Videogames aren't terribly memorable for me anymore. That's not to say they aren't fun, I'd not play them otherwise, it is to say that I'm old(~ish) and jaded (very) and that much doesn't distinguish itself and enrapture me as it did in years past. For the most part, I've seen what the majority of gaming has to offer, at least the admittedly small corner of the medium I concern myself with, so readily familiar and comfortable but hardly memorable. Thinking back over the past year, yet concluded, I can barely remember what little I've actually played, with one notable exception. Though not of this year, or even this hemisphere, and about as far removed from the mainstream western market as you can get, I did stumble upon not a single game, but an entire franchise that exceeded all expectations and left me genuinely enthralled, eager for more. Interestingly enough, it wouldn't be the games themselves that I'd find so fascinating as the sizable community surrounding them.
It's difficult to remember exactly when, but I can remember where my present fascination began: In the murky depths of a humble little wiki, infamous to those familiar, foreboding to those unaware, a virtual black hole of time wasting trivial information all but the most stalwart are incapable of escaping from, purposefully designed to slowly rob you of your precious life force; TvTropes.org.
My favorite website. God help me.
Aside from Destructoid, of course! *Ahem* Moving on...
One nondescript, thoroughly uninteresting day not so long ago, one such of many, I was mindlessly clicking about the aforementioned website, as I'm for want to do when bored, perusing puerile pages when I stumbled upon one particularly cleverly titled article: E = MC Hammer. That made me chuckle. Yes I'm easily amused. Taking note of the cursory information fist, as always, I was drawn to the page picture. I recognized the character, vaguely familiar but ultimately uncertain. One twitch of a finger later and I embarked on a journey of discovery; reading, watching, listening and playing unlike any I had experienced before. A whole new world exploded into being, formerly in my periphery, now focused I saw it seemingly everywhere. My life hasn't quite been the same since.
Cute little girls. SERIOUS BUSINESS.
Touhou Project, for the uninitiated, is a series of "Danmaku" or "Bullet Hell" vertical shooters focusing on avoiding intricately woven tapestries of deadly projectiles all while desperately trying to shoot down the games many enemies. No simple feat, even on easy mode. Originating in 1996 on the Japanese exclusive PC-98 microcomputer, later moving to Windows and proper PCs in 2002, to date there have been a total of thirteen primary games, each exclusively developed by a funny little Japanese man, Jun'ya Ota, better know by his handle ZUN. With a penchant for snappy attire and an unfathomable love of alcohol he is the sole member of developer Team Shanghai Alice, the creator of, and supreme authority on, all things Touhou. By all accounts a rather pleasant and personable chap.
Stress induced heart attack or diabetes inducing cuteness.
One way or another, the Touhous will get'cha.
After reading up a bit on the series on the site-that-will-not-be-named-because-it-will-eat-up-all-my-spare-time-if-I-link-to-it-again (DAMN IT!) and watching the music video linked in the previous article, I took it upon myself to track down the games and play them. I had to at this point. I was engrossed.
You know that feeling you get when you're made aware of something for the first time and suddenly see it pop up all over the place, as if it had just spontaneously happened the moment you learned of it, despite having existed for who knows how long before hand? That was me with Touhou. Avatars, pictures, songs, all scattered about while I was busy internetting now had a source and I relieved to know of it, like I had found something I had no idea I was searching for.
So began my foray from the media surrounding them to the games themselves, starting with the sixth and first for Windows, Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, by far the most popular of the series. Yes, that's the proper title. They get stranger. I don't make'em I just regurgitate'em. It didn't take me long to come about a startling revelation: I suck at shmups. Even on easy mode, as disgraceful as that is within the community, I could barely advance. I was thoroughly out of my element. Understandable, considering what I was up against.
And that's on EASY.
One hit kills. Limited lives. Limited bombs. Crazy difficult even on easy. Top it all off I sucked, HARD, at it. I should've hated the game, cursed it's existence, deleted from my hard drive and moved on. Instead, I f*cking loved it! Mostly from seeing what I had come to know tangentially spring to life before me, not so much the gameplay itself, regardless I still enjoyed every torturous minute of it. Much like Demon/Dark Souls, Touhou, while hard, is fair in it's challenge. It predominately revolves around memorization, steady nerves, quick reflexes, and, most importantly, NOT FREAKING THE FRAK OUT WHEN A SCREEN-WIDE BARRAGE OF BULLETS BARREL TOWARDS YOU FOR WHAT CAN SEEM LIKE AN ETERNITY OF PIXELATED TECHNOCLOR HELL. Pretty, though.
The games, while fun, are fundamentally simplistic and I find they have little to offer me beyond occasional distraction. I've played them all, including the six spinoff games, but have not yet beaten a single one. I find them entertaining but am not particularly compelled to see them through to completion. Instead, I've taken to the massive and talented fandom surrounding the franchise. There is no adequately simple way to describe them. They are insane. In the best possible manner.
In SPADES. Hundreds of remixes, dozens of professional quality bands dedicated to reimagining ZUN's music, already excellent, into just about every style possible, often accompanied by expertly animated music videos like that of BAD APPLE above.
Pick yer poison. We got:
Badass. (And still adorable)
Sexy. (And also adorable)
Armpits: It's a Touhou thing.
Hundreds of thousands of pictures across every imaginable category. Comics of every style and genre. Crossovers with even the most obscure of properties. If there is a way to express one's love of Touhou visually, chances are it exists. It's like Rule 34, but mostly safe for work.
That's not all though. Far from it. There's still cosplay. Fan games. Fan animation. Proper fan made anime. Professionally made statues and figures. Plushies. All manner of memorabilia. Conventions. Print works. EVERYTHING. If it can be made in the image of something from Touhou then IT. HAS. BEEN. DONE. There is seemingly no end to the creative depths of the fandom. Greater than perhaps any other videogame series, if not in size then at least in both quantity and quality. There's always something new to discover and partake in.
I love the games. Perhaps I don't play them as much as I should. Rather than a truly memorable moment from the series as a whole, save for the first title I inevitably and painstakingly complete, I'll instead look back and recall how one game, and an infinitely absorbing website, introduced me to a gargantuan and marvelous community the likes of which I've never seen. Fondly remembering our virtual experiences, recent or otherwise, is always a great accomplishment for any game, especially now, in the midst of an industry constantly trying to sell us short on content and quality. I'll not soon forget the classics I played as a lad, nor later games that I'll revere as classics someday in their own right, but so few games can offer you more than the experience. So very few can offer you a whole new world to explore and indulge yourself in beyond the program.
ZUN willing, the Land of Illusions will continue to thrive for years to come. By the collective consciousness of the fanbase, the mysterious world of Gensokyo and it's many inhabitants will continue to change and grow in ways no one man, or even team of people could possibly accomplish. I, all the while, will gladly partake of whatever those kooky fanatics think up next, and who knows? In time I may well add my own unique brand of creativity to this wonderful world. Gensokyo accepts all kinds, after all. There is a place for everyone and everything.
All this and so much more, from the mind of one strange little man, who really wanted nothing more than to fiddle around with a computer and make a bit of music.
I'll leave off with this:
His fans wrote him a wedding anthem. A touching rendition of what is effectively his own theme. A beautiful tribute to the man who has inspired so many. Myself among them.