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The series staple point items do not matter as much as they do in other games, due to the introduction of spirits, although they still add up to the total score. Try to collect point items at the maximum value as much as possible; make good use of the point of collection (PoC). Increasing your point item value (PIV) is done most importantly by collecting blue spirits, and also by graze. Spirits do not move towards you above the PoC, so try to collect as many as possible, before they disappear. Grazing is very situational since it does not fill your gauge and awards much less extra PIV than using trances.
Using Your Trance Wisely
Trance is the main mechanic and is absolutely key to scoring the game. During trance mode, the effect of spirits increase dramatically; blue spirits will give +100 PIV instead of +10, and red and green spirits give +2 to your life and bomb pieces instead of +1, respectively. Thus, it is important to memorize select points where you can enter Trance to ensure maximum profit from spirits. This is especially important if your goal is to obtain a lot of lives and bombs from trances, as only a few enemies on stages will drop red and green spirits, and wise use of Trance can make a very large difference in the amount of extends you obtain. Try to defeat enemies faster, as this will make them generate more blue spirits, and keep them on the screen for as long as possible before they fade out (about 10 seconds), in order to use trance mode optimally. Both during and after a trance, it is key to maintain a spirit chain, which spawns grey spirits that fill your trance gauge faster, as well as giving you raw score equal to point items.
Bosses and Spirits
Divine spirits will scatter around the bosses as you damage them, but there is a catch: if you are in point blank range, you will be able to collect them before they scatter at all and the speed of the spirits coming out increases dramatically. Bosses are, therefore, a great chance to boost PIV and add a large amount of raw score by using trances while standing right in front of them, and bombing in front of them to quickly refill the gauge. Although being in point blank range often requires invincibility, there are several attacks where it is completely safe to stand in front of the boss for a prolonged period of time (such as Yuyuko's second card or Kyouko's midboss card), so it is wise to do so during these moments, either focused or unfocused depending on which shot is stronger up close. Just remember to dodge when the bullets come along.
Practice is of utmost importance. It becomes a lot easier to understand where every bullet and enemy spawns on each stage by playing often. Watch your friends' replays or see how the top hardcore players rake in the masses and get a feeling of how you can incorporate it into your gameplay.
When it gets too rough, try on a lower difficulty and work your way up to the top. And do not forget to have fun.
Reimu is, as usual, arguably the most flexible character for beginners. Her shot type introduced a standard that newer games have followed; the unfocused shot is homing seals (though they "home" in on enemies with somewhat less accuracy, somewhere between "traditional" ReimuA and UFO's ReimuB), while the focused shot fires powerful needles straight ahead. Her smaller hitbox can allow less experienced players to maneuver more easily. Her damage output when focused is also consistent, so it does not matter where on the screen you are, which makes her easier to use for a beginner as well. Ultimately, this is the Reimu that we all know and love. Her trance is however on the weak end, down there with Sanae's and losing to Marisa's and Youmu's powerful trances.
Marisa's shots are all about enemy sweeping, and her high speed is great for spirit chaining, as she can reach the next batch of enemies quickly. Unfocused, her shot is a set of lasers (however, they have been gimped somewhat, as they no longer pierce enemies); focused, a set of slow-moving missiles that have a slight splash damage effect and is very strong when up close; in fact, other than Youmu's charged slashes from the right distance, this is by far the highest damage output in the game. As for her unfocused shot, at levels 3 and 4, two of her lasers shoot slightly outward diagonally, making her somewhat more effective at sweeping enemies, although this also means sacrificing a bit of power when dealing with bosses. The option spread makes it mostly impossible to hit bosses with all four lasers by getting in close proximity. Besides her shotgun, Marisa's strength lies in her resources, having the strongest bomb in the game, and becoming exceptionally deadly in trance mode (although it is a bit precise to align her for the full shot to hit), so use that to your advantage.
Sanae's shot type is significantly different from that of her previous appearance in UFO. She deals the least damage of the four, with the weakest shots both normally and in trance mode, although her wide spread shot types can be helpful for beginners. Unfocused, she shoots green wind slashes in a multi-directional forward spread; focused, direct forward waves of the same bullets. Due to the nature of her focused shot, it can be tricky to find a spot in which all of her bullets hit the enemy, but there is always a decent chance that at least some of her shots will be making contact at any given time. Its low damage also means that Sanae has trouble keeping up a spirit chain from afar, as this is damage-dependent. Her unfocused shot, when up close to a boss, deals the highest damage, dealing more damage than for example Reimu's focused shot. Her special ability makes blue spirits fill her gauge more, but despite that she is not able to use more trances than others. Unfortunately, all of this makes her less flexible in the hands of high-level players.
Youmu can definitely pack a punch. Unfocused, she fires countless tiny cuts: two streams from her directly, and one more from each option, leading to a maximum of six streams of bullets. Her focused shot is rather unique in that it is a charged attack: hold down shot while focused, or focus while shooting, and then release (there is an audio cue for when the attack is charged) and she creates a barrage of very large, very powerful horizontal sword swipes that annihilate most regular enemies on contact, including larger fairies. It also deals high damage to bosses, ending attacks faster than any other character can assuming you are not too far away from the boss. Her options trail behind her in a queue, so if you want to spread fire horizontally, move left or right, and if you want to forward focus, move up or down (so the options stand on top of each other). Unfortunately, this means that it can be tricky to significantly damage bosses with the unfocus shot, due to having to align Youmu properly. Her trance shot is a "constant" version of her focus shot, up there with Marisa in strength; it works especially well with large swarms of enemies that enter the screen from both sides at once.