Throwback Review: Touhou 7- Perfect Cherry Blossom

It’s springtime, and while life should be reclaiming its place after the deathly winter and cherry blossoms should be in full bloom, instead snow continues to fall and the world remains ever encased in ice. Who better to solve this problem than a flying maid, an “ordinary magician”, and the sole entity maintaining the barrier that protects the land from the outside world? (At least, I think that’s right, I’m not quite up to snuff on lore yet). The formula’s mostly the same as last time: five levels and a final stage of intense bullet hell shoot-em-up, a miniboss in the middle and a main boss at the end. Beat the final stage without using any continues, and you can move on to the extra stages.

Developer ZUN stated that since Embodiment of Scarlet Devil was the first game not using the PC-98 engine, it wasn’t as fleshed out as he wanted it to be. Perfect Cherry Blossom was his chance to step it up, giving us three characters instead of two and a bonus extra stage (extra bonus stage?) to play with. Reimu and Marisa return, and boss five Sakuya from the last game is now playable. Reimu is the most balanced, having a fair amount of lives and bombs and a decent bullet spread. Marisa, like, has low survivability but high speed and the highest damage potential, and Sakuya has the most bombs each life. For that reason, Sakuya’s your best bet for beating the game without continuing, and I’ll explain that soon.

The base mechanics of the game are the same: hold down Z to fire, and shift to focus. While in focus mode, you’ll move slower and your bullet spray will tighten drastically. Both Reimu and Sakuya have one bullet pattern that will also make them auto-aim while in focus. Your hitbox is also visible, revealing that it’s much smaller than the characters’ full sprites, so you only really have to worry about a small cluster of pixels getting hit by enemy bullets. Your attack starts out low, but collecting the red tiles that enemies drop will increase your damage and the amount of bullets you fire.

Each character also has a certain amount of bombs, which do a decent amount of damage to enemies, but they have two much more important uses. Bombing clears the screen of all bullets, which is useful if you’re getting overwhelmed, but if you bomb at the exact moment you get hit, you won’t lose a life. This is why Sakuya is the “easy mode” for this game: despite her lower DPS, if you manage to tank a hit out of each and every one of her bombs, you’ll lose drastically less lives compared to Marisa.

The new mechanic is the Cherry Points system. You get cherry points by killing enemies, getting a bit less if you kill them while focused, but you can also collect pink cherry blossom tiles that fall from the sky. Once you get 50,000 cherry points, you’ll get the Supernatural Border, which rapidly depletes the point meter while it’s up before disappearing. If you get hit while the border is up, it’ll wipe all the bullets from the screen. If you survive the entire of the duration, you’ll get a decent point bonus. If you’re not to the point of worrying about score yet, I’d recommend using it as a free bomb if you get it during tougher segments.

Let’s talk about the, uh… not-gameplay parts. For the most part, the game’s as well written as it needs to be, with some decent fourth wall breaks (the third boss referencing her appearance in an earlier game, Reimu waiting for the boss to appear at the end of level 4, or Marisa referring to Chen as the stage two boss when she appears later on), but there’s a bunch of jokes that only work in the original Japanese, so the English translation has a couple lines that don’t really make sense. The story’s fairly similar to EoSD, where something’s screwing up nature so the protagonists go fix it. Reimu, Marisa, or Sakuya search through the mountains, the village of apparitions, Alice’s wonderland I mean playground, before ending up above the clouds and then forcing their way through the border to the afterworld.

Once there, they find that half-phantom Youmu (boss 5) was ordered to gather all the spring in the land of Gensyoko by Yuyoko (final boss) so they could revive the largest cherry blossom in the afterlife. This is all for the end of resurrecting the corpse buried under it. The protagonists put a stop to it, and apparently there’s no hard feelings, because once spring finally stops for real, Youmu and Yuyuko (along with Sakuya and the final boss of the last game) invade Reimu’s shrine so they can watch the cherry blossoms bloom.

In terms of difficulty, this is probably one of the easier games to start with, considering the supernatural border and the lock-on bullet types. The difficulty certainly ramps up on stage 4, with the level above the clouds being significantly harder than stage 5, and possibly even more difficult than its own boss depending on how many bombs you have left. The bosses get tougher and tougher each time, but once you learn their bullet patterns you’ll be able to get through the earlier bosses with no major issues.

Fun fact, youtuber Elu Tran goes to my school, and saw me playing last week on my first run that made it to stage 5. He’s played a lot more touhou than me (he actually uploaded the run I’ve been taking screenshots from), and he recommended PCB as one of the better games for beginners. A lot of the newer games have ramped up the difficulty, but PCB is tough but fair enough to start out with and learn the basic mechanics of the game. If you’ve never played before, practice a bit with Sakuya’s first loadout, which will let you lock on to bosses so you can focus on dodging their bullets and give you plenty of bombs to practice saves with.

As usual, the music is fantastic. I think Embodiment of Scarlet Devil has one or two tracks that stand out more, but Perfect Cherry Blossom‘s soundtrack is consistently better. Two months after I first played the game, I decided to put on the soundtrack and the first level theme made my nostalgic. How the hell does that work? Even when you play the first few levels over and over to learn the game and slowly get better, the songs never get old, almost driving you forward through each and every level.

Perfect Cherry Blossom is a fantastic sequel, taking everything that made EoSD great and improving on it. With more playable characters, more welcoming mechanics, a second extra stage, a debatably better soundtrack, and just as entrancing bullet patterns, PCB is fantastic for both newcomers to the series or bullet hell genre who just want to beat the game on normal as well as veterans who’re good enough to focus on getting a high score on Lunatic difficulty. Go ahead and download it for free here, or just watch Elu’s run above if you’re not quite ready to dive into the fray yet.

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