Touhou Luna Nights - PS4 Review

Touhou Luna Nights by developer Team Ladybug, WSS playground and publisher WSS Playground, PLAYISMPS4 review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.
Estimated reading time: 6.5 minutes
Those of you who have been around here may know that I'm a fan of Touhou, both the official games and the fan games. Today I get to tell you about Touhou Luna Nights, a title that released on PC back in 2019, and now has a console port! A wonderful metroidvania with Touhou themes and gameplay elements! Without further ado, let's get started!
Now, those of you who have no knowledge of Touhou may not really get everything reference and plot-wise, but no worries if you aren't familiar, as most everything is self contained, to a certain degree. Everything else you need to know can generally be inferred as well. For those with no knowledge, I'll provide a bit more. Touhou Luna Nights starts out with Sakuya, a maid working for Remilia, the vampire owning the Scarlet Devil mansion, finding herself in a somewhat unfamiliar area. Turns out that Remilia is testing a new playground out, and has created a sort of game where Sakuya must fight her way through the fake world she is in to make it to the top of the mansion.

Unfortunately for Sakuya, her ability to fly and stop time is greatly restricted. Yes, those are things she can normally do, but where would the fun be if you could do that right from the get-go? So Sakuya must use what Remilia has provided within her game world as she does some metroidvania style exploration and combat.

Luna Nights at it's core is a metroidvania title, where the focus is exploring rooms, discovering abilities and enhancements, fighting bosses to proceed, and backtracking to acquire items you've missed, as well as any hidden rooms on the map you can find. While the basis is pretty typical of metroidvania titles, a 2D action platformer style where you have a primary attack, a secondary skill, and various movement/exploration based abilities to acquire, Luna Nights also implements some functions very typical of the Touhou genre.

Let's go over some of the gameplay basics. Right off the bat you'll notice you have both a health gauge and an MP gauge. Almost every attack, both basic and skill, will consume MP which slowly fills back up.  Yup, even basic attacks are "limited". Using your basic attack to throw a set of knives does consume MP, although not that much. Cool fact, picking knives back up restores some MP. If you hold down the basic attack button you can build a move that slows down time around you, but not for you. This is really useful for getting lots of grazes, avoiding attacks, and environmental obstacles that are moving too fast.

Now, grazing is something that Touhou is really big on. The original Touhou games are bullet hell games, and grazing is just barely dodging an attack. While this was originally just for score, in Luna Nights grazing can be used to restore MP, health and time gauge. Since all basic attacks and skills take chunks out of your MP gauge, this is the best way of keeping both your attacks and health going strong. So what about that time gauge? Well, Sakuya has the ability to stop time. Here though, that ability has been largely diminished.

Shortly after starting the game, you'll find a friendly NPC to give you a pocket watch, which can be used to release the restriction on your time stopping ability, although not fully. This NPC also happens to run the item shop. You have a limited amount of time to use time stop for, and every action you take will reduce that time, whether it's moving, attacking, or using skills, your time gauge will deplete accordingly. This is kind of handy when you're out of MP, as you can substitute time for MP while time is stopped. If you end time stop or run out of time gauge, time resumes, all the knives or skills you've activated start moving again, and so can the enemies. Fair warning, if you run into attacks during stopped time you still take damage.

Luna Nights is an interesting game from a gameplay perspective because of a weird relationship between basic skill line and skill cap. See, as you kill enemies you get exp and can level up, increasing defense and attack damage, so you can theoretically outlevel bosses or use items bought in the store to push through when the game gets difficult. Or you could dodge enemy attacks by a few pixels, get really good at it, and be virtually unstoppable because you regenerate too much MP and health to die. It's certainly completable without being too good at the game, although it'll be a bit rough, but is incredibly rewarding to be able to demolish bosses by dodging attacks by paper thin margins and punishing them for it.

Add to this that the different skills you can get are pretty fun and interesting, as well as well-handled exploration and hidden power-up items, Luna Nights is a really fun title. Seriously, when I got the "chainsaw" skill I was like "...sorry, what?" but then I started hucking chainsaws at people and was like "ohhhh, I like this". There are other skills to collect, some more basic like homing knives or a paralyzing shot, and some like a blade that constantly homes in and attacks anything that can be damaged on-screen or a knife barrier.

Touhou Luna Nights also has a really fitting art style for a metroidvania title, with well done sprites and interesting enemies that differ each area you proceed through. A more retro like pixel graphic style is used and it fits really well. Add in some nice remixed Touhou theme tracks and you've got a very aesthetically pleasing title. As a cool little aside, those familiar with the Touhou universe, or at least the characters in and around the Scarlet Devil Mansion can probably guess at the next boss for an area based on either the area theme song or little hints added into the environment, which is a really cool consideration.

As you're exploring the world of Luna Nights, you'll be collecting gems that you can exchange with the vendor for cash. Why aren't you directly given the cash instead? Well, it turns out that each gem type has some sort of passive effect just from carrying them. Although selling them in order to buy upgrades is almost assuredly the way you should probably go, it is a cool little mechanic that was included.

Honestly, I loved the entire time I spent with Luna Nights. Unfortunately, that time wasn't nearly long enough. I loved Luna Nights, and I just wanted more when I was done. Even after earning every achievement, I still felt like I wanted more of the experience, and it didn't really take me too long. I'm not sure if this is because I've gotten too used to/good at metroidvania's where I can now tell which areas are most likely to have hidden walls or not, but I would've loved to see the game at least twice as long, in all honesty. Well, at least it doesn't have the opposite problem, where it overstays it's welcome. Also, in all fairness, the game is pretty linear, and the "metroidvania" aspect is pretty subdued, with the focus being on combat more so than large map exploration, although [the metroidvania aspects are] still there.
Overall, I gotta say that Touhou Luna Nights was an absolutely wonderful experience and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It was fun, engaging, had it's own unique twist with the grazing/timestop mechanics, and wrapped it all together with really smooth gameplay and a good artistic and musical package.  While certainly rather short, and maybe a little more confusing for those unfamiliar with Touhou in general, I think Touhou Luna Nights is a really great game for someone looking for some metroidvania fun.

Score: 9.5 / 10



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