Azure Reflections (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gabriel Jones 26.05.2018 2

Review for Azure Reflections on PlayStation 4

It was a summer like any other. A thick crimson mist blanketed the forests and fields of Gensokyo. The night sky was a hideous shade of red, and the moon itself looked like it was smeared with blood. Okay, so maybe it wasn't a summer like any other. Reimu Hakurei, the local shrine maiden, is heading out to investigate the Scarlet Devil Manor, the source of the dread mist. Along the way, she begins to realise that something is clearly not right. The "Scarlet Mist" incident was resolved not too long ago, yet the mist has returned, as if time has moved backwards. Nevertheless, she must steel herself for the danmaku battles that are to come in Azure Reflections.

The latest in a long line of Touhou spin-offs, Azure Reflections sets itself apart from the pack by being a horizontally-scrolling shmup. The perspective has changed but the immediate goal remains the same. Taking control of Reimu, Marisa the magician, or the fairy Cirno, players must survive seven stages, each featuring a diabolical boss, and get as high a score as possible. Since this is a Touhou game, expect to thread the needle through thick as mist spreads of tiny bullets. Three difficulty settings are available, which are sure to appeal to both newbies and veterans. There's also an unlockable "Lunatic" setting, for anybody out there crazy enough to push their humanity to the brink.

Screenshot for Azure Reflections on PlayStation 4

Aside from the change in perspective, this game actually doesn't sound all that different from the mainline entries. Still, as it's been said many times before, the devil is in the details. Alongside standard abilities like the main shot and spell cards (which function as bombs), the three girls are capable of putting up barriers. This special ability absorbs enemy bullets, buying a couple seconds of peace, but that's not all! While protected by the barrier, the heroines can dash around the screen, smashing into everything like a wrecking ball. Furthermore, all of the absorbed bullets cause the crushing mace to become even stronger. What better way to counter a boss's fiery flood than to drive straight through it? If the barrier is strong enough, it can wipe out their entire health meter.

Unlike the vertically-scrolling entries, enemies approach from multiple directions, even behind the player-character. In a nod to Cave's Deathsmiles, Reimu and co. can fire to the left or right. This helps to keep them from getting surrounded and overwhelmed. It's also necessary for a number of bosses, who tend to be a little more mobile than usual. As tough as it is to look past all of the bullets flying around, being aware of where the boss is going is required, or else prepare to get blindsided. This aspect is handled well, although sometimes it feels like the game is better suited for pads than joysticks. Including the focus button, which slows the heroine down for easier dodging, there are no less than five buttons to account for. Most games in the genre only use two or three, so it takes a while to adjust.

Screenshot for Azure Reflections on PlayStation 4

Also unlike practically every shmup out there, a single bullet is never enough to put an end to the cast, but it will knock them for a loop. More precisely, getting hit will result in a stun effect. For a second or so, Marisia and the gang will be seeing stars, and the next bullet that collides with them during that time will result in a lost life. It is possible to recover, or use a spell card to clear the area, but it's also likely that immediately after the first bullet connects, the girl will get thrown into a second one, and then it is lights out. This is the sort of psychological affair that makes shmups so nerve-wracking. It's not enough that there are hundreds of thousands of bullets being thrown around, but the ever so thin line between life and death becomes extremely pronounced when somebody is stunned. It's not enough to simply say "Don't ever get hit in the first place," because it's bound to happen.

Considering just how stacked the odds are against the player, maybe they could use a little boost. Enter the accessory store. Using in-game cash, they can buy all sorts of accessories to dress up their favourite character. Each trinket offers some sort of perk, such as a mask that increases the number of starting lives, or an auto-fire granting moustache. It's an interesting design decision since, by every other metric, Azure Reflections is a traditional STG. Still, none of the benefits make the game too easy, and it will take several hours to unlock them all. Plus there's something to be said about entering battle dressed like a moustachioed angel with a devilish tail, rabbit ears, two pairs of glasses, and a monocle.

Screenshot for Azure Reflections on PlayStation 4

All told, these quirky additions do a fine job of complementing the game's core. The barrier system is fun and rewarding to figure out, as knowing when and where to make full use of it will not only save lives, but also earn tons of points. A bullet no longer resulting in instant death is an interesting idea, and there's enough of a follow-through to keep things from ever becoming easy. Each boss has an assortment of patterns to deal with, and they are all balanced quite well. The presence of online leaderboards and a handful of unlockable features also keep this from ever being a "one and done" experience.

However, there is one aspect that's sorely lacking and it's the level-design. The typical stage consists of weak "popcorn" enemies in standard formations, mid-tier foes that take a little more punishment, and assorted oddities, like floating books or shield-carrying fairies. The presence of walls or other objects to interact with could have made the stages a little more interesting. Something more akin to Deathsmiles but with Touhou characters could have been really great. Sure, this adopts the left/right shooting mechanic, but it could have gone further.

Screenshot for Azure Reflections on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Azure Reflections is a fine entry in the Touhou franchise, one that compares favourably to even the mainline games. The various unique systems blend together quite nicely and help to take the traditional danmaku action in a slightly different direction. There are times, though, where this STG could have been a little more creative and really embraced the fact that it's a spin-off. Even with the unique barrier and stun mechanics, it feels a little too familiar. Still, that's not likely to bother someone who just wants a good challenge, because they will find plenty to test their skills on here.

Developer

Team Shanghai Alice

Publisher

Sony Music Entertainment

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Is the main guy zun still involved with these? How crazy it became as big as it did.

ZUN still handles the official games. The latest* of which, 'Hidden Star in Four Seasons', came out in August 2017. It was also the first ZUN-developed Touhou game to get a Steam release.

Apparently he's pretty hands off when it comes to most of the spin-offs/fan games.

*The Touhou wiki is a little confusing. Actually the latest official game is TH 15.5: 'Antinomy of Common Flowers' (Four Seasons is TH 16).

( Edited 27.05.2018 19:16 by Gabriel PVJ Jones )

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