Interview: Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos Of Phantasmagoria Takes Inspiration From Undertale For A Zero Damage Gameplay

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Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria - via Dillimation Systems

Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria revives the retro arcade era of gaming with a 2D party-based RPG set in the Federal Kingdom of Kozan. Developed and published by Drillimation Systems, the game allows players to embark on a journey in a mythical world with an act story. Not just that but the game also allows players to choose from four unique characters for a tailored playthrough experience. 

Despite the simplicity of the gameplay, the game demands prominent strategic thinking to progress and obtain the ultimate rewards. To further strengthen the gameplay quality, developers also added unique skills that aid throughout the adventurous journey. To learn more about the development and future, we interviewed Susumu Takajima of Drillimation Systems over an email. 

Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria - via Dillimation Systems
Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria – via Drillimation Systems

Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your role on Touhou Kourinden?

Susumu: I am Susumu Takajima, the founder and CEO of Drillimation Systems. I was the director of Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria. As the director of said title, I wrote the game’s plot and accompanying script and set forth the vision for Touhou Kourinden. In addition, I was the lead programmer, music composer, and graphic artist for everything in the game.

What inspired the creation of the Federal Kingdom of Kozan and its epic beginning in the Chuhou Joutai trilogy?

Susumu: I got my start in the video game industry with the original Chuhou Joutai. I wanted to make a Touhou Project-inspired danmaku game of my own. Unlike its original creator Jun’ya Ohta (or ZUN), whose projects target the doujin market, Drillimation’s games are commercial.

At the time, Team Shanghai Alice’s game content usage rules for Touhou Project didn’t allow Touhou Project fangames to be sold on Steam, meaning your only options were GameJolt (which I don’t use) and

I still wanted to set Chuhou Joutai in Gensokyo and came up with the idea of setting it in a modern, realistic environment inspired by my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania where I mostly grew up and still live today. Since I was distributing Chuhou Joutai on Steam, I couldn’t reference Touhou much other than pastiches.

Because using Gensokyo as the name was not a legally viable option, I named the setting Kozan instead for the time being, though I occasionally referred to it by its literal translation The Land of Illusions. The idea of making Kozan a kingdom came naturally, as the setting was inspired by the cultures of Japan, my native America, and neighboring Canada.

The original interpretation of Gensokyo is set in a desolate area of Japan, while my interpretation of Gensokyo is on an entire continent that resembles the lost continent of Mu which is also located in the Pacific Ocean.

Over the six years that passed ever since I started working on the first Chuhou Joutai game, more and more Touhou Project fangames were being distributed on Steam. After I finished Touhou Meijinka ~ Song of Divine Tempest which we co-developed with the Vietnam-based Studio Emiko, I felt the Kozan name was no longer necessary and decided to have the setting be Gensokyo from that point onwards.

Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria - via Dillimation Systems
Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria – via Drillimation Systems

Could you elaborate on the significance of the Scarlet Devil and his impact on the Land of Illusions?

Susumu: Every good story-driven game needs a good villain. The ideas for the Scarlet Devil are a little complicated. Many Touhou Project players will associate the term Scarlet Devil with either Remilia or Flandre Scarlet. For Touhou Kourinden, I extended the Scarlet family and created Remilia and Flandre’s parents under the names of Vladrouge and Camille Scarlet.

Emiko Hosokawa, the chairwoman of Studio Emiko who also licensed a few characters from scrapped projects for the game, came up with the names in my Discord server.

Vladrouge’s character may have been partly inspired by World War II’s most notorious villain whose name I won’t mention. He had founded an organization that during development, was originally called the Gensokyo Socialist Order. Because Studio Emiko is based in Vietnam, Hosokawa viewed that as too sensitive and asked me to change the name in order to avoid negative backlash from Vietnamese players.

I still wanted to sneak the word “social” into the name and came up with Socialite instead, giving birth to the name of the Gensokyo Socialite Order. In the time period where Touhou Kourinden takes place, the Gensokyo continent was being self-governed by several smaller kingdoms that formed their local governments.

Vladrouge wants to rule the continent in his own right and his primary goals are to wipe all youkai-borns from the continent and establish a humanoid ethnostate under a military dictatorship.

He is far different from another ‘Scarlet Devil’ type character I created for the Chuhou Joutai trilogy: Frederic Sam Fawkes. He is descended from Flandre and plays a similar role in said trilogy. While his goals remain the same as Vladrouge’s, his other goals are to erase the Federal Kingdom of Gensokyo and its ruling Kirisame Dynasty.

What are some examples of the types of decisions players will need to make using wisdom during confrontations?

Susumu: I created Touhou Kourinden with the primary purpose of being able to beat the whole game without taking a single point of damage. Two major games that inspired Touhou Kourinden’s gameplay include Undertale and the Mario & Luigi series. Even though I was in high school when Undertale came out, I didn’t play it until college when the Nintendo Switch version was released.

I expanded the system by incorporating mechanics that most players would typically see in Pokémon and Final Fantasy such as different elemental attacks and incorporating the Active Time Battle system. I have included a bestiary in the game’s help menu so that players can know which attacks to use to weaken the enemy’s will and defeat them.

Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria - via Dillimation Systems
Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria – via Drillimation Systems

How did you balance the elements of storytelling and gameplay to create an engaging role-playing adventure?

Susumu: It’s difficult to come up with the right balance for gameplay and story. I broke up the game’s plot into segmented chapters in the form of acts with five missions each. The first four focus on a specific character’s life while the last two unite the playable characters to defeat the main villain.

The game’s plot is similar to that of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, where it focuses on a single character’s coming-of-age story from birth to marriage. Queen Marisa is mentioned several times in the Chuhou Joutai trilogy and is the focus of Touhou Kourinden. Coming-of-age stories are perfect for the role-playing genre.

It is tough to create one long narrative for a role-playing game, and it is sure easier to tell several smaller stories similar to an episodic TV series or film series that came before it.

 Are there any rare or hidden items that players should be on the lookout for?

Susumu: For the first two characters, yes. There is the Phantasm Equipment which can only be found in the game’s final act. Marisa’s trademark weapon is the Master Spark which can only be found in a single dungeon in Act IV.

Many locations are inaccessible after completing an act, so it is important for players to thoroughly explore a dungeon and gather all its goodies.

Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria - via Dillimation Systems
Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria – via Drillimation Systems

 What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in creating the storyline and world of Kozan?

Susumu: Writing a video game storyline is one of the most unpredictable phases of preproduction, but can also happen in the planning and prototyping phases. It all depends on my mood. If the ideas aren’t coming, then all I’ll do is stare at a blank screen and not feel creative. When that happens, what I usually do is go do something else or work on a different project.

Eventually, those ideas will come when I’m either not home, in the shower, or asleep at night. When I think there is no hope left, I sometimes ask for help from other developers who worked on the project. Hosokawa came up with some of the ideas to freshen my mind and such.

The other challenge was creating the Federal Kingdom of Gensokyo. Since it involved creating a new fictional country, politics was going to play a role in creating its governmental system and way of life. Hosokawa always assures what I create does not cause any confusion, distraction, or offense to all players, regardless of their ethnic, religious, or political beliefs.

Can you share details on how long the game has been in development and how many developers actively worked on it?

Susumu: Touhou Kourinden’s development began in the summer of 2022 shortly after the demo for Chuhou Joutai 3: Three Nights of Scarlet Abscess was released on Steam. After that game wrapped up development, I decided not to begin work on a fourth Chuhou Joutai because it’s never a good idea to work on or milk one franchise. I needed a way to diversify my brand.

The base game took a year to make before the demo was released and spent another year in post-production, where external tests were conducted to correct errors and maintain balance.

While Drillimation Systems and Studio Emiko worked on the project, I also received outside help from Whitethorn Digital which I visited multiple times during the game’s development to talk about how to make the game accessible to newcomers to the genre

Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria - via Dillimation Systems
Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria – via Drillimation Systems

With the game now released, how has the feedback been so far?

Susumu: I haven’t received much feedback on the game in terms of reviews, but one player on the game’s Steam Community did question the game’s overall tone in comparison to my previous games. That said, some players think it is good

Anything else you would like to share with the readers?

Susumu: I’m currently working on Mythos of Phantasmagoria’s sequel. I’m also recruiting individuals who might be interested in working on the game via a dedicated Careers page on my website. One of my aims is to gain a cult following, which is not an easy thing. My budget is limited, so my reach is limited outside big-name influencers or streamers.

Touhou Kourinden ~ Mythos of Phantasmagoria is a 2D Party-Based RPG game, developed and published by Drillimation Systems. The game was released on May 3, 2024. 

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