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Old September 12th, 2013 (4:03 PM). Edited September 26th, 2013 by New Eden.
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New Eden New Eden is offline
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So I haven't reviewed anything in a long time, so I wanted to see what little muscle I had left in the erm...department?My opinion on the game seems to differ from my peers so I wanted to give my take on it.

One thing that seems to be loved by the Touhou fandom is that the series never takes huge leaps in the risk department, but still wind up feeling like slightly different games. Typically there’s a gimmick or two to give it new life, one or two shot types changed, maybe a more diverse character and/or shot type are added, or an attempt to refine the engine is done. The fighting games, made in collaboration with the Twilight Frontier, are absolutely no exception. 7.5, Immaterial and Missing Power, wasn’t much more than your average tournament fighter with the exceptions of the story mode, and the spell card system, allowing for choosing different special attacks. 10.5, Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, expanded on this idea and introduced a very love or hate deck system, which allowed players to create their own movesets for characters, which then allowed for more diverse ways to use said characters. 12.3, Hisoutensoku (sometimes referred to as Unthinkable Natural Law), expanded on that with a rather gigantic roster and slightly different mechanics. So, with 13.5 Hopeless Masquerade, you’d expect from them to do mainly the same thing, right? Well, you’re in for a surprise.

The gameplay of Hopeless Masquerade scraps the traditional fighter to become something truer to the series more so than any other of the fighters before it. The combat takes place in mid-air, with no ground combat to be found. Characters stay at the exact same altitude, but can go up and down in a similar way to jumping. The controls are mostly solid with refinements done between the trials and the final release. The physics though are rather ‘floaty’ and can make dodging in some cases impossible. Stringing combos together has also never been easier, with more simplistic attacks somewhat similar to the Smash Bros. series rather than a traditional fighter. This can be a pet peeve for some, as it can take a lot of the effort and amazement when pulling off an impressive combo in comparison to most tournament fighters. When experimenting with my Hori arcade stick, I found the controls with it to be okay at best. This is a game created with keyboard controls in mind, and it very much shows. I feel as if keyboard is light years ahead with this game, which tends to be bit of a rarity with tournament fighters.

Special attacks are done with something called spirit. Whenever you use a special attack, your spirit metre goes down, and can’t use any more special attacks once it is empty. You have to wait for it to recharge enough (though it doesn’t take long at all) before you can do another special move. While this has been a staple in the fighting series since its conception, [I]Hopeless Masquerade makes it even more important with its simplistic combat, therefore preventing spamming much more than ever. You can also ‘graze’ special attacks by charging through them, taking little to no damage in the process.

Something that also seems unique to the game is the popularity metre. This has a ratio of blue and red depending on how well you’ve been playing. If the popularity is 100% blue, then the player can activate their Last Word, a special attack that if pulled off, can do an obscene amount of damage. Having 100% red, on the other hand, results in slower spirit regeneration after special attacks as well as blocks being more costly. When a timeout happens, unlike other fighters that use health to determine who won, the game instead uses the popularity metres of both players to determine the winner. If they’re even, then it uses health. It would had been better if it used health regardless, as your popularity carries over from one round to the next.

Spell cards also behave differently. Now you can have only two at a time (sometimes more if characters allow them) and are declarable when your health bar goes blue instead of white (blue portion goes up as you take damage/land hits on your opponent.) This system works nicely, as it generally means one distinct spell card per round instead of the previous games’ system of “as many as you can get your hands on” type of play. Speaking of characters, most of them have their own gimmick, allowing them to have potentially a unique edge over others. Some of these are cool, others are just “meh.”

In comparison to older fighting games in the series, the character list is much, much smaller. You start with eight characters, with two to unlock through the story. With the exceptions of Reimu and Marisa, none of the other characters have ever appeared in one of the fighting games before. In fact, all of them come from games ten to thirteen, with familiar faces being members of the crowd in the back of the stages. So all in all, if you’re expecting a much larger character roster than before, then prepare to be disappointed. It arguably makes balancing easier though, which can occasionally be a problem with fighting games with a large roster.

Oh yeah, this game happens to have a story, right? Well, yes. The whole story of the game is that the human village has fallen into hopelessness, and have lost whatever faith they had. Seeing this, the adherents of Buddhism, Shinto, and Taoism in the world of Gensokyo attempt to use this as an opportunity to restore the human faith, as well as expand their own… so basically it’s a holy war. Some may find it slightly boring, but for a fighting game it’s largely just there to help drive the rest of the game, slightly to modern first person shooter campaigns. The endings generally depend on which character you finish the game with (eventually it’ll wind up being all of them if you want the hidden characters, which I haven’t bothered much with.) In the end though, it’s really nothing that’ll leave you wanting more. The story mode also brings back spell cards in fights with other characters. This is really a love it or hate it type of deal, and for me, I honestly hate it. While they’re fun and unique little attacks, I really only find the way of capturing them is to just spam your moves until you take their health out. Despite it has been quite annoying at times, I always felt that it’s been a good idea at work, but it just needs some more tuning.

Character customization is back, but rather in the form of movesets rather than the love it or hate it deck format that had been introduced in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody. These can be set up in multiple different ways, with even direction assignment playing a big difference on move behaviour. Experimenting with this is a lot of fun, and not nearly as time consuming. Even with all that though, I can’t help but feel like a lot of depth was subtracted in sacrifice of simplicity, but even then it still works okay.

The graphics are a total step up from 12.3. Hopeless Masquerade scraps the original chibi sprites that were used in three installments and uses more detailed, fleshed out sprites. The animation is very well done and reflects the characters very well (but I guess you can say in the games they’re almost all smartasses for the most part.) The attack animations are also spectacular, and watching spell cards obliterate your opponent is always fun. Like noted earlier, old cast members are shown in the background, and while their animations are short, they do make the backgrounds much more lively than its predecessors. The game is also the first to ever be in HD, at 1280x720. While some of the main games can achieve a similar resolution, they don’t look even near this good (generally very pixelated.) The character art, again, was made by those at Twilight Frontier, and takes a much more mature approach to the design of the characters in comparison to its predecessors. It might be less cutesy, but it exchanges it for some more awesome art evident in Last Words. I prefer the approach that was taken here, as much as I love the art from the previous games.

When it comes to the music, there is a lot to love as always. Most of the tracks are arrangements from previous games, mainly themes of characters for their respecting stages. The instruments are more diverse and less limited in the soundfont (but yes, rest assured that there are trumpets. It is not Touhou without trumpets.) A lot of the tracks are less ‘epic’ compared to their original versions (as they are typically more laid back and more jazzy in comparison to their original counterparts,) but they’re still a standout effort nonetheless. Like the rest of the game, the characters are pretty much mute with no voice bytes whatsoever, with the exception being a sound clip of the crowd when something happens much akin to Smash Bros.

Though with all these features, I don’t find myself coming back to the game very often. In fact unless you have a friend where you can have lag-free online play with, I don’t see much of a reason for there to be much. Sure, maybe experimenting with customization is a little exciting, but there aren’t as many moves as before (or at least it seems a little more shallow) so it can get boring pretty quickly. The story mode is really nothing to write home about, and there’s also no traditional arcade mode in sight, which the exclusion is something I found to be a rather large peeve. I also sometimes feel that the spell cards can be pretty broken at times in both usage and power, as all there is in terms of skill is just timing them and stringing them in. There’s very little management of them, and they can be declared on a dime (even though for a short amount of time where you must use it or lose it.)

All in all, Hopeless Masquerade kind of feels like an unfinished game, and even compared to the nine-year old Immaterial and Missing Power it feels kind of weak. A bit of an underwhelming release, even though it doesn’t last for very long. I must admit though, it also feels like the beginning of something fantastic (much like the transition from 7.5 to 10.5), as long as Twilight Frontier and ZUN can be devoted enough to make this new formula something great. It’s nice to see the two refuse to follow the same premise four times, so Hopeless Masquerade is definitely refreshing. While fans of fighters may not find a lot much to adore here, there is plenty for Touhou fans to love. For them, it’s a definite recommend; for everyone else though, maybe demo it first.

You can find the free web demo from Twilight Frontier here.

3.25 out of 5

You can see my rating scale here:

5 - Classic. Perfect... well, for the most part. The game might have a few flaws, but they’re so easy to overlook that they’ll hardly subtract from your experience. A definite must have.
4.5 - Amazing.
4 - Excellent - Typically those games that tend to stand out amongst the bigger gaming audience. Often these games are a must have to your collection. It might have a few nitpicks, and it might bug you, but it doesn't harm the experience too much. These are the types of games that are on people's game of the year lists.
3.5 - Great. These games are generally the ones that are hyped and achieve high merit from players all around. Sure there may be a flaw or two, but in the end it’s worth your time and money.
3 - Good. These are games that can generally be enjoyed by the general public, but seem to be made more for a specific group. As a result, these have flaws that can usually be only overlooked by the target audience, but not exactly by everyone else.
2.5 - Average. The type of games you can shrug off as “meh.” The game may have some highs, but the lows are just as prevalent. Enjoying these games are typically a coin flip.
2 - Poor. There’s generally something iffy with these games that make it stick out like a sore thumb. Whether it be the slightly clumsy controls, the seemingly outdated graphics, or a flat-out silly premise, these generally only for those who are fans of the developer’s previous works.
1.5 - Very Poor
1 - Awful. These games generally shouldn’t exist, and aren’t for anyone’s enjoyment. Often reserved for shovelware though there may be a few exceptions.
0.5 - Kill it.


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