Oh boy! It’s another cute girl/good game title! But seriously, Touhou Luna Nights is a fun Castlevania-like game. Team Ladybug is another indie studio I’ve followed recently after they released a Japan-only promotional game for Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux called Shin Megami Tensei: Synchronicity Prologue, a platformer that served as a mini-prequel for Strange Journey.
Touhou Luna Nights was originally released on Steam Early Access last year and recently received its final update after its official release in February 2019. For those looking for a bargain title in place of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, this is the perfect game as it’s more affordable but doesn’t skimp on quality. But enough talk, let’s have at it.
Violence: Sakuya, the character you control, attacks with knives, and certain enemies attack with guns or an assortment of medieval weapons, but no blood is shown. Enemies explode when defeated, however, and Sakuya has a unique animation where she slumps and then falls to the floor when her health is depleted.
Spiritual Content: Certain characters are mythical creatures like vampires. Enemies are primarily from Japanese folklore and mythology, though others are basic spirits or fairies. Magic is acknowledged as a known concept.
For those who have paid attention to the Japanese indie import scene, the name Touhou may have come up a few times. Essentially, Touhou Project is an independent Japanese SHMUP franchise of which setting and characters enjoyed immense popularity among artists, musicians, and game developers. Touhou Luna Nights is a fangame of that franchise; however, knowledge of other entries in this series is not required at all to enjoy this game. Touhou Luna Nights has its own merits.
You take the role of Sakuya Izayoi, the knife-flinging, time-stopping magical maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion and its master, Remilia Scarlet. She finds herself outside the mansion, but it looks completely different than what she expects and soon discovers that Remilia, out of boredom, is forcing her to play a “game”: Sakuya must traverse the mansion in order to find out why Remilia made an alternate world for her game.
Touhou Luna Nights is similar to Symphony of the Night in almost every way except that it’s much shorter and you don’t have cool vampire abilities. But you can stop time so I think it’s a fair trade. There’s a designated shop for recovery items, save points, warp points, a leveling system, skills and spell cards you can find throughout the game as well as several minor upgrades to your health, magic, time, and even knives you can throw in the stopped time. There are even some fun extras you can find like money caches in the form of big jewels and recycle bins at recovery points just to show you care.
This might seem a little daunting but I’m going to break down the key mechanic of this game. Sakuya is given a clock that can stop and slow down time; slowing down time, referred to as “Snail Time”, requires charging and releasing the attack button at your convenience, while the Time Stop is a toggle skill that has a time limit (an improbable power that is given agency and limitations).
Stopping time has clear advantages, as you can stack knife throws to defeat stronger enemies immediately and eventually use your attacks as platforms to reach higher areas. Stopping time seems so strong that Snail Time doesn’t seem viable —until you start learning the graze system.
The graze system is a mechanic from the Touhou Project series in which brushing up against enemies can give back health or magic. Magic is earned during Time Stop while health is earned by grazing enemy attacks at normal speed or during Snail Time. This mechanic is integral to completing the game since Sakuya’s knives use magic, and you’ll need a lot of knives. I cannot stress enough how much I love this system in the game. The active ability to regain finite resources is always a great way to keep the game engaging, even if you don’t need to.
Gameplay isn’t the only standout aspect, however. I mentioned before that Touhou Project has a huge fanbase in regards to its elements. The music is a major aspect as well. The soundtrack for Touhou Luna Nights is loud, mystical, and vitalizing. The use of piano midis is a classy touch to match the Victorian flavor in Sakuya’s design. But the string midis enhance the mystical aspect, giving an ambiance of mystique to the whole game. The extra stage even mixes up the atmosphere by incorporating Japanese instrument midis to fit the aesthetic.
If it wasn’t apparent enough from the images and animations so far, the game’s art is great. There are subtleties everywhere that give the game life and fluidity, like how characters and enemies move in place. The animation of rainfall and water in the first few screens give an opportunity to understand how important it is to utilize Snail Time and Time Stop.
I haven’t even mentioned the spell cards yet! These attacks are amazing, each one offering a slight yet unique utility to fights. The Stun Knife, your weakest spell card, creates a pillar on impact that stuns any enemy caught in its range. The Chainsaw is a slow-moving projectile thrown in an arc, similar to the Axe from the Castlevania series. Then there’s the Thousand Daggers spell card, perfect for any larger enemy that requires multiple hits.
Similar to Castlevania (see the trend yet?), the bosses are not only difficult but incredible spectacles in their own right. The game’s art uses different colors on bullets and obstacles to emphasize the SHMUP properties that are key to conserving health and magic in these fights compared to the rest of the game. The barrage of colors on the screen seemed daunting at times, but I was able to keep track of all the different colors and their unique properties. Violet-colored obstacles would travel the same speed regardless of Snail Time or Time Stop. Green-colored ones would only move during Time Stop. In a twist, yellow-colored ones would move in the opposite direction.
I would have to dodge bullet patterns while simultaneously looking for safe spots where I could stop time and get back as much magic as possible. I would switch between spell cards to optimize the most damage I could get in during each attack. The fact that my brain kept running strategies through the whole game is proof that the game’s functionality and flow work seamlessly together.
If you’re having trouble you can always head to the shop if you need a little bit of help getting past certain fights. However, defeating the bosses using just what’s available to you feels so good that I would recommend trying to do that instead, even if it meant more attempts. This is one of the few games outside of PlatinumGames’s titles that I’ve felt compelled to complete without using items.
Despite Bloodstained being available now, Touhou Luna Nights is proof that other game developers have long since offered adequate or even better Castlevania-esque experiences. Team Ladybug shows their mastered knowledge of 2D adventure platformers and they definitely delivered an absolute jewel with this one. Seriously, pick this one up; you will not regret it, guaranteed.
The Bottom Line
Touhou Luna Nights offers a concise and tight Castlevania-like experience making the game enjoyable for most despite the niche franchise it pulls from.