・Readers unfamiliar with Touhou may want to look around the touhou-wiki after reading.
・Spells cast by players clear the screen of enemies, spells cast by bosses are difficult patterns of bullets.
・The player’s gender is unknown but all the characters in Touhou games are girls (except for one but no one sees him anymore)
Once an unnamed player torrented a copy of Touhou Subterranean Animism, a PC game. The player had played other Touhou Danmaku shooter games and especially loved Perfect Cherry Blossom but still hadn't played anything past Phantasmagoria of Flower View. Touhou games were only sold in Japan so for the player, who lived in the U.K., it was impossible to buy a copy of any Touhou games without going online. Therefore they torrented any they could find. Oddly, only one other person had downloaded the torrent the player was getting.
The game started and nothing looked out of the ordinary with the start menu, there were the normal "Game Start", "Options", "Exit" and other choices and the "Practice Start" and "Extra Start" were still grayed, showing this was a fresh program with nothing unlocked yet. The player decided to play as Reimu A on Kappa (Normal) difficulty because she was the player’s favorite character, her A power was based on Yukari from Perfect Cherry Blossom and the player was wearing a red shirt at the time (Reimu’s main color).
As the game loaded the first stage, there was a short sentence of Japanese text but the player’s knowledge of what it meant was very limited. The program wasn't patched to be in English yet so the player didn’t pay much attention to the text. The first stage began, the background was a dark, narrow tunnel with a light coming from the bottom. The player did well and had no problems up to the first stage boss. The boss was a rather husky looking woman with yellow webs over her brown clothes, definitely spider based. Oddly the boss was more difficult than the player expected. A spider web would appear at times and when the player passed over it, they got stuck for a few seconds, leaving them vulnerable to attacks. Regardless, the player finished the first stage with only one life lost, cheering for themselves after a job well done and skipping the voiceless, text based dialog of Reimu supposedly talking to herself (it happens in almost all the games).
The second stage began loading with an odd text "Do you understand me now?". The text was in English unlike most of the in game text up to that point, usually only the starting screen options were in English. The player went through the second stage shown as a wide open and slightly dimmed area with mossy rock walls. There was little challenge after the shock from the first boss. However, when the second boss appeared, the player lost all joyful emotions just by the sight of her. A dark aura was emitted from her that twisted the background, her eyes glowed green and when she cast spells, a spinning pentagram would appeared behind her. She had curly blond hair and had an odd Persian style dress. She moved very oddly around the screen and her spells were like nothing the player had seen before.
Only one specific spell terrified the player but they didn’t know the name as most of the dialog and names of spells were still in Japanese. It involved a cloud of green orbs chasing the player’s character and leaving a trail of orbs, crowding the screen and making it harder to escape while the stage boss stood still until damaged enough to begin the next spell. After struggling to beat this boss, the player was glad that this Touhou game was based on challenge more than other games of the series were and loved the unique bullet patterns.
The third stage began with more text in English, "Are you here to play with me?” The third stage background was a darkened town lit only by small lanterns. It was snowing slightly like it did in Perfect Cherry Blossom and was very calming to the player after the depressing previous stage. This stage was much harder and the boss seemed to be part of the stage. After the mid-stage encounter, the boss seemed to take no damage from the player’s attacks.
The boss was an oni woman with long, blond hair and red eyes. She had a single horn on her head, wore a dark blue translucent skirt with red highlights and had chains on her arms and ankles. She had no weapon and was only holding a sake dish. Again, the dialog was only in Japanese and the player only ignored it. Even when it was officially the boss portion of the stage, she was difficult to dodge. The player lost all their lives but rather than use a continue, the player decided to get an English patch to hopefully better know what all the characters were saying.
When the player came back, the title screen was almost the same except Reimu was frowning sadly on the character select. In almost every game she smiled and the player was certain she was the first time they played. When the player talked to the first boss, she was in fear asking "Have you come to harm me again?" and was scratched up a lot but not bleeding. The boss battle seemed to have glitched because the boss made no attempt to attack and didn’t shoot a single bullet. All the boss did was move around the top of the screen avoiding the player’s attacks, more so than most bosses would. The player thought little of it and just kept playing.
Again there was text before stage 2 but this time it said, "I think she deserved it, too". Perhaps the patch was poorly translated or an error was made while torrenting. On the second stage boss, the player realized during the dialog Reimu wasn't talking to herself, all she said was "... ... ...". The only words that were visible were from an unknown person who later introduced herself and was labeled in dialog as "Sealed Rose". The dialog from Sealed Rose was odd and seemed to be asking for a response from Reimu, but all Reimu said was "... ... ...". The stage 2 boss battle came again, during which the infamous spell name was revealed as "こいし'Green-Eyed Invisible Monster'". The first part seemed like another mistake in the patch seeing it was still in hiragana, while the second part was somewhat fitting but the boss wasn't invisible during the spell unless it meant someone else with green eyes.
The text before stage 3 this time said "Why won’t you speak?". At this moment, the player thought that the text was from Sealed Rose and wanted to speak with the player. The third stage’s background village was now burning, and instead of snow there was ash falling from the sky. After getting to the boss with fewer problems than the first attempt, again Reimu said nothing and the dialog of Sealed Rose said "Hello?". The player put on a headset and spoke into it, and a conversation began with the player’s voice becoming Reimu’s text based dialog.
Sealed Rose asked why the player hadn't responded before, the player claimed they were unable to. This in some way made Sealed Rose sad as she didn’t believe the player and thought that they didn’t want to talk with her. Thinking the player had lied, Sealed Rose acted very hostile towards the player for rest of the dialog, refusing to calm down and stopped talking with the player.
The player kept talking into their microphone trying to apologize to Sealed Rose. The Stage 3 boss interrupted believing the player to be crazy talking to no one but themselves and began attacking. This time, the player knew how to beat the boss by not making as many mistakes as last time and did much better, this time beating the oni boss with only 2 lives lost and one gained from past levels.
The player found it very odd how the game actually responded to the player’s voice. It wasn’t like clever bot where it would make sense half the time or record the voice into text incorrectly, whatever the player said was written perfectly and while Sealed Rose responded fairly hostile it was as if she understood it all.
Not even highly funded games had mastered player voice mechanics and Touhou was an indie made by one person. Perhaps more happened in Touhou 10 than the player thought, and indie games often do find huge advances in gaming just by the passion of one idea. Still, the player was frightened by how different this game was from the last ones, even Flower View didn’t change things up this much.
Stage 4 began loading and said "Don't go just yet". It wasn't perfectly clear if the messages were from Sealed Rose anymore, last time the player spoke to her, she seemed upset and wanted nothing to do with the player. Stage 4 began with a bird’s eye view of a floor patterned with red and blue eyes, all of which appeared to stare directly at the player. A devilish sounding cat meow was heard, sending a shiver up the player’s spine. A black cat with a flaming silhouette and a spinning pentagram behind it flew onto the screen and began attacking. Unlike the Persian girl’s pentagram, the cat’s pentagram didn’t disappear when the cat wasn’t casting spells.
The player just barely avoided the attacks, they wanted to pause for a moment to calm their nerves but the Esc key wasn’t responding, instead the player started reaching for their own spells more frequently just to stay alive. The cat kept meowing every twenty seconds, causing the player to shiver and make more mistakes. The player felt they would have a heart attack and just wanted the battle to end. Eventually, the cat did run off when it had run out of spells for the stage and the player started to calm down fighting only weak enemies until they reached the last boss.
This boss was a young looking girl who wore a pink flowery skirt and light blue shirt, her hair was short and purple like her eyes. The boss looked mostly human except for a red third eye hanging on tubes connected to many parts of her body. With an indifferent stare and monotone voice, she spoke to the player, "You must leave now". The name wasn't shown just yet but the player assumed this was Sealed Rose. Again Reimu said her blank, allowing the player to speak with the boss. The dialog went on for a minute, over which the girl seemed to answer questions the player was just about to ask but didn’t explain much of what was really going on. The boss then said, "Leave now and do not play again, she is tormented enough." The player questioned more but continued to get very little information.
The girl demanded the player to stop immediately or she would be forced to fight.
The player pleaded for the boss to let them through and even referred to them as Sealed Rose. The boss then said they didn't know anyone named Sealed Rose. "I am Satori Komeiji, Mistress of the Palace of the Earth Spirits." The fight began, Satori started with simple attacks with transparent red and blue orbs that would overlap and become purple, nothing special but looked like something another boss from a different game would use. When she casted her first spell titled “Bounded Field ’Mesh of Light and Darkness’", it was very familiar and looked similar to her transparent orb attack.
Satori fired two clouds of bullets to the sides of the player, one cloud red the other blue, with lasers coming from the trails aimed towards the center. Not long after a purple cloud was fired straight at the player also with lasers coming from the trail left behind, fortunately the player was just thinking Satori would add this to the attack and knew how to dodge it. The next attack was made up of lasers that would aim where the player was. The next spell began as a stream of bullets from the right, causing the player to move to the empty left. The player felt like they had dodged this spell before in a different game and quickly went to the right believing to know what the next part of the spell was. Suddenly, a large cone of lasers swept over from the left making the waves of bullets to the right much safer and forcing the player to move faster through them than what would have been safer. The player recognized this spell as someone else’s; it was a spell from Perfect Cherry Blossom the player had remembered during the laser attack.
Even the name was the same, it was Yuyuko's "Lost Soul's Village". As the battle went on, Satori cast harder and harder spells from previous games, each one reminding the player of more terrifying spells that came up later in the battle. The player knew how to beat most of the spells but was slowing down because of the shock. After having to cast spells just to survive the cat, the player had no chance to do the damage needed to stop spells, most were being stopped by the timer that automatically started the next spell. Even after Satori’s health was finally all gone, she cast Mokou’s “Resurrection”, bringing it all back. Satori even cast Green-Eyed Invisible Monster but with the kanji 古明地 before the spell. Eventually, the player understood that Satori was reading their mind and recreating spells from their memory.
The player then focused their thoughts to think only of easy bosses and their easiest spells. The bullet patterns were then very spread out and no challenge to dodge. When Satori mimicked the first boss's evasive “glitched” movement, the player stopped, refusing to continue fighting. The player eventually won simply by waiting for the timer to end. The player had gained a life from the many spells despite dying a few times during the more difficult ones. The player felt that to be the final stage, the rest between bosses was too short, the bosses seeming to go on forever and an overall feeling of helplessness. But of course there were still two more stages before the game was over as in any Touhou game. The pause button still didn't work and the player was still very curious as to what was going on with the game. Though the player felt they should stop now, they knew something evil was working in the game and felt they were the only one who could stop it.
Text appeared as stage 5 loaded, "Suffer as I did". At this point the player had no clue who was sending these messages. Sealed Rose had stopped talking during the in game dialog, and the only one who the player remembers suffering greatly was the first boss or maybe Satori. The player heard a breeze of wind in the headset and felt and equally chilling breeze against their skin. The background of stage 5 was a dark red, lifeless field with patches of fire dimly lighting small areas. There was no grass and no animals, moving or dead, could be seen. Black iron fences, gates and walls decorated the scenery. The player heard murmurs from white ghosts that flew by, many of which disturbed the player or caused anger. The ghosts were the only thing on the screen other than the background so the player decided to fire a stream of bullets at the ghosts.
The bullets killed many of the ghosts, causing the player to hear screams of pain and panic. The stage had more ghosts further on, insulting and mocking the player more. But the voices weren't coming from the headset; they were coming straight from the players mind. The screams could be heard from both the headset and the players mind and were especially unnerving. Eventually the cat from the previous stage appeared again, meowing the same bone freezing sound. This time the cat had much more powerful attacks and was joined by morbid looking fairies who would cry blood from their black, empty eyes.
The player was dreading the cat’s spells but could hear what were believed to be the cat's thoughts. The player dodged the later attacks perfectly based on the information they heard from the cat. By the end, dialog from Sealed Rose was seen, "Hurry to me". Reimu had no dialog, not even the blank for the player to speak. When the player shouted, it seemed unheard. The player didn’t even try to escape the game, they were so invested with how odd the game was acting, they wanted to reach the end and hopefully know what was going on. The dreaded text appeared, saying, “You shall receive eternal torture.” The background started pitch black and faded to a violent, fiery landscape with magma flowing over it. Human bodies and corpses could be seen mutilated across the scenery, some still crawling barely alive. The bodies were being shoveled into the fires as more were delivered by giant, horrible looking creatures that were half human and half animal, not like the normal animal people of Touhou but were much more animalistic and frightening to look at. The name of the music for the stage didn’t disappear as it did on the other stages.
The music was given the fitting name of “Hellfire Mantel”. Ravens swarmed the player in the game, luckily only taking one life and being more of a nuance than a threat to the player’s progress. The cat’s meow was heard again but when it jumped in, it instantly fell into a dark gap that was only there for a short instance. Reimu said her “… … …” but the player had nothing to say. A new mystery person with no name said “No need to thank me, honorable opponent”. The player was very confused but had no time to be distracted as the background became a starry void as the final boss flew in. A large Raven flew in. It had a bright red reptile-like eye and a small luminous orb was orbiting around. The Raven spoke in deep but still female voice saying “I finally found you“. The dialog between the player and the Raven didn’t give much explanation to the game. The Raven only told the player that Satori Komeiji was a creature known as a satori, a Japanese mythological creature, and was the owner of the cat and the Raven.
The Raven didn’t know anyone named Sealed Rose and had no knowledge of the other stages what the player had seen on their way except what she already knew of the satori and cat. The Raven then finished the dialog with “Enough talk, my new master wants you to suffer”. The Raven attacked with a blast of blinding bright light and deafening explosions. It was as if the computers settings had been manually changed to maximum brightness and sound. Unlike Satori or the cat, the Raven was focusing on intimidation through monstrous strength and dazzling displays of how small and helpless the player was. As intimidating as the Raven’s attacks were for the player, as a person they didn’t feel like they were in any danger.
The effects looked enormous compared to the tiny Reimu sprite, but to the player they only looked big because they took up two thirds of their 14x9 inch screen. The player could feel the heat and hear the magnitude of the explosions and almost fell over in their chair, but the only thing the player could imagine losing if all their lives were lost was the game itself, which could be replayed at any time.
Satori did frighten the player with her odd ability to recreate spells the player thought about and the cat at first seemed to leap off the screen in how real it sounded. But after some thought, the player realized they were never in any real danger. The player was unsure if the game really was coming to life or it was just a genius work of programing and design. The player still didn’t want to lose after coming this far and took the Raven’s attempt at intimidation as a challenge to beat the final boss at that moment.
As the battle went on, the player began to sweat and was playing better than they had in any other game, Touhou or otherwise. The player noticed the Raven was starting to use larger and larger spells that looked impressive but couldn’t slow the player from winning.
In a desperate move for the final spell, the Raven began to suck in the player’s character into what seemed to be a black hole, inside of which was the blackest darkness the player had ever seen, as if not even the computers screen in that area was giving off light. This spell intrigued the player in how a simple game could stop the computers natural lighting but still wasn’t stopped in their new found goal to beat the game. After finishing the final boss, the player got their lives back and the game seemed to end.
Ignoring the ending scenes, the player was beginning to calm down. The horrifying idea of a self-aware game seemed distant by now. The player had conquered a great obstacle that at first seemed impossible to beat. At that time the player still didn’t understand how the game could pull at them so much but imagined it was all just programing that in no way effected them.
It was late, the player was tired and wanted to sleep on the ideas of how the game came to exist and how it was made so perfectly. But when the player tried to get up from their chair, they couldn’t. As hard as the player tried to lift themselves out of the chair, it felt as if a dark energy was holding them in. “Leaving so soon?” text said. The player quickly pressed the Esc key many times with no results. The player then tried Ctrl Alt Delete but nothing changed. Even as the player held their computer’s power button for several seconds, they were helpless to stop the game and could only stare at the screen as the game loaded the extra stage.
Up to this point, the player had felt like a hero when playing, as if they could take on anything the game could throw at them and walk away at any time without the slightest threat of physical injury. Now, they were without a doubt scared sh*tless.
Not only were they physically stuck in front of their computer, they still couldn’t pause or quit. But the game was meant to end after stage 6 like it did in all games, they didn’t press the Extra Start option. The player was also only on normal, extra stages were often on par with Lunatic difficulty, the hardest in any game they were in. As the player’s character slowly scrolled up the stage’s bloody stone background with no music but ambient sounds of wind and screams of fear, the only things seen were murmuring ghosts and zombie fairies crying blood, both of which the player knew better than to shoot at.
The sounds of the ghosts were heard normally and not from inside the players head but were still just as nerve wrenching. After what seemed to be an eternity of soft and paralyzing background music, the boss appeared, “Welcome, now we can truly play”.
The boss was a young girl like Satori but a few inches shorter and wearing a green skirt with a slightly flowered design and yellowish-orange shirt with a black inside. She had a black sun hat with a blue rose bulb placed on it and her hair was a grayed green. She was turned away from the player with her eyes closed and she also had a third eye similar to Satori but was colored blue and tightly closed with spite. Reimu said her blanks once more, meaning the player was allowed to speak. “Why are you doing this?” to which the extra stage boss answered, “You deserve to suffer, they all deserve to”.
The player responded, “What have ‘they’ done?”. “They insulted my friendship, you insulted my companionship, and you all have insulted me in your thoughts. I know you have.” The player wondered what she meant, he didn’t remember saying anything hurtful to the boss, nor to the mysterious Sealed Rose. I never said any insults to you. I didn’t even think anything harmful.” The girl hastily and angrily replied, “I know what humans think. I’ve read their thoughts and saw only hatred and cruelty. I may have given that power up but I will never forget the hate I heard from their selfish minds.” “Who programed you?” asked the player hoping to get reassurance this was still only a game. “Programed me? Ignorant human, you really don’t understand what has entered your pathetic machine, do you?” “Who are you?” the player asked. The girl turned around opened her emerald green eyes, her third eye not opening at all, and as her name appeared on screen, replied “My name is Koishi Komeiji, but I also like the name Sealed Rose.” Koishi’s sinister theme began, titled “Hartmann's Youkai Girl”. No matter how hard the player dodged, the player was losing badly. Koishi didn’t just make confusing designs, many consciously aimed at the player’s location and adjusted as the player was beginning to find a way to survive. When the player was on their last life, Koishi shot an oddly colored life token that the player had no chance to avoid.
The player’s last life changed colors from a white star to a pale blue heart. From then on, whenever the player would have died again, the character would flash for half a second and the player felt realistic pain on their skin. Koishi’s spells weren’t just trying to hit the player while playing the game, but more to torture them mentally as they tried to avoid them. In one spell, knives would ease in on the character causing the player to anticipate the pain but still try to resist while also dodging Koishi’s other bullets. When touched by any of the knives, the player felt scratches and stabbing pains on their skin.
At times, Koishi wasn’t even visible and couldn’t be harmed; all that could be seen were two points that looked like eyes staring blankly into the player’s soul. The player was starting to bleed where cuts had overlapped but was too focused on preventing new wounds to put pressure on the ones that were bleeding. The player felt they would faint from the mental and physical stress but suddenly, the character disappeared into a black gap like the one that swallowed the cat and reappeared in another location.
The player was then given the message “Supernatural Border”. The player was no longer feeling pain and didn’t seem to get damaged from Koishi’s bullets. The player was able to win, defeating Koishi but still unsure how any of what had happened was possible and again questioned the events of past stages. Reimu’s “… … …” text appeared again for the after boss dialog. The player asked “Who are you?” hoping for someone, anyone to respond. Text appeared and in a sweat voice the player read and heard “The one behind the spiriting-away. The border is mine.”