Perfect Cherry Blossom

Also Known As: Touhou Youyoumu (Romanized Japanese), Touhou 7 (Shorthand)
Platform: Windows
Developer: Team Shangahi Alice
Publisher: Self-published
Released: 2003
Genre: Shoot-em-up - Vertical
Players: 1

The second Windows Touhou game, Perfect Cherry Blossom is a gigantic improvement on The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil- ZUN clearly learnt a lot from that game's development, as nearly all of the problems found there are eradicated, creating a highly polished and devilishly challenging shoot-em-up. Once again taking up the mantle of Reimu Hakurei, Marisa Kirisame or newcomer Sakuya Izayoi, six stages of curtain fire await you in Gensokyo, covered in snow for reasons unknown. You've got a shot, a screen-clearing bomb, and a focus button that slows you down and changes your shot, and these are all the tools you need! As with EOSD, the characters have two different types to choose from that change their shots, bombs and, in some cases, how they operate, but new in PCB is a second bomb type available only when focused and a greater variety between the characters (including neat special attributes like small hit-boxes and the like).

Naturally, the objective is to survive the bullet storm that awaits you- as with every Touhou game- but this is the first in the series to have The Thing in the CornerTM, and for this game, it's the Cherry Meter. This fills up in a variety of ways- shooting down enemies, grabbing Cherry/Point/Star Items- and the more you have, the more points the normal Point Items are worth... Assuming you grab them at the top of the screen or go above the Point of Collection at full power to grab 'em automatically. Get the purple Cherry number up to 50000 and you get a nice gift in the form of temporary invincibility for about 11 seconds. Last through it without getting hit and you increase the maximum amount of Cherry points you can have and a sick score bonus. The Cherry system is the core of the game, and it elevates it over so many other shooters. It's a system that's relatively simple at first, but requires total skill on the part of the player (focused shots bring in less Cherry points that unfocused ones, so managing your shots is important) that rewards them not only with a better score, but also with help when they need it... If they can time when they get 50000 Cherry points well. The balance of score and player benefit, in addition to the constant planning you have to do to get it to work for you, makes you engage with the game- you have to be with it every second to succeed, and that's what a good bullet hell game should do.

All this would be for naught if the stages themselves didn't deliver, but Perfect Cherry Blossom has a very nice difficulty curve. The first two stages seem daunting initially, but once you play through them a couple of times, you'll get the hang of it. Stage 3 is where the game starts to separate the men from the boys, which is followed through on Stages 4 and 5 (with 4 being a long gauntlet of fairies vomiting bullets everywhere, and 5 being a desperate fight between you and the Crossmatrix of Chaos) and Stage 6 is short until you reach the boss with ten life bars. The bullet patterns you'll encounter range from the vanilla (poor Letty and her pathetic little lasers) and the cruel (Alice and her rotating spheres of death) to the downright sadistic (Yuyuko's chasing lasers are clever and deadly), so there's a little bit of everything, but one thing they do that later games in the series don't is keep the Cherry system going during the boss fights- you'll still get Cherry points off them, and you can use this to time when to get your invincibility.

Although often said to be one of the harder Touhou games, it's nowhere near as obnoxious as The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil- the ludicrous rank system is tossed out the window, for one, and it feels a lot less unfair. The improvements aren't just limited to the game mechanics either- the visuals are a huge leap forward (especially the character art), the music is consistent with the quality of its predecessor (it's quite difficult to improve on that, really), you can play the whole game through on Easy now, and for those who truly hate themselves, there's two extra stages to unlock after beating the main game which, if you're doing it the proper way, will take a long time indeed. And even if you do continue, you only get a few of them! If you're new to this Touhou thing, this is the one to start with- the Cherry system is glorious and gives the game a lot of meat, the characters are charming and oh-so-funny, and it offers the best balance between challenge and cruelty until Mountain of Faith. Absolutely recommended.

For being such a loving yet cruel bitch, Perfect Cherry Blossom is awarded...

In a sentence, Perfect Cherry Blossom is...
A lovingly crafted odyssey into total bullet carnage.

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