Posted by: tirkaro | July 17, 2013

Hopeless Masquerade Impressions: Out of 100 humans, 99 were impressed

HMMamizou

The days are extensively frigid and windy. Home-destroying storms skip merrily along the lands like nobody’s business. Flesh-hungry Oni roam about devouring all in their path. Earthquakes become more common than a cold. Such reoccurring disasters only make way for an eventual, even greater catastrophe to strike the human village. And in this time of desperation, when being of such little fortune brings you to either desperate denial or despair-riddled nihilism, a select few cry out and raise their arms like trees up to heaven and shout “who will save us?” To this point, the most prominent acolytes of Gensokyo’s religions take up arms to expand their respective faith’s influence via the power of popularity contests, believing the religion they fight for will restore all order once again.
Or at least, that’s about the most I could take out of Hopeless Masquerade’s rather sparse intro, and the rest of the game is all in moonspeak and shit, like I’m gonna bother with that.

So just what is this whole nonsensical Hopeless Masquerade business I just spurred on to you in an irrational manner? If you’re not too familiar with the current goings-on of the Doujin game scene, Touhou Shinkirou: Hopeless Masquerade is officially the “13.5th” game in the Touhou Project series. Now don’t panic yet, I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, isn’t 2hu supposed to be a bunch of vertical shoot-man games where a bunch of shoddily drawn lolies with silly hats attack each other with visual interpretation of a bead-visioned florist’s orgasm? This don’t look like one of ’em games to me!” And you are in fact completely right Mr. hypothetical-person-who’s-implied-knowledge-of-the-subject-at-hand-is-jarringly-inconsistent! Unlike those other seemingly-difficult raindrop dodging simulators, this one is yet another fighting game developed in part by the Doujin game mahatmas at Tasogare Frontier. And I say “yet another” because this isn’t even close to the first official Touhou fighting game. Touhou 7.5 AKA Touhou Suimusou: Immaterial and Missing Power, later expanded upon (though whether or not that includes improved is a subject of much debate) by Touhou Hisouten: Scarlet Weather Rhapsody and Touhou Hisoutensoku: There is no fucking way I’m going to subject you to a subtitle like Choudokyuu Guignol no Nazo o Oe oh goddammit I just did it anyway, was a very, let’s say, “different” kind of fighter. Hot off the heels of Eternal Fighter Zero, Tasogare’s Touhou fighters share the basic airdash-style fighting game (or if you wanna sound like a knuckle-dragging FGC sub-subhuman, “Anime Fighter”) structure, and adds a bunch of twists in order to make it more Touhou-like. Staples such as mass projectile spam, spirit items, spellcards, bombs, danmaku grazing, and hair-pulling bosses make a return in full force, awkwardly shoved into a fighting game package. They didn’t really explode onto the fighting game scene, and some mechanics, especially those introduced in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, tend to tick some more traditional players off, but they still hold a cult following to this day for their quirkiness.

But for as uh, existent, as those games are, Tasogare and Team Shanghai Alice decided to do something entirely different for the next fisticuff-flying Touhou installment. Which makes sense, given that Touhou is always doing some unique gimmick each game, but I don’t think there’s ever been a shake up quite on this scale before. Gone are the traditional grounded stages: this time, all the action takes place in the air, all day erry day. Gone are the usual fighting game commands like QCFs, shoryuken motions, half circle reverse double penetrations, charge pretzel hien shippukyaku, quadruple shungokusatsu QCB loop-de-loops on the barbie, and in its place are far more simplified directional commands ala Super Smash Bros. Going the way of the Dodo is the weather system (thank goodness) and going the way of the Nomura’s Jellyfish is the newfangled Popularity system (still better than fucking weather). Hell aside from a few things here and there, it’s pretty much an entirely new fighting game, and one of the most unique fighting experiences you’ll ever have. The Fighting genre isn’t one that sees much innovation often, so Hopeless Masquerade is definitely a game that deserves your attention.

Before getting in too deep, I want to make it clear this is explicitly an impressions piece and not a full-fledged review. Admittedly I may be jumping a bit preemptively on this piece a bit; I’ve had about a few weeks worth of time with the rather peculiar fighter this article is about, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. There’s also the inherent fact that fighting games are some of the most difficult things to review, as experiences can heavily vary, and new techniques and tricks get discovered over time. HM is a rather young game too at that, and is receiving new patches and revisions even at this early stage, so I won’t really bother coming up with a solidified opinion at this point.

HM’s big selling point, as you already know, is the fact that all the action is strictly in the air. This isn’t an entirely new concept, as 2D airborne fighting games were already done by titles like DBZ Supersonic Warriors and the criminally overlooked Super Famicom fighter, Cho Aniki Bakuretsu Rantou Hen, but in this case it’s all about the execution. Like the previous Touhou fighters, there’s a large emphasis on projectile attacks, though it’s not really to the same level of competitive 2D shooter-fighter hybrids like Senko no Ronde and Acceleration of Suguri X. As with the previous games, there’s still plenty of melee-based action to go around, and you can still automatically pass through walls of bullet death by simply dashing past them. And while you’ll be flying all the time, the flight isn’t quite as free-form as you’d expect; your aerial position isn’t all that steady, due to a system in effect that keeps you rubberbanded to the intersection of the screen. This makes control of your character feel a bit wobbly and floaty, but I ended up getting used to it after a while. If you want to master the Y axis, the trick is to keep yourself busy with a dash or attack to prevent yourself from getting rubberbanded at a bad time. Even this isn’t perfect though, and it ensures dodging projectile craziness isn’t always gonna be a surefire thing.

Of course if you want to get anywhere in this game, you’re gonna need to master your character’s repertoire of melee attacks. Unlike projectiles, melee attacks cannot be grazed by simply dashing, and should be worked in-tandem with your special projectiles to get some combo action really going. Problem with melee attacks though is that the range feels unusually short on most of them. Due to the fact that you’re given a lot more space to work with along with the uneasiness of the magnetic center means melee attacks tend to miss very, very often. It’s nothing game-breaking, but it can get annoying fast.
Projectile shots are more safe on average, but they’re easily avoidable on their own; dashing through a projectile has no repercussions in the slightest, not a bit of chip damage or stun, you just dash on your merry way past the delicious soul-burning candy drops. This makes HM a game all about controlling your distance, even more so than most other fighting games. But once again, spacing is far easier said than done due to the center line keeping things unpredictable with its often inconsistent physics. I’ve dodged entire shots due to the rubberbanding effect bouncing me down.

The controls in HM are really simple, especially when compared to the previous titles. As stated, the traditional commands have been replaced by simple direction+attack button commands, making execution and combos a relaxing summer’s breeze. (Especially since each character also has a canned A button combo, something Persona 4 Arena fans should be all too familiar with.) This also makes the game absurdly keyboard-friendly, to the point where I’d almost say playing keyboard is almost easier than playing gamepad.  However, this unfortunately means characters have much less moves at their command. There’s 4 attack buttons, two for melee attacks and two for projectile attacks. Not counting special moves and spellcards, this brings each character’s moveset to about 11-14 moves each. Now I know you’re probably crying blasphemy, but the lack of moves doesn’t make this fighter any less legit than anything else out there, and I’d say each character still has just enough moves to have all of their bases covered.

Where things get interesting is the customization, so let’s talk that. Each character has an “Item Deck”, mapped to 8 different commands, accessed by pressing A+B or X+Y in one of four directions. Here is where you’ll lay out your special moves, referred to as “skills”, though you can choose to take up some of those slots with special item cards. Each character has 6 skills unique to her, as well as two “Spell Cards.”(For now just think of Spell Cards as just super moves.) The 12 item cards on the other hand can be used by anyone. As if that wasn’t enough, your character can take up one of four different religious stances (more on the context of that later) which changes up a characters stats and properties, similar to that of the Groove system in Capcom vs. SNK. There’s Shinto-which trades speed for more fragile-but-numerous bullets with better range, Buddhism-which has less luck with range, but gains increased power and a special chargable attacks, and Taoism-not quite as powerful, but makes up for it with increased speed and more persistent projectiles. But if that doesn’t sound to your liking, you can choose to go full /r/atheism for more well-rounded stats. I haven’t quite experimented too much with this system, but it’s just dramatic enough for certain combos to be completely exclusive to different religions.

HM’s equivalent of meter is a bit odd. You’re given a spirit gauge, which is consumed upon firing a bullet, “grazing” past bullets, or performing a special move. This gauge starts out full, and refills by simply waiting after a short delay. Your maximum amount of spirit goes down if you start blocking certain attacks, resulting in a temporary guard crush on the off-chance your spirit becomes completely drained. It’s a lot more lax than most other forms of meter, but it’s fitting for the over-the-top nature of a Touhou fighter.
The more obvious draw here though is the somewhat polarizing “popularity” system. This is supposedly HM’s other big “gimmick” by which the game lives and breathes by, though I’d say I haven’t found much reason for it to be that game-changing. See, throughout the match, you’re given a “popularity rating” that starts at 0%, and can either rise or plummet to 100% or -100% depending on just how much of a popular lass you are. Your popularity score is manipulated based on various actions performed throughout the match, such as dishing out counter attacks, getting the first hit in, dodging a big super attack, the works.  So what’s the point of having a decent popularity score? Well if you aren’t playing as Toyosatomimi no Miko, all you need to know is that having a higher popularity score than the other silly-hatted loli results in you winning in the event of a timeout. On occasion, your popularity score will increase your chances of gaining a red or blue aura surrounding your girl; the blue aura, the result of a higher popularity rating, increases your spirit and grants you access to new combos, while the less popular red aura lowers the power of your spirit regeneration. Additionally, getting your popularity to 100% will allow you to pull off your ultimate attack, ominously referred to as a “Last Word.”

So how does this all work in practice? Well it’s obvious the popularity system is there to keep things more exciting than usual, as your popularity often takes a hit for playing things too “safe” (such as constantly blocking and dashing back). You aren’t going to make your way to 100% anytime soon if you keep relying on the same couple of moves over and over again, so keeping things interesting (and counter-hitting a lot too) is key to getting more popular. It can be an occasional annoyance at times though; I’ve had multiple moments where I utterly dominated my opponent, only for her to get a counter-hit in at the last second before time runs out, exceeding my popularity, which made me more than a little salty.
Ironically, for a series known for being all about the projectiles and bullet patterns, this makes HM feel very rushdown-heavy, and, while I could be wrong about this, there was rarely a moment where I found zoning to be a viable option. All the crazy shit you can throw out is mostly just there to assist with your combos, which comprise the real meat and potatoes of your combat strategy. Again, this makes measuring your spacing real freaking important, as most melee attacks are very fidgety due to the structure of the game. Combined with the usual deck building system, this often leads to some interesting setups that provides far more complexity and depth than the somewhat paltry movelists would lead you to believe.

But of course, all the mechanics in the world won’t save your game if you don’t have the characters to back it up, and Touhou 13.5 thankfully delivers. There’s currently 9 different playable girls to choose from, with a 10th one being an unplayable boss character. (Given that she has a blacked out character slot in the selection screen though, it’s obvious she’s due to be finished in a later patch.) While that may not seem like a lot by today’s standards, all of the characters are thankfully unique in their own way:

Reimu, true to her main character status, is the obligatory gimmick-free well-rounded character. She has a metric asston more spirit than anyone else, and has top-tier normals, specials, projectiles, damage output, and just about everything else. This gives her a shitload of options, and in case that wasn’t enough, they went and gave her the most brain-dead combos in the game, has an easy time gaining more popularity than you, and has an MK-esque teleport where she flies from one end of the screen and out the other(Although admittedly I haven’t found any use for this thing). So I guess she’s sorta good, just a bit.

Marisa is the other well-rounded character, and thankfully isn’t as cheesy. Her melee attacks have a decent amount of range on them, and her bullets are more focused in one direction. Her passive mechanic comes in the form of a “Star” system in which using a special attack contributes a nice shiny star, which goes up to 3. Once you get 3 stars, you spend all of them to make your next special gain some nifty effects.

Ichirin fights alongside her familiar Unzan, who assists with his giant fists of justice during her B or Y moves. She’s the requisite slow-but-strong character, with Unzan providing her with some far grander hitboxes than most of the cast. She also has a passive “rage” meter which is lifted wholesale from Samurai Shodown. For those not in the know, taking more damage will increase your rage until it finally peaks, granting a huge boost in attack power.

Byakuren is all about the no-nonsense kung fu skills. She plays a pretty similar role as Hong Meiling in previous games, with very limited range options in exchange for being more of a melee specialist. Her combos are bigger and badder than the rest, and has a unique teleport instead of an airdash. While there’s some advantages to the teleport, she can’t easily graze bullets like everyone else, and has a slight vulnerability period after it, making her bit of a doozy to maneuver around with. The way she uses skills is also funny; she has to “call” all of her skills first before using them, and multiple declarations of that skill provides you with different effects.

Toyosatomimi no Miko is sure to be a favorite among Mahvel fans, as she’s all about bringing the hype. Her “Cape” mechanic revolves around appealing to some suspiciously familiar individuals in order to bring her cape to level 2, which gives her a ton more hitconfirms/combo potential, better skills, and generally better everything. Be wary though, as totally beefing everything up will bring your cape level to 0, which is one hell of a pit to climb out from. It’s tied quite heavily to the popularity system, although you can drain your cape power by using a few certain special skills. For this reason, she has some of the best skills in the game.

Futo is a very setup-based character who builds on the pressure by setting up her flying plates to make the opponent’s life a miserable hole of emptiness. She’s the game’s biggest zoner, which unfortunately makes her quite a pain to use with how weak zoning is in this game. Her damage output is just pitiful, and one of her best moves requires an insane amount of plate setup in order to reach it. Definitely not the best character in the game, but not unusable so long as you play a smart and defensive game.

Nitori is slow and has very little options on her bullets, but has some of the best setups and damage output in the game. Her bullets and specials run on a limited pool of energy, which only recharges itself at the end of a round. Her Spider swing-like move gives her some great maneuverability, and her compressor attack is total setup heaven, but once again, it’s all limited. You definitely have to know what you’re doing most of the time to avoid running out of precious energy.

Koishi is sure to be a hit among the MYM faithful. She’s one of the most unique characters in the game, so unique that people STILL don’t know just what the hell her mechanic is supposed to do. From what I can grasp, she has special orbs next to her meter, each corresponding to a different move input. Instead of performing a move immediately, she keeps it retained in an orb while she occasionally “thinks” about using the move when certain conditions are met, by which you’ll be able to execute it. If the conditions aren’t met, she’ll simply get bored of the move 7 seconds later and automatically trigger it. Or something. She also has a bizarre dash she she does different random things each step she takes. I’m pretty sure Hazama has been beat out for the biggest troll in fighting games now.

Mamizou is another zoner, which makes her yet another bitch to use, but thankfully has an easier time than Futo. Her attacks have better cover, and has some pretty great melee attacks with decent range, making her most excellent for punishing. Persona 4 Arena fans should also feel at home here; her skills revolve around transforming her minions to do her bidding, and getting hit while her friends do their thing will result in her losing a “leaf” (essentially just Persona cards). Losing all her leafs will likewise cause her to become “Persona-broken” for 10 seconds.

Even with all of these characters and crazy mechanics flying around, I haven’t even gone into the Religion system, which changes things like combos, setups, and effects entirely. And I probably wont, as even I haven’t experimented much with it.

Phew! That was a lot of words devoted to all that boring gameplay stuff, so how about all the fun stuff holding it together? Well for one, Hopeless Masquerade easily has the best production values out of all the Touhou games. Character sprites no longer use that trademark “chibi” look Tasogare uses in all of their games, instead opting for a more detailed look with far more advanced animations. Very uncharacteristically of the otherwise squeaky-clean family friendliness of every other Touhou work, the spritework also gets just a bit more risque at times, with some serious leg action going on with every character, and some very gratuitous jiggle physics on Byakuren’s emotional skyscrapers. The backgrounds are far more livelier this time, being populated by a crowd of all sorts of cameos from different silly-capped lolis over the years.
The animation also gives a lot more “life” to the characters, far moreso than before. Nitori attacks using an assortment of crazy gadgets, and her Last Word attack is sure to get a chuckle among fans of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Reimu comes off as more of a no-nonsense badass while Mamizou’s animations give her the full feeling of a carefree reality-bending trickster. It’s all wonderful to look at in action, brimming with personality, and is a real step-up coming from the old grounded Touhou fighters.

I didn’t find myself caring much for the story, although most Touhou games aren’t very story-heavy. The plot revolves around humans losing all hope during a time of disaster, both natural and unnatural, and a couple of lolis with silly hats decide to spread their own religion along the human village to keep spirits high. (Except for Nitori, who’s fedora is far too mighty for that imaginary friend bullshit) Of course they all start to fight amongst eachother because of some good ol’ fashioned differences in beliefs, until they find out the main cause of the whole shindig was the result of some mask Youkai that got all sad because she lost one of her special masks. There are also endings, which I guess are amusing or something, it’s hard to tell, I can’t read Japanese that well. All in all, it’s a typical fighting game plot, and there isn’t much ground being broken here.

The music, as per Touhou standards, is top notch. Most of it is higher-budgeted remixes of classic tunes, and they all sound great. My favorites have to be the smooth guitar rendition of Byakuren’s theme, Emotional Skyscraper-Cosmic Mind and the toe-tappin’ violin-jazz arrangement of Magus Night. It’s all done with live instruments too, which comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s not as mind-blowing as some higher tiered remix albums, and SWR/Hisotensoku probably has a stronger selection of tracks overall, but it still gets the job more than done.

Overall, while I can’t make any strong judgements at this point, my first impressions with Touhou 13.5 have been more than positive. Right now it feels a good deal flimsier than Hisotensoku overall, but it still manages to stand out on its own. As per tradition often set by new fighting games, this first installment feels like a stepping stone to bigger and better things. The gameplay has solid foundations, but the balance definitely needs work, and the game feels a bit rough around the edges mechanically. There’s a disappointing lack of content to be found, but that shouldn’t deter you; Hopeless Masquerade is one of the freshest fighting games you’ll play this year, and is mind-blowingly fleshed out for a simple indie fighter made in less than a year. We’ll see where it goes later on, but with just a bit more love, this game could blossom into something magical.

For these first impressions, Touhou 13.5: Hopeless Masquerade gets a whole bunch of Danmaku bullets out of a whole bunch more Danmaku Bullets.

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Responses

  1. I’m curious; where the heck do you get this game?

    • For a relatively new game, it’s unusually hard to find legally, especially since all the shops that carry it don’t ship outside of Japan. (I believe.) (And what few sellers I could find on eBay all laughably overcharge it considering it’s a 2000 yen game) I swear the Doujin scene really needs to hop on the digital distribution bandwagon as soon as possible.

      If you don’t feel like putting in the effort, you can find it at the usual places you’d find such games (nyaa.eu, Doujinstyle, etc.)

    • Oh wow, I thought it was a free game you could download from the internet.

  2. Frankly I haven’t the foggiest idea what to make of this

  3. This is Touhou, I am pleased.

    The Koishi bit makes me think of what I’d do with a Koishi moveset…

  4. http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/000/003/878/1237917779613a.jpg?1284764479

    • IT’S CALLED TOUHOU, DAD.
      IT’S SOME OF THE BEST GAMEPLAY FROM A COUNTRY SUPERIOR TO OURS WITH DEEP, INTRICATE MECHANICS THAT A CASUAL LIKE YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND.
      JUST WATCH FOR A SECOND:

  5. If you are going for most excellent contents
    like myself, only go to see this site all the time for the reason that it
    provides feature contents, thanks


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