Genre: Malice-em-up | Developer: Team Shanghai Alice | Year: 2004 | Platform: pc

This is a game that defines my late adolescence. Finally in university, free of my home town, finally able to pursue the kind of person I wanted to be – it looks like I chose to became someone who played an awful lot of Imperishable Night. Instead of a social life, maybe even instead of fully applying myself to study, I played this game, chased my first 1cc and went on long walks in the night to the pier.

I can’t criticise this game. It’s too nostalgic. You can’t play the first bar of the title screen music of Touhou 6, 7 or 8 without putting me into a trance of melancholy. But what I can do is say with no small confidence – everything I intuitively know about STG is something I picked up from Imperishable Night.

I know that STG doesn’t need to be that hard. Imperishable Night is a forgiving clear, and not just by merit of its boss and stage patterns – it’s forgiving by giving you the usual Touhou boatloads of resources, and by giving you a gigantic counter-bomb window to abuse. On top of that, play Magic Team as I do, and you have both a strong counter-bomb and the dark, feared 「 Malice Cannon 」 trick to melt down many a haughty boss pattern. And despite all this, it still took patience and practice to get that first Hard 1cc, because even when STG is putting its entire hand on the scales for you, it still does not suffer fools for long.

I know that scoring is both irrelevant and crucial. When I deftly switch at just the right time to crank the Human-Youkai meter between one extreme and the other, cutting down minor enemies and cancelling familiars into cascades of little purple Time point items – I’m not doing this because I’ve made some light-speed risk-reward calculation, I’m not doing it because it’s an interesting decision, I’m not doing this because this is the most elegantly-designed scoring system ever. I’m doing it because it sounds good, looks good and feels good. I’m doing it because it seems like the thing I should be doing. I’m doing it because it makes me happy. I eat potato chips because my hand keeps going in the bag. As we fire a hundred bullets a second and dodge two hundred more, the nitty-gritty of a system can’t be cleanly separated from its presentation and feedback – at speed, they become entirely holistic.

I know that it’s the trimmings that make it a feast. This game has Spell Practice, Extra, Last Words, 4 unique teams with the option of 8 solo player characters. It has two completely different final stages, and in my years I’ve grown a soft spot for the battle with Eirin. It has two completely different stage 4 bosses and both of them are (the good kind of) fan-service.

It’s a game that charmingly asks for your time rather than demanding it, and yet it’s a game you could get totally lost in.

I probably did!