Castle of Shikigami II is a sequel to the first game in the series. It makes use of 3D graphics and new gameplay elements, including an additional faction that has been introduced- The Light Warriors!
The huge and fascinating plot isn’t why most people come to bullet hell games. The Touhou games are the most notable exception, and the whole series is so rich in complexity and character sidequests that I believe Netflix will adapt them into an animated series next. This isn’t to mean that danmaku games shouldn’t have a storyline: arcade shooters are exciting but forgettable because they lack driving components. No, even if it’s something as ethereal as the end of the world, it’s necessary to have a cause to keep going back for more. It’s strange that Degica takes so long to distribute some titles, but now gamers can finally play Castle of Shikigami II on Steam, about four years after the original release and, more crucially, nearly seventeen years after the game was first released. The concern is whether or not gamers will be able to get into the game at such an unusual release timeframe.
For anyone unfamiliar with Castle of Shikigami, it is a series of supernatural bullet hell games that begins reasonably mildly and rapidly escalates into absolute lunacy. Your player, whether villain or hero, will progressively uncover an arcane mystery that is heading to a doomsday prophesy in the first Castle of Shikigami game, which provides you a choice of characters who are all tied to a string of killings taking place in Tokyo.
On numerous levels, the first game is rather basic in terms of gameplay components – three distinct sorts of assaults, leveling up weapons, really tough survival windows – but it excels in terms of plot. While it wasn’t the first game to explore a story set against a bullet hell game, it was the first to do so with characters that people cared about and remembered, leading to hypotheses about how the Kuga brothers fit into the events of the first game and beyond. It was thrilling, and it only became more so as the games went.
Oh, and a lot of death. It included a lot of death.
So, where does Castle of Shikigami II fit in? The music, on the other hand, stays the same: a variety of characters to pick from, bullet hell features, and lots of personalization options. There’s a brilliantly insulting “beginner” option where you receive a slew of handicaps to help you survive, but it only gets you to act three; if you want to see where the game is headed, you’ll have to play on regular difficulties.
The narrative takes off where the original Castle left off, this time with a wide open plot twist (the Castle is a genuine, interdimensional structure), and its return in the Tokyo skyline indicates that Armageddon is approaching unless it and the residents inside can be prevented. If you truly want to dive into the mythology, it’s a fascinating jumble of half-sentences and missing narrative connections: you’ll need to play through with numerous characters to gain a sense of one side of the tale. If the remainder of the games were accessible on Steam, I’d be more interested in this task (but, as of this writing, Degica has neither confirmed nor denied future releases of the other Castle of Shikigami games).
Castle of Shikigami II is a mechanical wonder, and I mean that in the greatest possible sense. The main attack allows you choose between a normal burst of bullets or charging up for a more customized, speciality strike that is typically more powerful but also more restricted. You have explosives that can assist clear the path of bullets and adversaries, but they’re limited and only refill when your score multiplier increases. In theory in practice, the Tension Bonus System, a score and damage-based graze system, is fascinating.
As you fire down adversaries, the closer you are to being struck, the more points you will get. Furthermore, the TBS is the only method to really withstand monster strikes, since being close to other projectiles greatly boosts the amount of damage you can do while simultaneously boosting your own bullet density. As in Danmaku Unlimited 2, the true fun and excitement of Castle of Shikigami II comes from weaving through pixel-wide tunnels to live and prosper.
This is a very early combat, as shown by the fact that characters are visible rather than simply bullets.
But what about the sheer enjoyment of it all? In order to stand out and be acknowledged as more than simply a bullet hell game, Castle of Shikigami II has to bring a lot to the table, and I believe it does so in terms of aesthetics and idea. This game might easily have been set in the classic sense of space fighters against alien spacecraft and yet performed at the same technological level. Alfa Systems, on the other hand, has created an universe in which the tale is complete nonsense, the background moves from the streets of Shibuya to the biological inside of an alien spacecraft and beyond, and you are merely a flying person in a denim jacket spouting waves of blue diamonds from your…mouth?
Oh, and occasionally you summon an energy ghost to really show the true nature of destruction, or turn into a living bomb yourself. It’s got the same kind of energy you get from BlazBlue in terms of absolutely oddball decisions for protagonists, antagonists and everything inbetween, but it works because it takes itself completely seriously. I mean, the first major boss is clearly a lolita dressed woman wielding a scythe, and she is terrifying.
Nonetheless, I’m interested in what she’s saying.
If you’ve never played a bullet hell game before, Castle of Shikigami II is a very difficult place to enter, and this must be taken into account. With numerous colors of projectiles, figuring out what can be blasted out of the sky, what can be evaded, and what you need to blow up with a bomb before hell showers down on you takes a long time. Furthermore, as you go through the game, the level structure changes, transitioning from plain level real estate to shifting boundaries that may kill you just as quickly as the opponents.
It’s not simply a hang-in-the-back shooter; in order to progress, you must be up and active: it’s the best and worst of Gradius meets Ikaruga, with the navigation of the former and the exact timing of the latter. It required a lot of effort, and I mean a lot of effort, to get inside the dang castle, and everything after that was almost impossible. However, the well-designed layout keeps you going back for more. Because the stages and acts are never very lengthy, you’re ready to jump back in and try again as soon as you die.
The Cruel Angel Thesis becomes more intense.
In addition, Castle of Shikigami II is providing a valuable service to fans by noting the time gaps between titles and keeping things new. There’s the Dramatic Change mode, which is much better than it sounds, in addition to the usual narrative mode with normal and “easy” levels. Basically, you create a novel tale in which you pick two characters and may actively shift between them with a single button throughout the game, which completely alters everything. By having two characters with completely distinct attack patterns and bomb designs, you can actually figure out strategy and flatten your way through the best of all worlds by understanding where your own strengths and weaknesses lie.
Naturally, I suggest going through the standard mode before diving into this remix, but it’s a blast. There’s also the Story Recollect feature, which allows you to go back and find out precisely what each character learnt after surviving the attack by re-reading fully spoken conversation sections without having to recreate the conflict.
Fumiko is aware of the situation.
I’m terrible at bullet hell games, but I like trying and failing. Castle of Shikigami II makes me feel like a spectacular catastrophe while also being a lot of fun. It has the spirit and thrill of something aesthetically innovative in the works, as well as the turbulence and irregular pulse moments of a true danmaku. Take your time and plunge in, but be warned: it’s hell, and a controller will not be your ally. We’ve got to defend Tokyo, so get ready to ride the keyboard, cowboy.
Excellent portraiture for exposition segments, and adequate albeit murky visuals for the gun sequences.
Near-misses increase the scoring and damage factors by requiring extreme accuracy, standard ducking and firing.
The voicework was fantastic, and the music was vibrant but ultimately forgettable.
Extremely demanding yet rewarding, this is a fantastic moment for Touhou and CAVE shooter enthusiasts.
Final Score: 7.5
On Steam, Castle of Shikigami II is currently available.
On a computer, I reviewed it.
The publisher sent a copy of Castle of Shikigami II.
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