Touhou Luna Nights on the surface is an anime waifu maid Metroidvania, but it takes advantage of some incredibly unique mechanics. It is a part of a series of games called the “Touhou Project” and takes place over multiple different gaming genres. And this happens to be my first foray into the series.
The great thing about Touhou Luna Nights is that you don’t need any knowledge of the previous games in the series to make sense of what’s going on. That being said, the story itself is pretty standard fare. The player takes control of Sakuya Izayoi, a maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, who is sent to a world that was created by magic by one Remilia Scarlet – the head vampire of the aforementioned mansion. As ridiculous as all of that might sound, anyone who has seen any variety of anime will surely agree this is actually pretty tame.
The plot isn’t bad but it’s nothing groundbreaking, and the real star of Touhou Luna Nights is the gameplay. All of the main mechanics are built around abilities that allow you to manipulate time. Starting out, the only ability Sakuya has is slowing time, but shortly into the game she is gifted with a stopwatch that allows her to hone her abilities further to completely stop time.
Slowing time is invaluable in navigating around obstacles that are moving too fast to avoid but are too hazardous to simply freeze in place. It also comes in handy during combat since it slows down enemies and their attacks as well.
The time stop ability is the one that gets expanded on the most – both by gaining new abilities and introducing new mechanics. Abilities like being able to jump on knives that are frozen in the air and mechanics like platforms that keep moving, or even move in reverse, when time is frozen are par for the course.
According to much of the dialogue, Sakuya normally has these powers but they have been sealed away in this new world. And really, it wouldn’t be much of a Metroidvania game if she could use all of these abilities at the start.
A system that might be a bit divisive for some people is the HP and MP regen system. MP will naturally regen at a very slow rate, while HP doesn’t. The main way to regain both though is the “Graze” mechanic. Whenever you are in close proximity to an enemy or projectiles when time is either normal or slowed, you will get HP and MP. When time is completely frozen the range for Graze is larger but it only grants MP.
This is a little tricky to get used to at first but it’s actually pretty great during combat, especially the boss fights. That being said, the game does not have an autosave system. The only way to save is at phone booths that are scattered throughout the map, and dying means getting sent back to your last save point. Unless you figure out how to use Graze, that risk increases exponentially.
Phone booths are also typically accompanied by a vending machine that will fully restore HP and MP. These vending machines also have unlimited uses and don’t cost a thing to use, so they are a godsend.
Speaking of cost, there is a shop in the game that lets you buy HP and MP restores, expand on your time stop ability, increase XP gain, and even buy shop tickets that let you call the shop at any time – even during boss fights. These are actually more important than you’d think since there is only one shop location, which is kind of annoying. But I didn’t use the shop mechanics very much just because I found it a bit odd to use and the benefits didn’t really warrant going back and forth.
The way it works is, as you defeat enemies you collect gems; these gems give small stat boosts but they can also be sold for gold to purchase items at the shop. They also don’t sell for a ton so it takes a bit of time, or farming, to get enough to purchase the more expensive items. I did spend some time farming to see if there was much benefit to it but I don’t really think it’s necessary. The last two boss fights can be tricky though and it is helpful to have some extra items going into them.
There are also some quirks that do slow down the game. Since so many puzzles are reliant on the time stop ability and there is only a limited amount of time you can freeze it for, messing up on the puzzles can lead to a lot of standing around while you wait for the ability to recharge. This introduces some tediousness that, while it doesn’t ruin the game, does slow it down. Even with this, Touhou Luna Nights is a fairly short game – easily beatable in a weekend if you have some time to dedicate to it.
It’s not a perfect game but it is fun and provides a decent challenge. The waifu maid thing may be off-putting for some, but you don’t need to watch or even like anime to enjoy the gameplay. So if you have a free weekend and need a new game to check out, Touhou Luna Nights on Xbox One might be the answer you are looking for. It also doesn’t hurt that it has an incredibly catchy soundtrack.