Last year I talked about a little kinetic novel called Touhou Mecha. The fangame earned my attention with its animated mech battles and obviously love of the source material. Its weaknesses were also obvious and that version of the game earned its 5/10. But the story doesn’t end there.
Since that time Dai-Sukima Dan, the team behind the project, has been hard at work not only refining Chapter 1 but developing Chapter 2. Because of their efforts, my first review is obsolete. I will be keeping it up for a few more days but this review will cover both chapters that have been released as one title.
And boy has DSD managed to make this old-school mecha anime fan happy.
Touhou Mecha is an alternate universe of the Toujou Project: a Galaga-type shooter by Team Shanghai Alice first released in 1996. Since that time, the project has achieved something of cult status with multiple fan projects, along with several official printed works, game sequels and even an animated spin off in the works. The story of the Touhou Project is also fairly straightforward: at the tail end of the Meiji Era (roughly 1890) a particularly spiritual area of Japan was sealed off by powerful humans who have been waging a war with the demons of the area. The only connection between this reality (Gensokyo) and our own is through a shrine located directly at the barrier of our worlds.
So it’s more or less feudal and early 20th century Japan stuff here. Still with me? Good.
Touhou Mecha actually continues from a discontinued webcomic done by the author and artist of the visual novel. The story holds onto the supernatural back story of its inspiration, however instead of a regressive history, the inhabitants of Gensokyo progressed faster than we have to the point where they have massive airships and heavy mechs. Before the events of the first chapter, the world of Gensokyo went through a serious war and a large portion of its demonic population ended up underground world of Old Hell. After that split, contention rose in the political circles of the demon world leading to yet another split with many of the senators and other elites forming the nation of Parsia close to the surface. Meanwhile, the old regime of Chireiden is trying to maintain its isolationist policies just as Parsia decides to expand its territory through conquest. Parsia holds the advantage until the religious sect of a certain wind goddess decides to intervene to achieve their own ends.
Chapter 1 delivers this information to us in a very heavy-handed fashion that left little room to develop its cast, but after some series revamping the back story is handled in a much more fluid way. There are still some scenes, like the interrogation scene, that maintains the old feel of being an info dump. But others manage to get across not only the important of the battle, but the culture and current issues of this particular universe without wearing thin on the audience. This is actually a rather straightforward and interesting way to build the world because it allows the reader to enjoy the battle scenes and even the conversational bits without feeling like they have to take notes.
Now let’s jump to Chapter 2! We immediately deal with the fallout from the release of the aptly dubbed ‘Hell’s Army’ as both sides try to figure out their next move. What I love about this chapter is that it’s actually very well thought out. Great care is given to making both Parsia and the unknown army into a viable threat and the plans both sides come up with to battle one another involve solid ideas as well as political intrigue. I like this because the different approaches all of the leaders use in facing their enemies and dealing with both victory and defeat reveal their personalities. In this medium in particular, it is rare to see conflict of any scale used as a tool for character development. Hopefully enough people will see this and warm up to the idea as the war does a better job of setting the demonic girls apart than any teenage drama ever could.
We also get a bit more back story into the world around us and the conflict that threatens to tear it apart. This is personally how I think back story should be handled in 95% of all fiction: mostly hinted at. There are many things that are not implicitly told to the audience, but we are given enough information to not only look forward to the reveal but also form theories on why that bit of back story was included. These threads woven through the story and left alone to be finished another day gives the entire series a lot of room to grow.
But this method of character building also creates an issue that should be addressed. The remake of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 expands the cast in a way that feels natural and while they all fill a necessary role, this is still a story inspired by mecha anime as well as an established franchise. While more time was taken in Chapter 2 to make them all stand out and be somewhat unique, by the end of the chapter some story lines that lead into Chapter 3 feel redundant. It may be inevitable that some tropes will just be a part of the series, but I hope we’re still a long way away from watching this fun and interesting cast is a shadow of certain Gundam franchises.
But any real talk about the story has to involve what makes Touhou Mecha stand out and that is its fight scenes. I will talk a bit more of the technical end a section down but it is well-produced. The machines are varied and easily recognizable and each battle tells its own mini-story that further fleshes out the characters involved. My new favorite is definitely Reiuji’s fight with the Magus group, a band of human mercenaries, as they all share a history before the events of this game series and it frequently referenced throughout the fight. This fleshed out the cast better than actually seeing the original fight play out would have and continues to grow this expanding world. Older fight scenes, specifically the battle where the Sun God is devoured, has gotten a better polish and all of it is great to see unfold.
So ultimately the story is interesting and the writer has learned a great deal on pacing and just how to tell it. The specter of its inspirations is there but it is still an enjoyable story anyone can jump into and understand; so it’s not 12th level intellect stuff, but it also doesn’t assume you’re an idiot. I was not only able to have fun with it but it was also easy to get invested in as the development was strong enough for me to root for Reiuji and the crew of her ship, so I think if you are a fan of war stories or mecha anime there is something for you here! If you are expecting fanservice because everyone in the game is female…the exit is on your left.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
The strongest card Touhou Mecha has to play is its Presentation and it is a masterful card. The character designs are all good and distinctive while fitting into the inspiration. But at the same time there is also a certain depth to a lot of the backgrounds to remind you that this is all happening underground. Chapter 1 now opens on the surface; in fact the picture of that opening is just underneath this section of the review. To go through those few minutes outside in a familiar setting, and then to literally be plunged into Hell is breathtaking. It also shows the range of DSD in not only animating the fight scenes but also creating a sense of scope and perspective for this game.
And speaking of those fight scenes…yes again.
The technical end of the battle scenes are what stand the test for me. The scenes are a mix of CG artwork connected by relatively simple animation. This keeps the story moving at a certain pace while creating a pretty seamless transition between the CGs. And holy crap is there a metric butt-load of CGs in this game. That’s probably why they weren’t put in their own gallery. It isn’t as perfect as you’d see in a Dischan game, but there is rarely a moment that just uses the character sprites once the battles start, which is why I talked about them so little. It is more than enough to get me into the battles and makes whatever time it takes you to get to them worth it.
Outside of the regular game there is an Extras section that has something of an encyclopedia (for those who remembers what that is) on the world, characters and mechs used during the game. There is also a place to listen to the original soundtrack and while there are a few tracks I did enjoy, the fact that most of the barely touch the 30 second mark is a downside. This is also something you notice in the game proper as tracks tend to loop. On top of ALL of this is a little something I instantly fell in love with called ‘Hellcat Corner’. This is basically the game’s omake theater where the cast breaks the fourth wall, explains the connections between the Touhou Project and Touhou Mecha all while cracking jokes and answering your questions. While this has been used in some degree in other works, I can’t help but laugh since the bulk of the EVN community are anime and manga fans. Something like this seems like the most obvious extra you can add to a game, but c’est le vie. Hope to see it more in the future!
As for Gameplay, it is a kinetic novel so there are no options or player input. There are also no bugs or glitches to report, which makes me a happy, happy fan boy.
This is, as stated, a kinetic novel so your best option is to just turn on Autoplay and sit back. It’ll take roughly an hour and a half, two at the most, to knock out both chapters but it is well worth the time invested. I have replayed the story since and left with the same sense of enjoyment I had from the first play through. Also, it is free for those of you who care so there is really no excuse not to check this one out.
Touhou Mecha is one of the projects that had a lot of potential that I hoped would improve after its modest launch last year. Since then every effort has been made to make it better and for the most part it has been work well done. Outside of some mild criticisms, there isn’t much more I could’ve asked from DSD. There’s a lot here for fans of the Touhou Project, mecha stories or just anime in general to enjoy and at this point the only limit the project may have is the ones the creators put on themselves. Keep shooting for the Moon guys. You’re much closer to it than you know.