The Rogue-Like Card System is the Bold Mechanic Touhou Deserves

Like most recent entries in the series, Touhou 18: Unconnected Marketeers introduces its own unique mechanic. Alongside the usual points and power items, enemies will also drop currency when defeated. At the end of each stage, you’re allowed to spend that currency to buy cards, which have effects ranging from passives to items that can be used manually.

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Currency is collected like other drop items.

Other Touhou games, such as Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character and Touhou 15: Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom, have mechanics that activate under certain circumstances. Whether it is heading toward the collection line at the right time or dodging a considerable amount of bullets, they reward players for satisfactory and specific ways to play. In exchange, the difficulty ramps up, meaning victory will likely be achieved by using these mechanics often. This doesn’t add much depth to the experience since it is not by choice or skill that these mechanics will be indulged.

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Touhou 14 and 15’s mechanics do not significantly change the way you would play.

Touhou 12: Undefined Fantastic Object and Touhou 17: Wily Beast and Weakest Creature emphasize the collection of moving power-ups, culminating in an eventual reward. While these offer more choice in what power-up you get, there isn’t that much difference in strategy. Furthermore, focusing on collecting the same color of UFO or animal spirit is often a practice in futility, putting yourself at risk in an already alarming array of bullets.

The vastly different card system conforms to your level of play. In contrast to 14 and 15, being decent but not great at efficiently collecting currency will not lock you out of the mechanic. Card costs are based on their effect’s power level, meaning you can still participate in buying cards with little funds. Even if players do not actively collect currency, they will inevitably run into some in their flurry of evasion.

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Tell me you want to chase UFOs through all of this.

These cards can mix and match, adding an element of character ability building. For example, the passive card “Dragon Pipe” gives a fraction of a 1-up whenever a major boss spell card is successfully evaded without using a bomb.

The active spell card “Lunatic Moon” creates a long window of invincibility and inflicting decent damage. These two cards synergize in a “survival build,” which is an extensive change to how players can approach a boss. Other builds could include combinations like “Miracle Mallet” and “Lessons of a Cheapskate” to maximize currency.

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Card builds encourage trying new combinations throughout multiple playthroughs.

Critically, card collection provides a reason for multiple playthroughs, even after obtaining a one-credit clear. Previously, the only reason to do so was to unlock a new character for use in extra stages. With both the temptation of trying new card builds and 100% completing the unlocked card list, Touhou 18 is a step forward in the double-decade-old series in terms of replayability.

Touhou 18: Unconnected Marketeers releases on Steam on May 4, 2021.

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