Touhou Danmaku Kagura – an honest review

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…by someone who is playing the game!

This is a review I started writing yesterday. I just felt like talking more in-depth about this long-awaited Touhou game on Tiramisu Cowboy!

Touhou Danmaku Kagura (in short, DanKagu) is a mobile rhythm game developed and published by Unknown X (a supergroup consisting of AQUASTYLE, DeNA, and xeen). Like a lot of other games and every Touhou mobile game, it only has authorization by Team Shanghai Alice (so ZUN pretty much said “okay, you can do this game”, it’s not a new spin-off or actual part of the Touhou series). The game was released a few days ago (after almost one year since its first announcement), and I’ve finally been able to play it through my trusty mobile emulator (and cracked APKs because the game hates Android versions inferior to 8, please don’t ban me). Playing this game with a keyboard is hard…

Danmaku Kagura picks up to where Touhou Cannonball left off: a Touhou mobile game with lots of love and care towards the franchise. I’ve been observing the Japanese community for a while, and DanKagu was proclaimed by fans as “the game that will kill Lost Word and save the Touhou mobile games” (Lost Word has A LOT of problems, but that’s not the topic of this post). Of course, there is also a lot of skepticism towards such claims. First of all, it’s a rhythm game, which means it will only attract a specific type of audience, and it doesn’t seem to offer anything interesting outside of “it has only Touhou songs”. Secondly, there is a lot of pessimism especially towards DeNA, one of the companies involved. DeNA is behind Pokémon Masters(ex), which is not in an amazing state nowadays. Thus, people are afraid they are going to fuck this game up as well.

The game is free to download. It’s exclusive to the Japanese store, but you can download an APK from qooapp. A Google/Apple account is required to sign up. No song is behind a paywall. You pay to get more gacha currency and upgrading material, although you can still save up. A lot of free stuff can be obtained by clearing various types of missions, getting full combo/high scores in songs, and damaging the boss enough.

Now, to the game itself! DanKagu is pretty much a reskinned BanG Dream! and other similar mobile rhythm games: the notes are laid out in a scrolling grid, you tap or hold them. There are no flick notes (the bane of the existence for rhythm game players), but I wanna bet they’ll introduce them in the future. Your score is determined by your “mitama cards”, so even if you do super brilliant all perfect in a song, you’ll end up with a C score. To improve it, you need to get good mitama cards by pulling on the gacha and level them up. Beginner missions can give you some SSR cards, for an easy start. Each card has an attribute, and even the songs have their own attribute. Match them to get better results. Mitama cards feature illustrations made for the game by plenty of popular artists. They are mostly on the “typical Touhou fanart” territory, but we already see that the game is not afraid of including more suggestive stuff… nothing outright NSFW, but you know which artwork I’m talking about ⚓ (also, we have Zounouse drawing a normal-looking Suwako, is this real life?). Also, upgrading them will give them some fancy animations and sparkles, but there have been several reports that they lag the game.

Each song has also its own boss character (usually the owner of the arranged theme), who floats behind the grid and shoots danmaku at a certain point of the song. This danmaku part is purely aesthetic, except for “danmaku stages” (which have their own entry in the music list) where you catch Touhou power-up points following the rhythm. You can damage the boss by tapping the notes with a red aura. The higher level your heroines are, the more damage you can deal. This boss feature shows me a possible limitation of the songs selection: manga tracks and ZUN’s Music Collection arrangements might not be added into the game due to them being associated with characters who canonically don’t use spell cards and bullets. I hope they’ll come up with something for that because a game that can have a lot of BUTAOTOME tracks but not Gensou no Satellite feels extremely wrong to me. They may use characters that could work as substitutes for the original owners of the themes (can’t wait to see Sumireko in every Hifuu song and the rage of RenMerry lovers who hate her!!111), or make up some fitting patterns for Kosuzu and co. Or put someone else completely random like in the danmaku stages, where we have Aun on Karakuri Doll (an Alice song).

The “heroines” are the Touhou girls usable as playable characters. You can unlock them and level them up by spending points you can get by playing the game and pulling the gacha. There are points you can use for one specific heroine and those you can use for anybody. Try to save up those, especially in case your favorite Touhou girl hasn’t been added to the game yet.
Each girl has her artwork, live 2D models, chibi sprites, and voice actress. I must admit, I’m not a big fan of the voice acting in this game. While there are a lot of big names, and some of my favorite seiyuu, several voices don’t fit the characters, at least in my opinion. Maybe I’m just used to the Cannonball voices.

Now, to the most important feature in a rhythm game, the music! This is a BUTAOTOME website, so I’ll start talking about their related content. And they are definitely one of the groups who got a better representation since launch! Two songs from the Shoujo Rengoku series (Hakanaki Mono Ningen and Gekokujoujou) are playable, and Machibito wa Kozu is coming in a few days.
We also have Diao ye zong’s Uso to Doukoku, and I gotta admit I’m not particularly happy with it since it’s not a song I enjoy relistening. But hey, it’s a popular track. (also, I honestly believe Diao ye zong’s vocal tracks are not good for rhythm games, mostly due to how they will inevitably get cut. But I have to admit I wouldn’t mind if they add Genki ni natta toki no uta…)

Speaking of the rest… the selection is okay, I guess? I have to admit I expected a bit more songs at launch. But there is still room for improvement and cool additions. There are the hits everyone knows, such as Cirno’s Perfect Class and Bad Apple, and one song for each popular Touhou group. I’m happy with Akatsuki Records’ HANIPAGANDA and also ZYTOKINE’s Poker Face. People complained that there are too many vocal songs, but that’s the sad truth applicable to most games with Touhou songs. 90% of the selection is vocal tracks, and when they add instrumentals, it’s gonna be Night of Nights and friends most of the time. Said this, some of the instrumentals added in the game so far are pretty good! Uni Akiyama’s Gensoukyou Fushigi Daihakken V2 and Foxtail-Grass Studio’s Kyoushuu no Rondo are my favorite non-Buta songs so far. I don’t particularly care about having ZUN’s originals as playable, and I’m looking forward to avoiding U.N. Owen and Hartmann when they’ll add them (the roulette was definitely rigged).

By the way, each song comes with an image illustration, and this is an idea I really like. My personal favorite illustration so far is the one for Machibito wa Kozu., with its sepia tones and the purple and azure elements on the side. On the other hand, while I like Fabiyama’s style, I don’t think it fits Gekokujoujou, it would have been better for an Itanshinmon or a Kochuuten track. Also, TaNaBaTa’s Ougon Kouro features an illustration by Ranko no Ane, and I’m honestly wondering why a non-Buta song gets the artwork by the bunny.

Outside of its main core, Danmaku Kagura gives the “Hakoniwa” (miniature garden) feature, where you slowly build up your own Gensoukyou and populate it with the characters, starting from the Hakurei Shrine. Through fire-and-forget missions called “trips” (おでかけ), you get upgrades required to move on. First missions will last literally 5 seconds, while over time they’ll become longer, with some missions lasting 8 hours. I recommend prioritizing the missions that give you the material required to expand each location, try to always have one mission ongoing, and don’t be afraid to use your flame boost (they’ll recharge over time).

As you progress through the hakoniwa, you go on with the Main Story and also unlock items and backgrounds to use for your home screen instead of the mitama cards. You can put any character you want among the heroines you unlocked. You can also do crazy stuff like filling the Hakurei shrine with mushrooms.

(thanks to Latence from Discord)

Overall: Touhou Danmaku Kagura is a good side game recommended to Touhou fans but also as an entry point to the world of Touhou arrangements. If you don’t like rhythm games and desperately want a Touhou gacha, play Touhou Los- Pocket Wars, really. Even though it’s not a mobage, and hard to play without crossing the shady seas.
I’ll keep playing DanKagu every day, focusing on clearing the beginner missions as soon as possible and looking forward to new updates. If this game fails, I’ll entirely lose my faith in Touhou mobile games.

My current hopes/wishlist for the game
– general improvements, such as make some effects less distracting and deactivate the animations on enhanced mitama cards
– More BUTAOTOME songs of course, with some representation of my favorite albums (yes I want all the Kyou ga Saigo no Ichinichi songs), and hopefully a new arrangement written for the game. And some instrumentals, to spice things up and give Paprika and the Nekokenban series the deserved love!
– more instrumental tracks in general as long as they aren’t Beatmario
– Songs from groups I don’t see very often in the rhythm game department. Gimme some Minstrel!
– Hifuu songs (anything it’s fine as long as it’s not Sally Mirai Yohou)
– Joon and anyone from Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom to be added as heroines

Now, what about you? Are you liking the game so far? What kind of songs, or improvements, do you want to see? Tell me in the comments!

Also, feel free to add me! My game ID is ePfp6z8r.