, however, the series ignores this idea and simply treats the cards as named spells, curses, and other such attacks used by the characters.
- At first, Spell Card categories were more verbose - rather than being simply the type and the fu (符, "sign", "amulet") kanji, the wording was initially "Amulet of [type]" (○の御札). The only instance of this left is in Embodiment of Scarlet Devil's menu, which refers to the selectable shot types with said wording and tells the player to select an amulet.
- List of Spell Cards
- Perfect Memento in Strict Sense: Reimu Hakurei - The Vampire Incident
- Perfect Memento in Strict Sense: Draft of Spell Card Rules