First Look

Gensou Rondo is a unique Touhou-themed 3D Arena Shooter Fighter developed by Japanese doujin studio CUBE TYPE back in 2012 and released during Comiket 82 and ported to PS4 in 2015, that is similar in features to WarTech: Senko no Ronde. It features 8 playable characters on PC without DLC: Reimu Hakurei, Marisa Kirisame, Sakuya Izayoi, Remilia Scarlet, Alice Margatroid, Youmu Konpaku, Suwako Moriya, Sanae Kochiya, and Utsuho Reiuji. The PS4 version called Gensou Rondo: Bullet Ballet has 2 extra playable characters to my knowledge: Yuyuko Saigyouji and Aya Shameimaru. I’ve heard about Flandre Scarlet potentially being involved, but nothing more than rumors of a future DLC. The game doesn’t boast much besides an arcade, tutorial, story, versus, and online versus, but one can’t deny the relatively impressive visuals and style.

Gensou Rondo can be bought from CUBE TYPE’s website at www.cubetype.com for 1000 Yen and from NISA for about $30.00 retail, or downloaded from the usual sites. As usual, I encourage you to support the team and buy the game rather than pirate it.

Now, let’s begin.

Graphics/UI

Gensou Rondo is one of the uncommon visually appealing games I’ve come across in my time of playing Touhou doujin games as a whole, mostly due the ecstatic and bright colors it uses to create the massive and intricate patterns that Touhou is known for. While the bullet patterns here aren’t as complex as the official games, CUBE TYPE did a fine job of making them look at least flashy while not overwhelming either player. They bare a resemblance to those found in the Phantasmagoria games of Touhou that are more practical in nature. The bullets in this game can, to some, be hard on the eyes since they are fond of glowing neon, but it shouldn’t be a problem for those who aren’t light-sensitive.

The backgrounds are much the same with their often bright and glowing colors, a good example of which being the field of cherry blossoms that inhabit Youmu’s home stage. The stages themselves are very grandiose in their fantastical theme and design, being much more idealized for theatrics than anything else. They have a similar visual pleasure to that of Touhou Sky Arena where many of the stages were focused on being built to look at rather than function well since that game took place mainly in the air (hence the name). It’s actually very refreshing to see a game that likes being colorful for once, especially since Gensou Rondo is gaining some popular traction in Japan and America, having actually made it to the PS4.

The characters and their models are a similar story, but not one that I would take as a compliment. You see, while I do like how bountifully colorful everything is, I don’t like either the shading on the character models or the fact that they’re chibi. Granted, a chibi model does increase the ability to tell where your character is on the screen, I still think the visual style would benefit from realistically proportioned models. I’m less concerned about the shading since I can just barely detect it on the characters, but I think that either way, Cel-shading is a better way to go if you want a game with bright and colorful graphics that can still age well. It isn’t harmed too much by this, but it’s still far from perfect. Other than that, the textures could use some more polish since many background textures felt like they had many jagged edges that took away from the beauty of it all. I can’t say much the same for the characters since they were mostly flat colors, but the previous point still stands.

As for the UI, it’s actually fairly minimalistic and simple. This could work for or against it depending on who you are. It has your typical fighting-game-style life bars (“Vitality”) at the top of the screen followed by two green bars below them (“Charge”) and a timer in the middle. The two oddities here are the “B” items below the Charge Bar and the “P” items that can apparently be collected in the hundreds. I couldn’t figure out what the P items did at first, but the B items are obviously bombs. Now this interface is all well and good, but it could definitely use some streamlining.

One could justifiably assume that looking up at your UI isn’t something you’d want to do in this type of game. It easily leads to less perceptive players getting hit and can detract from your overall concentration. One way to fix this would be to center the UI’s meters on the player model as circles that envelope them, that way the player can pay attention to their character more. It’s just a suggestion, but it would make sense considering that the newer Touhou games have already begun doing it with their bosses. The PS4 version also happens to have some additional UI on the sides that looks nice on screenshots, but I don’t find it particularly warranted.

Overall, I like the graphical fidelity even if it is selective in whom it pleases. It could use more polish as with many doujin games. The UI is also a mixed bag and may require some reworking to not detract from the experience. If I had to give a numerical score, I’d say 70/100. Above average and potentially very impressive with more work put into it. Hopefully, the sequel will push this 70 up to an 80 or above; I do really like games that have this sort of style even with its flaws. Hopefully the PS4 version is better in this regard.

 

Plot

As far as I can tell, there isn’t really a plot. Yes, there is a story mode, but it’s hardly more than a glorified Arcade mode with speech before battle. It doesn’t help that it’s in Japanese. From what I can tell from observation, each playable character has their own little campaign, but much like those from a traditional fighting game. I could care less, however, since the dialogue exchanges are very short and inconsequential to the experience in the long run. I hate to just blow it off, but there really isn’t much to talk about in this category. Obviously, this hurts the game. It would much more if it were almost any other genre of game; as it stands, fighting games are usually like this to the behest of myself.

As stated, fighting games have never been really known for their plot unless we’re talking Soul Calibur. This game is no different and doesn’t seem like it can be bothered with the task. I hope this is different on the PS4 version that I don’t own. Obviously, this section is what hurts this game the most. If I had to give it a numerical score, it would be 30/100. It would be even less if this weren’t a fighting game.

 

Gameplay

This is the big category right here, concerning all of what makes Gensou Rondo compelling. Let’s start with the basic controls. Remember that this is for the PC version; I don’t own a PS4 or the PS4 version.

The main buttons you’re going to want to keep your fingers on are Space, Left Shift, Z, and X. Space is for dashing quickly across the screen to avoid direct fire, Shift is for slowing down and changing the behavior of your bullets. Z is for your basic shot which is usually just a direct line of fire, and X is for your secondary shot which is usually omnidirectional fire. Additional controls that you should at least keep in mind are C, A, and S. C activates your special shot that consumes some of your Charge. A consumes Charge and clears an area of bullets. S activates what I call Spellcard Mode for all of your Charge and you must have at least one bar to use it. You can also simultaneously press Z, X, and C to do it, but S is just one button and is more reliable.

Now for regular combat. The main goal in this game is to reduce the foe’s Vitality to 0 X amount of times (once each round). Very simple fighting game mechanic. You do this by hitting the opponent with bullets from any of your shots. Every type does a different amount of damage and has a different behavior, even across characters. It’s unusual for the attacks of one character to directly match those of another. One part of this to look out for is that when an opponent reaches 1 Vitality, they will suddenly become invulnerable for a moment, allowing them to escape death. This is done presumably to make sure that nobody gets suddenly killed by an incredibly powerful attack.

To help you in defeating your opponent, each character has about 6 normal attacks, a melee attack, 3 special attacks, and a spellcard with 6 more attacks unique to it. The 6 normal attacks are those activated by pressing the Z and X keys normally, then by those activated by pressing them while holding the Shift key, and two more by dashing and pressing them. Keep in mind that you can only use a certain key a limited amount of times before it has to recharge. You also have a melee attack that can be used by closing in on the opponent until they enter your blue circle, then pressing either Z or X.

There’s also the special attacks used with the C key. These are usually more complex and unique than Z or X and have the two alternate forms, but consume Charge. In fact, they consume a little too much. From my experiences, it’s usually not worth it unless on specific characters, to use your special shots. That Charge is better used on spellcards which are more powerful. The special attack usually consumes about a quarter to half of a bar, which will result in rapid loss of Charge if you go about slinging them like a normal attack. You’re often better off either ignoring them or strategically using them; they’re otherwise too expensive.

The final real offensive measure is the Spellcard Mode. This mode, activated by the S key or ZXC combo, drains all of your Charge over the course of the attack and gives you substitute Vitality based on how much you had when you used it. This puts the user in the shoes of a SHMUP boss with about 9 different attacks to use with the Z, X, and C keys. All of these attacks are completely unique to each character and are mainly based off of spellcards the characters use in the base game. These vary in usefulness, which unfortunately means that some attacks will almost never see use while others will dominate your attack patterns. There lies one main problem with this mode, however: time.

Let me put this bluntly: Spellcard Mode is too short and too powerful. It’s mainly built in as a form of burst damage, but the purpose of spellcards from the official games places them more as prolonged attacks that consist of a pattern and aim to challenge a player’s reasoning and focusing skills. The Spellcard Mode in Gensou Rondo doesn’t particularly do this because of how short the timer for using it is. Not to mention that the defending player can usually knock off all of the boss’ health far before the timer runs out if they just stand below and fire. I usually find myself only able to stay in this mode for about 10-20 seconds. This, I find, is not enough to study the defender’s movements and react to them, but just enough time to spam your most effective attacks in the hopes that one will hit. It’s a shame since the attacks are incredibly flashy and fun to use. Another big problem is that many attacks in this mode are simply too strong. The defending player doesn’t get substitute Vitality like the offender, so it ends up that when someone uses a spellcard, either it will fail completely or the defender will lose instantly. A very polarizing situation that I see little variation in when I play the game. One way to fix this may be to model it after the Magic Duel mod for Skyrim: Each player gets substitute health and whomever loses gets a chunk of their real Vitality taken off. Now it’s never only in one person’s favor but is a situational tactic. Another thing to add would be enhanced Vitality for the boss, and maybe a longer timer. I generally feel like the attack should last about 20 seconds per bar consumed for a maximum of 80 seconds, and that the Vitality of the boss should last him about 20 seconds minimum. Meanwhile, make the attacks of the players match this by making them less damaging.

However, these changes I propose are not the case of fact, and that saddens me. I really, really like this feature and hate to see it be neglected in the balance department. Oh, but I’m not even done yet; there are a few other points I nearly forgot to mention. One is the movement speed: Both players move too slowly. The boss literally cannot dodge the player and must rely on zoning to not get murdered. That’s would be fine if the boss weren’t so squishy. The defender is also extremely slow for some reason. I can’t understand why as the hitbox size makes micrododging less feasible than making boiled pizza an appetizing food item. That brings me to the final nitpick: hitbox size. It works quite well outside of spellcards, but the hitbox works against a defender by making him unable to squeeze through many patterns without getting nicked not once but several times. This combines with low speed to make avoiding damage practically pointless. Honestly, you’d take less damage from just staying beneath the offender and firing until they’re dead. The only thing you need to worry about is getting hit by an attack that has a persistent hitbox (i.e. Master Spark) that can hit you several times before you can even react. This circles back to my previous suggestion on how the Spellcard Mode should more easily resemble the official games. Or, at the very least, they should rebalance it to increase the actual importance. Otherwise, it gets overshadowed.

Now that was a doozy. Offense is the name of the game here, but there are a few things you can do to defend yourself. This mostly consists of just dodging (made difficult by the perspective and hitboxes) and bombing. Space is used for dashing, but unlike in Dark Souls, it doesn’t make you invulnerable. It’s also kind of uncontrollable. Honestly, I would just avoid dashing unless you obviously need to or want to use a dash attack. If you don’t use it carefully, you’ll dive head-on into a barrage and take massive damage. Bullet clearing can also be done with the A button, but I don’t find much use out of it since it usually costs more than it’s worth. In Spellcard Mode, the only defensive measure you have is firing back with a normal Z shot. Each shot is aesthetically different for each character, but they have mostly the same purpose of being forward fire with little difference in purpose. They’re all just different ways to achieve the same purpose, with the only real variations being between narrow and wide. You can also bomb using C to consume a B item and clearing the screen while dealing damage. I myself didn’t use this too often and found it to be somewhat unnecessary given the addition of health. Other than these things, there isn’t much to do defensively.

This section has become much longer than I anticipated, so I’ll separate it here. If I had to give a numerical score, I’d say 65/100. I must reiterate how disappointed I am that the Spellcard Mode is usually unenjoyable despite how good of an idea it was. Put simply, the overall gameplay was just done somewhat poorly. I’m sure CUBE TYPE worked very hard on their game, but I have to be honest that it needs work done to impress me any further. I’d still say that it’s quite fun to play every now and then, but consistently throws me off with all of its minor problems. It is for that which I must give it only an above-average score.

 

A.I.

Oh boy, the AI. If I included this in Gameplay, it would likely have knocked down the overall numerical score greatly. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t even want to talk about this at first, but I feel a sense of duty to do it. Let’s start with my blunt and harsh opinion: It’s bad.

Okay, I might be exaggerating. The A.I. isn’t always bad. Unlike almost every other fighting game in existence, the computer in Gensou Rondo doesn’t really cheat very often. It’s not like it can counter all of your attacks and give you no fighting chance, but you better be fucking psychotic if you plan to play on the harder difficulties. If there is one thing I must commend the developers for, it’s that the difficulty actually visibly changes if you select a different option. I believe this to be because the difficulty judges how complexly the A.I. operates and its aggressiveness. It tends to take an increasingly abstract but also strictly practical approach to everything you do. This doesn’t sound bad, right? Well there’s one thing about the A.I. that completely ruined it for me.

You see, the A.I. doesn’t act creatively. Half of the fun of this game comes from creating flashy, creative patterns with your shots and seeing how the player reacts. The A.I. doesn’t do this: the A.I. will perform the most logically successful task to defeat you and nothing else. This means that while the A.I. might be fairly well-made, it is ultimately still unsatisfactory for the type of experience this game tries to deliver. In other words, it doesn’t fit. It’s simply difficult and doesn’t attempt to really make the game any more fun. This harshly extends into the previously ranted about Spellcard Mode. In this mode, the A.I. has a massive aneurism and becomes practically brainded. A defending computer will actually literally stand directly below you and fire its constant normal shot until one of you dies. It makes using anything but direct attacks against the A.I. pointless. As an offender, the A.I. won’t mix its attacks like a player would. It makes it incredibly easy to defeat an offending A.I. compared to the normal part of the battle. This simply exacerbates the biggest problems with the game as a whole.

Overall, I would say that although the A.I. can be good at parts, it ultimately falls into the category of “winning first” that becomes harder to get out of the more complex a game becomes. If I had to give a numerical score, I’d say 50/100: not average but both good and bad; contradictory in nature.

 

Sound

The majority of Gensou Rondo’s soundtrack consists of generic techno remixes of the official songs. Do I even have to say anything? It’s just kind of forgettable. After playing as many Touhou fangames as I have, you just kind of don’t even notice songs like these anymore. Although these soundtracks have their own sort of musical style, I still didn’t find it appealing enough to be more than background music. Honestly, it just felt like filler that gets drowned out by the sound effects.

The only themes I really liked in the entire game were Utsuho’s for being mildly rock, Youmu’s for having a very strange melody, and Aya’s for being really fast and totally owning the techno sound. The rest were easily forgotten amongst the other sounds. I was especially disappointed that Marisa’s theme was so lackluster; it really should have been a fast-paced song. The calming effect they went for in half the songs doesn’t really fit the gameplay well, to be honest.

As for the sound effects, I can’t really say anything noticeable about them. They aren’t particularly grating, but also not helpful or nice-sounding; just average.

There isn’t much I have to say about it. You could put on headphones and listen to a different soundtrack and get a better experience. It’s a shame since they obviously had the talent to make some much more appealing and unique-sounding themes. If I had to give it a numerical value, I’d say 54/100.

 

Compatibility

Given Gensou Rondo is a 3D game, it has higher requirements than many fangames. It’s not quite as demanding as Dynamarisa, but can still lag at times. I’ve never experienced it being particularly slow, so nobody should have major problems with it. I couldn’t find any solid system requirements listed on CUBE TYPE’s website or in a readme file, nor anywhere else for that matter. I guess they don’t really need it considering that even a gaming PC from 2007 could play this beautifully. There have been bumps every now and then, and those might have been due to the game’s allocated RAM running low, but I don’t see many other problems.

The game has never crashed on me before, but it may require some users to use Applocale to make text show up correctly. This is the case with many unlocalized Japanese games. Honestly, there isn’t much wrong with the game compatibility-wise, so this is actually possibly the most well-scored category.

If I had to assign a numerical value, I’d say 85/100. No experienced issues besides minor lag and the expected text issues for Japanese games.

 

Conclusion

I need to remind you, reader, that this is concerning the PC version of the game, not the updated PS4 version. For all I know, the issues I have could be fixed over that upgrade. However, I own neither a PS4 nor the game for it and thus cannot review it. That being said, I think I’ve touched up on everything I wanted to get to. Over the course of  sections, the game scored a cumulative 354/600 or an average of 59/100 (59%) with a standard deviation of about 19 and population SD of 17, making it almost above-average. If the problems it had were not present, I’d easily end up rate it above 70. As it stands, there’s too much wrong with it for me to personally enjoy the game as a whole.

One other problem that I didn’t point out earlier is that although each character is complex, there aren’t enough of them. I’m the type of person who thinks that you cannot have enough characters in a fighting game. I would have honestly preferred if they spent time to not just include the most popular characters, but also niche ones; we all know that there’s plenty to go around in the series as a whole. I just hope this is rectified in additional DLC to at least approach the size of reasonable variation. I didn’t add this because I thought it was too personal a preference to impact the numerical scores.

Now that we’re done, I’ll announce that the next game I’m going to review is not going to be a Touhou game, but instead just a regular SHMUP. Tune in on august 17th to see the next review!

Now courteously, have some screenshots.

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