5 tips to help you stop being a secondary Touhou fan and start dodging bullets

by eternal on February 23, 2010

It’s hard to pinpoint what it is about Touhou that draws people to it. Somewhere within the unique character designs, quirky personalities, stylish music and skillful game design lies the secret that made ZUN the otaku culture star that he is. However, the incredible popularity of his franchise has resulted in an interesting phenomenon among his fans: primary and secondary fandom.

I’m not sure how official this terminology is, but in general, Touhou fans can be divided into two categories: the people who enjoy it for the fan works and the memes, and the people who enjoy it for the source material. It’s essential to delve into both categories if you want to experience everything the franchise has to offer, but considering how mainstream it’s become, it’s safe to say that many of today’s Touhou fans shy away from the original games out of fear. I can’t blame them, either: bullet dodging is scary stuff. It’s tough for gamers, and it’s even tougher for non-gamers.

Regardless, you’ll be the one missing out if you don’t bite the bullet and try to grasp the intricacies of ZUN’s game design. After all, little girls shooting fairies can only take you so far – the beautiful chaos of the game’s extreme side are as important as any amount of techno remixes and yuri doujins. If you think you’re up for the task, read on for a few tips on how to experience Touhou fandom through its intimidating yet exhilarating source.


(Just wait ’til you see what her hearts can really do…)

1 – Take your time

It sounds like obvious advice, but you’d be surprised at how hard it is to follow. No matter how you look at it, you won’t learn to dodge bullets overnight, and hopefully no one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to play Lunatic. Take it slowly, and be sure to 1cc a difficulty level before moving on to the next one. If you’re an inexperienced gamer and Normal is destroying you, just play Easy, and play it until you can beat it. Do not force yourself to start the series in June and beat MoF on Lunatic by September. You have to set goals, but don’t expect it to be as easy as marathoning an anime series.

2 – Watch replays

Does the concept of copying another gamer’s strategy bother you? If so, have fun trying to beat Extra when you can’t even 1cc Normal.

Everyone has different ideals when it comes to the use of outside aid in games, be it through replays and strategies or blindly following the orders of an FAQ. However, there’s no question that observing more skilled players will help your game, and it certainly won’t guarantee that you play as well as them. It’s pretty tough to cheat in a game that revolves around skill. It’s like copying an established combo in a fighting game: even if you “steal” a pre-existing tactic, it won’t magically let you win tournaments, and it’s a good starting point if you’re not good enough to invent your own combos.

The interesting thing about Touhou is that it places a lot of emphasis on dodging instead of shooting, which, to some degree, goes against the shmup tradition. This means that some spellcards will look impossible at first until someone points you to the solution, and the best way to find that solution is by watching a replay. If you’re worried about it being unfair, don’t – unless you think you’re capable of putting in twice the amount of time needed and learning the entire game yourself.

3 – Don’t limit yourself to one game

This might sound odd, but you’d be surprised at how helpful it can be to switch between games. You’ll probably understand what I mean when you keep dying to the same boss in stage 5 and you feel like punching your keyboard every time you hear the stage 1 BGM.

Remember, you’re trying to build your skill, not your memory. You will lose a small percentage of the stage enemies and bullet patterns that you memorized if you switch to another game, but it’s worth it in that it’s the only way to avoid frustration. It’s not a flawless tactic, but it works. If you beat IN on Normal and can’t beat Hard, don’t worry – there are 11 other games for you to beat on Normal, and those are just from the main series! Phantasmagoria of Flower View is great for training your instincts because there’s no memorization, and Shoot the Bullet is great for preparing you for boss battles because you can’t bombspam through it. Play around, have fun, and try to keep yourself from getting stuck. One day you’ll come back to that Hard mode and accidentally ace it.

4 – Study the genre

This is a bit of a vague point, but it makes sense when you think about it. Depending on your experience with gaming, you might be a hardcore console or PC gamer with little experience in bullet hell, or you might be a complete beginner. If you’re already a hardcore arcade gamer you won’t be reading this, so I’ll assume that you’re unfamiliar with the bullet hell genre.

Effectively, most of these old-school arcade shmups are meant to be impossible. They’re supposed to destroy your wallet as you continue five times against the last boss, and they’re supposed to encourage repeat visits to the local arcade to top your friend’s best score. Since there’s no multiplayer component and the entire game is linear from a game design standpoint, there’s only one way to do better than the guy sitting beside you: perfection.

Bullet hell games demand sheer perfection. They’re like a time trial in a racing game, only you have to deal with an hour of gameplay spread across 6 stages instead of a mere 3 laps. You cannot fool the bad AI like in a fighting game, you cannot lure out the enemies one by one like in an action game. There is no secret weapon, no unlockable sword that kills with a single hit. You need to be perfect if you hope to win. If you play Touhou with the same mindset that you use to approach Call of Duty, you’ll fail. For one, you’re fighting a pre-programmed computer, not a team of humans – and you can’t afford risk death if it means gaining an extra kill.

I can go on about this forever, but to be honest, it’s something that you have to learn for yourself. Just be sure to analyze your own mistakes. When you die, ask yourself why it happened. Was it a careless mistake? Were you too slow at bombing? Did you forget the spellcard’s pattern or the stage enemies’ spawning locations? You’ll learn a lot about the game and the genre if you pay close attention and don’t let your prior gaming experiences fool you.

5 – Practice… but know when to take a break

Let’s face it, learning new things isn’t easy. The government has to force you to go to school for many years just to pound some basic information into your head, and even then, half of that information disappears by the time you reach adulthood. Whether it’s a new field of study or a new musical instrument or a new sport, learning is difficult.

Gaming is no different. You won’t get better without practice, but it’s also important to know your own limits. Sometimes it’s wise to just take a break and put it aside. Perhaps you’ll boot up the game in a year and give that old Extra stage a run, only to realize that you reach the 3/4 point without even trying. The learning process cannot be rushed: it’s simply your responsibility to do everything in your power to foster it.

– – –

In conclusion, I should mention that I was not entirely new to gaming when I started playing Touhou almost two years ago. Maybe that made the learning process easier for me, or maybe not. However, what I do know is that there was once a time when I thought I would never be able to 1cc Normal, until that fateful duel against Yuyuko that proved me wrong. I have had many ups and downs since then, but despite the countless soul-crushingly frustrating failures, I have experienced more than a few successes that I can be genuinely proud of.

On that note, I encourage you to head to your local google search bar and download whatever Touhou games you can find. Imperishable Night is the easiest, but the more the merrier. For the next hour, don’t think – just shoot. When you’re done with that, come back here and skim this post again, grab a replay at the archive, and start learning to dodge.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

digitalboy February 24, 2010 at 3:32 am

I’m just going to go ahead and guess that this post is in some way aimed at me directly, seeing as I’m the one who’s been going on about how much I suck at Touhou games in spite of loving the franchise LOL

I definitely think it’s important to play the games as a fan. As I’ve researched the Touhuo characters, I keep finding that the ones from Imperishable Night and Embodiement of Scarlet Devil are always my favorites, and then I realized that it’s because those were the only 2 games I spent a lot of time with when I broke into the franchise 2 years ago. I never got good at them back then, though.

I’m determined to do it now, though. I feel lik I’ve finally broken into this series. Yesterday I sat down on the Wiki and read the profile of EVERY character to appear in a main-series game. I then DL’d as many of the games as I could make work (1-9, SWR, and 12.3, for some reason I can’t seem to find working 11 and 12) and started playing the fuck out of them. I only played one round of PoFV, as Yuuka Kazami, and with 2 continues I beat Normal mode, and that was one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had in a while. I am READY to kick ass at this series!


Chris March 1, 2013 at 10:04 pm

If you would like, I could send you the files for 11,12 and the new ones (12.5, 12.8, 13 and the 13.5 demo.)


Scamp February 24, 2010 at 4:57 am

Heh, I’m only a primary fan and don’t really care about the secondary material because I found those character interactions to be the most boring thing ever created. Why would I want to watch two loli’s bickering when I can watch pretty bullet patterns!


SuperVolcano July 27, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Oh wow, I thought I was the only one. Yeah I don’t care in the slightest about the fandom and secondary material. I play for the bullets, music and spellcard background art.


Shmup Gamer February 24, 2010 at 7:18 am

As a gamer I became compelled to try out Touhou further because it offered me a lot that many other games couldn’t which was a extreme challenge as a shooter, a genre I’ve been a fan of for years (I’m sad for the slow demise of the genre). It’s challenge I learned against Aya in MoF about after an hour I just simply had no answer against her on hard difficulty. Since toning down the difficulty I’ve 1 CC’d IN, PoFV, MoF and UFO on Normal and slowly progressing towards the harder difficulties. Regarding secondary works I enjoy good fanart like your example above (the artist is really good IMO and the artwork boosts character appeal greatly), good cosplays and basically ignore anything that’s not really canon like doujin manga or the various remixes (I’ve always liked the OSTs more.)


kluxorious February 24, 2010 at 10:04 am

I don’t even know what Touhou is all about until recently (and still has a lot to learn about it) and I have not jump on the bandwagon either. Just not my kind of things, I guess


zzeroparticle February 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I kinda know that time and practice are really what’s keeping me from doing well in these games, but then again, I mostly play them to see how creative ZUN can get with the bullet patterns. Every games has always added a new bullet-y twist and it’s been fun unlocking the secret that will allow one to get past the spellcard with minimal life lost.


Blowfish February 24, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I could care less about the Touhou characters but whats always been interesting for me had been the high diffiulty thats getting toned down in games nowadays.

I guess most people are secondary fans though because they simply find the characters cute as so often with “Otaku Culture”


Shance February 25, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Whoa, that meeting actually spurred this post? Royally glorious.

People, listen to ETERNAL here. He’s probably the exemplification on all of what he said on this post. But thinking he’s listing the hell out of what you should do as a primary fan, I might as well add some more:

6. Explore, Explore

There’s more than one way to play the game. After finishing some standard achievements (1cc Normal, Easy, etc.), challenge yourself and try playing the game with some restrictions (no bomb, no focus, etc.). That way, a single game would have countless replayability potential.

7. Don’t Give Up!

Most of the people took a try on this, dodged bullets, and then called it quits. You can’t be a Touhou fan with that, can you? You just have to practice, practice, practice, till your mind memorizes every single spellcard there is to memorize. There’s no shame in using bombs and credits, because the glory a Touhou fan achieves after finishing the game without giving up is enough to bring him/her to Nirvana.

All in all, it’s up to you people to explore. ETERNAL here just laid down the foundation, so it’s up to you to give it a try. Stick to the program, and you’re good.


ETERNAL February 26, 2010 at 10:48 pm

@ Digitalboy: I guess we already talked about this, but yes, it’s great that you’re working toward learning more about the games. This post wasn’t aimed at you at all, but your recent posts on Touhou (and a couple conversations with Shance) certainly prodded it along :P

@ Scamp: To be honest, you have a point. I enjoy most of the secondary material, but I always find the dialogue in the games to be awkward. At any rate, the bullet patterns are incredibly pretty – I took the screencap for this post a year ago when I went through my Phantasm run to ogle the shiny danmaku. It’s something you can’t really appreciate when you’re busy dodging through it.

@ Shmup Gamer: Oh, Aya, how I hate her. She’s one of the reasons why I gave up on trying to beat MoF on Lunatic.

Anyway, it sounds like you’re less interested in the secondary material than me, but part of me agrees with your comment on the remixes. I honestly think there are some great Touhou remixes out there, but it bugs me when half of the doujin music from any given Comiket is a rehash of the same old ZUN melodies. For every Touhou album that gets released, I feel like I’m missing out on a great original album that could have taken its place, but maybe that’s just me.

@ zzeroparticle: Now that’s an interesting way of looking at it. Truthfully, nothing beats the feeling of dodging through a spellcard first-hand, but you can check out some replays if you want to see just how crazy some of the patterns can get without having to ace the card yourself. One of my favourite aspects of getting a new Touhou game is the anticipation of seeing the last/Extra boss’s spellcards.

@ Blowfish: Touhou is pretty much completely otaku-targeted, so there’s definitely the whole moe element among the male fans. I guess that’s why I find the franchise so interesting: ZUN knows his frilly dresses and coloured hair, but he really knows his game design too!

@ Shance: Well said. Our conversation the other day got me thinking about the gameplay side of the series again, and somehow or the other I got fired up to start taking bullet dodging seriously again. I’ll be glad if at least one person reads this post and starts working away at the games.


EX_CIRNO March 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Whole post is truth. Though eye want to add one thing that will help:

DON’T be afraid.

If you see an opening, just GO! Don’t think twice about eet. It’s a bit like sniping a moving enemy target. If you don’t do it within the tiny opportunity window, you’ll die. Sure, you might die if you do it, but it’s a good death. You’ll slowly learn the places where you can and can’t dodge, and when to really dodge and when to bomb. Which brings us to another thing.

Plan your bombs.

Sure, it looks cheap, but it’s the good type of cheap. Find the spots where you frequently die, and bomb when you feel overwhelmed. Over time, as you feel more confident, you can try and tackle that specific spot without resorting to bombs. But, for beginners, JUST BOMB IT! BOMB IT TO THE GROUND!
*shakes fist furiously*


Again, good post. As for me….
*shifty eyes, kicks bad replays under the rug*


Latoya August 14, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Heckuva good job. I sure apritcpaee it.


Ramon Felipe April 13, 2011 at 3:02 am


Now this explains why I suck at sniping ;p

Getting better at touhou though, almost beat easy without losing a continue today, just need to start properly using bombs, I keep dying with plenty of them


Negirno October 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm

One thing a beginner player should avoid is to be suckered by the “easy mode is for kids” meme. I played (mostly) Embodiment of The Scarlet Devil in normal mode, and can only reach the library level, (mostly with continues or playing as Master Spark Marisa), and beating Cirno without losing a life, is few and far between in that mode (at least for me).


Xandersol February 20, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I have noticed something about myself: whenever I get seriously stuck in a game, ANY game, and I get so frustrated that I put it down for a few months (or even a year, sometimes), when I come back, I am always able to ace that game.


limeradar.com October 11, 2014 at 1:31 am

Excellent article. I certainly love this site. Stick with it!


Shanna November 10, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Thanks for finally talking about >5 tips to help you stop being a secondary Touhou fan and
start dodging bullets <Loved it!


Kyouko November 12, 2015 at 5:04 am

Does playing the fighting games alone qualify you for being a primary fan? There’s this friend of mine who only plays the fighting games and when I tell him to play the shooting games he chickens out and saying it’s not his type especially it is a pain in the ass. And it ticks me off when I saw one of his wallpapers that are full of Touhou characters that are totally naked (fan works) and he doesn’t even know who they are.


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