Let’s talk about Touhou Danmaku Kagura (and the future of Touhou mobile games)

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Good thing that the other night, while trying to sleep, my mind was in the process of gathering thoughts for this very post.

Today we are going to talk about Touhou mobile games, with a focus on a certain one that will shut down in a few months. Since BUTAOTOME is involved in most of these, it’s a topic related to this website. Grab some cold tea, it’s gonna be a long post!

Touhou Danmaku Kagura – The End

Touhou Danmaku Kagura by AQUASTYLE, DeNA and xeen (collectively being Unknown X) recently announced its end of service. From October 28, playing the game will no longer be possible. However, in the meantime, new songs and characters will still be added, although nothing will be BUTAOTOME-related. According to the official statements, it’s because the game wasn’t gaining enough profits to keep up with quality updates, and thus they decided to end it.

The signs of demise were already there for a few months. First of all, profit-wise the game had a strong start, but then it dropped really hard after October, as you can see on Game-i.
Due to this, they slowly started to cut off things (no more live performances, non-voiced event stories, no more livestreams about future updates, fewer official uploads) and started to add more monetization options (the Ura Kagura charts require a premium currency to be unlocked, but one can still use free gacha gems). They even added in-game ads last month, which is something you rarely find in rhythm games. Apparently, even the AQUASTYLE people stopped retweeting stuff about the game. Fans are blaming DeNA in particular, mainly because this is not the first rhythm game gacha by them that got axed, Argonavis AAside and Uta Macross also followed a similar fate. I guess DeNA and rhythm game can’t go in the same sentence…

So… what went wrong? Well, I think its biggest mistake was pretty much “applying the Bandori formula to Touhou”. And by saying this, I’ll compare DanKagu to Project Sekai and BanG Dream! Girls Band Party! (I don’t play the former so most of what I know comes from a friend who plays it, but I’ve been playing Bandori for two years, and also didn’t spend a single cent on it). In all these games, the rhythm game part is their main core, but every song is playable without spending money. Gacha stuff is limited only to pretty character illustrations that help you get better scores. However, both ProSeka and Bandori feel much more polished, they are part of big franchises that are alive also thanks to live performances, anime, merch, and other things (also ProSeka is literally printing money), and they also invest a lot in original songs and covers of popular j-hits. Meanwhile, DanKagu is just a small part of the big universe of Touhou derivative works and relied on pre-existing tracks (and to be honest, I didn’t care about those original tracks they added, though An stoirm was boppin’). Touhou is also kind of niche overall, the songs that are extremely popular and recognized outside the fanbase are the meme hits like Bad Apple, Night of Nights, Scarlet Police and friends.

Moving from the rhythm game part, the other aspect shared by the three games is the presence of stories. I can’t really talk about DanKagu’s because I skipped them (for those who have read them: please recommend to me the best event stories, preferably if they aren’t of the comedic type), but Bandori has pretty good stories, and apparently ProSeka’s ones are even better. However, Bandori is certainly not a masterpiece of writing, and it still falls into a lot of anime clichés. But I think having a small number of characters who can be very relatable also helps give it popularity. For example, my favorite characters are Maya and Sayo. The former because I can find a bit of myself in her and her geekiness, the latter due to her amazing character development and relationship with her sister. Meanwhile, Touhou has loads and loads and loads of girls, so it’s hard to give an equal focus to everyone. A lot of them also don’t feel like well-rounded characters (or can be huge victims of flanderization), and they are liked mostly because “the str9ngest b@ka”, “cool maid”, or “she is cute, but she can also kill you”.

There are also a lot of minor issues with DanKagu, but I think some of them are quite subjective. The floating characters shooting danmaku were more distracting than anything else (to the point that most gameplay videos I saw had deactivated said effects), mitama cards weren’t equally distributed (it took almost a year for Futo to get a SSR card despite her being in the game since launch), song selection lacked certain hyper-popular hits and focused too much on the same artists for a while, voices didn’t fit the characters, jacket illustrations didn’t fit the songs (ex. Shinra-Bansho’s Charisma Rengoku Tenshin is all about how lustful Yachie is and her sexy legs, yet the artwork conveys nothing about it).

Overall, I enjoyed my time with DanKagu, although I admit I won’t miss it that much. I played it since release, dropped it after they added Beatmario song number 420, came back around the time they added Fabulous, and then forcefully stopped playing it due to issues with my emulator. Now I’ve ultimately uninstalled it. It wasn’t as impactful as Cannonball was to me, but I will still have a couple of good memories related to it. My dream was to have a Touhou-only rhythm game, and I hope people won’t be discouraged and will create a spiritual successor with a different formula.

The DanKagu effect

Tell me which song is in DanKagu without even mentioning DanKagu.

Danmaku Kagura definitely had a strong impact on the music scene. Plenty of people discovered new artists thanks to it, BUTAOTOME also got a massive boost around the time the game was released last year (here you can see the stats of their YouTube channel, while in this post Ane mentions an increase of Fanbox followers). Songs featured in DanKagu would get tons of listens on Spotify and other services. Some circles also made releases specifically catered to their new fans, such as best-ofs (see for example EastNewSound Best Vol.4, made just to re-release Lucent Wish in a better-looking package). In doujin shops, you would also find special corners with albums containing DanKagu songs.

I think BUTAOTOME got a “quantity over quality” treatment from this game. They got six songs that were basically vanilla ButaBest hits (except for Machibito), and in my opinion, they didn’t make a good job introducing them, giving them a vibe that they are all about the generic compose songs like some of the other rock groups. If Unknown X wanted to have so many songs, they should have focused on having different styles of the Pig, because I think that’s where part of their beauty lies. I always advocated for the addition of Paprika-arranged/Nekokenban tracks, but also songs in more unorthodox styles. If we want to keep it limited to songs in the ButaBest albums (and that are related to danmaku users), some of my favorites would be Inzen, Mirai, Gekkou, Futatsu no Cinema, Good Meister, In The Black, Minna no… The list goes on. Oh, and I will eternally make fun of this game for not adding Gensou no Satellite, while even freaking D4DJ got it.

DanKagu might have got 5 million downloads, but I wonder how many people were still playing it after its heyday, and how many of them became active fans who actually supported the artists.

Lost content?

As a last piece of trivia, I want to show you a couple of things that are now left to be unused forever, just like Eternity, Ichirin, and co. in Cannonball.

These two screenshots come from the reveal trailer. Together with various song illustrations we all know, there are these two artworks of Renko and Merry. It’s unknown which songs they were supposed to represent, my guess is that the former is TUMENECO’s Hoshi wo Mawase Tsuki yori Hayaku (I also recognize Torii Sumi’s art style), while the latter might be Gensou no Satellite. ZYTOKINE’s uni_Verse or SYNC.ART’S’ Rondo of fantasy could also be an option since they were used in this big video about the history of Touhou. Who knows, this will probably remain a mystery. We don’t even know how Hifuu songs would have been implemented since Renko and Merry (as well as most non-game characters) don’t shoot danmaku.

This screenshot comes from Kutaka’s character collection video. This type of video was meant to explain canon facts about a specific Touhou character, including relationships, and they even featured the art of unimplemented characters if they were relevant. Most of the girls who were teased in this way will be eventually added during these final months (like Doremy and Junko), but not Eiki, making this model unused.

But now, it’s time to talk about other mobile games, starting with… no god, please no.

Touhou Lost Word

Oh wait wrong game.

Well, I won’t hide that I really, really hate Lost Word, to the point that I don’t even remotely mention it in website updates, not even if Comp did a new song for it. It’s a game that feels like a pure cash grab that does the bare minimum and brags about how cool it is. I admit I’m also a salty Cannonball fan, I blame LW for its demise, although I’m very aware that CB had its own issues.
And because I hate it so much, I’ve been checking some Japanese sources to see if people are actually happy with the game or if it has problems. And well… it has a lot, that can be summed up as “the management cares more about secondary crap like the music videos over the game itself”.
I’ve been reading every kind of doomposting about LW for at least one year. People were so sure that DanKagu would have obliterated it, that the global version was a huge waste of resources, that the MV project was actually just a move to please the music fanbase who would have played the other game instead, that the spending player base would have dropped it after this limited girl and that one… but after 2 years, it’s still here, with even English and Chinese versions. And Clownpiece’s circus probably just got a lot of new staff. By this point, I expect this game to be still around in 2030, with its newly added Eternal God-Summoning Karma Speed Shaman of the Lackadaisical Refrigerator Reimu and Strange Night-Splitting Scarlet Dream Enchanter of the Symptomatic Microwave Marisa.

According to Game-i, the game is doing so-so, but players are still spending money due to the constant releases of limited characters and huge power creep. The same goes for the global version, which is trying way too hard to catch up with JP. People think the game is getting a good amount of profit through merch, merch, and merch. Including my favorites, the freaking perfumes. LW is published by Good Smile Company, which specializes in figures and figmas, so “Touhou Lost Word” can be just seen as its own Touhou brand.

Now, is there anything remotely positive I can say about it?
…well, I actually appreciate the concept of alternate universes, although most of these alternate selves are just “recolor”, “slightly different drawn” and “child”. The idea of universes where incidents were never resolved is actually pretty cool. I also like the DiPP references in Hifuu Lost Word. Some costumes are cool, I guess, like phantom thief Joon. The lack of swimsuit costumes also amuses me. And…
…yeah, I can’t think of anything else that’s positive about it. I’m not even a fan of the MV project, to put it very lightly. But still, ping me if Shizuku. :bibi_yawn:

Touhou Dungeon Dive

Well… this game still exists. Do you remember it? I don’t even think it can be compared with the other games on this list. It doesn’t have substantial updates, the last character they added was Satori back in October. It makes zero money, and it feels more like a cheap fangame.

The future

Well, the future of Touhou mobages isn’t particularly bright. With DanKagu’s shut down, I’ve entirely lost faith in them. Touhou Arcadia Record will be released soon, but I don’t have high hopes for it, and Cave and Nada HD are developing their own.

Honestly, while mobile games might be a good source of free fun, I think people should rather spend money on other sides of the vast world of Touhou and support doujin artists. Go buy an album with your current favorite songs (even better if it’s a BUTAOTOME one), or some doujinshi of your favorite character. Maybe get yourself a nice fangame that you will probably still be able to play in five years.

Now, what about you? Will you still play DanKagu until its very end? Do you think it died because of other factors? Do you enjoy the other mobile games, are you actually excited for the future? How do you spend your Touhou time? Tell me in the comments!