Tohou Bullet Hell is No Understatement.
The end of the world is nigh. A blood red mist canvases the sky. It’s a sight that’s been seen before, when the twin maidens saved the world. Reappearing, the world knows that something must be done to prevent catastrophe. Reimu and Marisa, the two heroines of old, go off on their own separate paths to resolve the second Scarlet Mist Incident. The resulting adventure leads them through a dizzying amount of time loops and phase warps in order to, hopefully, keep the world at peace.
This is the premise for Azure Reflections, and you’re launched right into the action from the get-go. You’ll fly your way through a handful of levels on your first run that will last you about 30 minutes, maybe. Your character, limited to one as you start but with more to unlock, side scrolls across a moving screen, able to fire in all directions (and you can choose her attack patterns before the game starts), with the goal of cleaning out every last enemy. Each stage boasts a boss battle, a character from each realm, that features a seemingly infinite amount of attacks (they’re all patterned, however, so you can learn to dodge).
Azure Reflections lives and dies by its fast paced extreme bullet hell gameplay style. Enemies, especially later in the game, fling varied assaults at you from every direction, requiring fast eyes and faster hands to avoid and counter. Boss fights take that nonsense and raise it 1000 times higher. The result of this formula is one hell of a time, but there are a few gaping issues I came across. My biggest issue with Azure Reflections is that I don’t understand the hit boxes. Sometimes, enemy attacks would fly through various pieces of my body, and I’d be fine. Other times, the same attack would appear to miss me by a larger margin, and I’d be stunned. This really only was a problem during boss battles, as I could never figure out the right areas to dodge to. Still, the game makes up for a lot of this by giving your characters special abilities to counter the massive waves of attacks. Likewise, as you weaken each boss, you’ll be able to special your way through attacks and deal meaningful damages to bosses.
One of the coolest aspects to Azure Reflections lies within its story. Your first playthrough, if you’re as untalented as I, will have you finish the game and be sent through a time loop, unable to resolve the conflict. In order to properly advance through the entire story, you’ll have to perfectly defeat each boss. By capturing the skills from each boss, you should advance through deeper into the game. Of course, it’s not exactly an easy feat, even on normal. My first time playing the game, I ran out of continues (on normal). After the first run, I was able to conquer the ‘vanilla’ game, sent back through the time loop to start again. A number of tries later, and I was finally able to advance. Consider this, too: There are extreme levels of difficulties (and trophies for each) to clear, so you’re talking about a serious chunk of time investment and skill to 100% this one.
This might be a bit easier said than done, but the game is made more enjoyable by its beautifully hand drawn anime-style visuals. Every sprite in the game is unique (well, every enemy type and character), and the backgrounds are stunning. For a game focusing on the hellish paced combat, the hand drawn art distracts in a positive light. Additionally, the music featured in Azure Reflections works well to push the game through. The soundtrack is solid and works as intended, with each level receiving its own unique flair. With that said, the voice acting is strictly Japanese, which is always a downer for me. Fortunately, there isn’t any conversing down mid-combat (or else that’d be impossible to read), so the language barrier isn’t significant – just a little bit disappointing.
If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive side scrolling bullet hell that’s full of spunk and requires a good amount of skill, Azure Reflections should be high on your wishlist. With a number of unlockable and upgradeable characters, story variations and clearing requirements, and big boosts in difficulty, Azure Reflections isn’t for the faint of heart but is accessible to noobs like myself. As I continued to play, I enjoyed the game more, and the overall experience was well worth my time. Language barriers aside, Azure Reflections should sate your appetite for a challenge if Dark Souls Remastered isn’t enough.