It was about three years ago… maybe four?
Hanging around with some friends on campus, my boy DJ Sebbyseb calls me over to our club’s computer with a game (actually a series) he wanted me to check out. Being an old game for a Japanese computer system, he loaded up an emulator with the rom for Highly Responsive to Prayers, the first of a series of games that many of you should be familiar with.
The gameplay is simple : You’re a shrine maiden running on the floor, usually some eerily still outdoor area, and there’s a ball that you can interact with (shoot or slide into) so that it destroys cards similar to Arkanoid or damages bosses. If anything touches your character – bullets, boss sprites or even the ball, you die. Lose all your lives and you continue from the level you were on, which is great since there’s unlimited continues, but you get the bad ending for doing so, making an incentive to do your best.
From the first level I was mesmerized. The backgrounds for each level, poorly rendered bitmap images on the surface, created an uneasy atmosphere. It used an older computer anime style for the characters, not the drawing style I see in just about every modern anime, which not only left a vintage flavor, but combined with the music and backgrounds/sprites, it felt like something foreign — creepy even.
The music suits their given areas. The track I put up a second ago is in the first area (and last in one of the paths you can take through the game). While it uses no special devices that I can point out, the bass line has a repetitive and somewhat hypnotic feel to it. Its purpose after all is to absorb the player into the world of Highly Responsive to Prayers, and for me, it worked like a charm.
The repetitive nature of the music extends to the boss tracks, one of my favorite boss tracks, starts by repeating the same 4 or so bars over and over again, until it picks up, where it alters the original melody that’s been repeating into something more chaotic and fitting for one of the game’s final bosses. Toward the middle, instrumental changes most noticeably in the percussion affect the rhythmic texture of the overall piece before looping back to the droning melody.
Speaking of changing it up, let’s look at the first part of the other final boss battle :
The main melody is particularly enjoyable here. While the others seem to adhere to the repetitive pulse in the bass lines, this one changes it up, especially in that one passage where each note is heavily accented.
To specify where I’m talking about, I’ll count in 4 beats. There’s the 8 bar intro, the next 8 bars with a little more instrumentation, and then another 8 where all hell breaks loose before the main melody shatters the pace set the previous 24 bars, a little bridge into the next section of the song, but it’s really effective.
Back to something a little more short and basic, we have this track which somehow sets a mood with its uneventful progression. The second half uses punctuation and puts the melody in the lower voice with ornamentation higher up while the percussion really drives it home. Simple, but effective.
Of course I have to end on my favorite song in the game. What makes it so special? It’s fucking creepy! From the beginning with the secondary voices going at it before the main melody even kicks in, it’s unsettling. Putting an awesome melody on top of that is like making a horror movie and finishing the villain by punching him in the dick until he taps to submission before putting an end to his evil. And everyone knows how I love gaming characters that can pull off a good shot to the genitals! That’s what this song is : terror with a side of dick punch, and I love it!
Naturally, you can tell how much I love the first Touhou game and while I love my vertical shooters and bullet hell’s, I kinda resent the fact that not once has Zun returned to his roots (while there’s more than enough room for multipe vs. game sidetracks to the series). For me, the rest is just catering to the modern anime-gamer at the cost of more imaginative gameplay.
See you around!