The Touhou Project (Known in Japan as 東方Project, Touhou Purojekuto, lit. Eastern Project; or simply Touhou), is a Japanese doujin game series and franchise focused on bullet hell shooters created by the one-man developer Team Shanghai Alice, known as ZUN.
In pixiv, all works related to Touhou are tagged with either "東方Project", or "東方".
See also : Touhou
The Touhou series of games started on 1996 where all games are released on the Japanese PC-98 series of computers and its first five entries are native to that platform; standard PC users are only capable of playing them through an emulator such as Anex 86. By that time, the PC-9801 series of computers was already on the decline when these games were released (Replaced mainly by Windows95). Because of this, they are not well known among players.
The group making these games was called "Amusement Makers".
After the fifth entry of the game (Mystic Square), the Touhou Project became inactive for four years while ZUN began to develop several music scores for the Seihou games. He then left the group and made Touhou games for Windows under the group name, Team Shanghai Alice. The gameplay for Touhou series has improved tremendously compared to their PC-98 counterparts. The series was caught on by the fans and became popular since then. Most doujin works derived from the Touhou series are centered on these games.
In Touhou, the game is played like most other shooting games where player's bullet power increases on a linear scale as the player collects power-ups dropped by enemies, and eventually maxes out. The player can also collect 'point' icons (shown in blue, with the kanji "点") to increase their hi-score. At earlier games, surpassing hi-scores at a certain point will gain you an extra life, which it is later replaced with collecting several amount of special items to raise an extra life. The player can use 'focus', the shift key by default, which slows down the player's movement, makes the collision box visible and focuses the player's attack to make it more powerful (though some characters are an exception). Touhou also focuses in the graze counter system (missing from Mountain of Faith and Story of Eastern Wonderland), which tracks how many bullets entered the character sprite but avoided the collision box, and rewards the player with a score bonus for living on the edge.
When cornered, the player can use a weapon called a 'spell card', which is similar to a 'bomb' in most other shooting games. When used, it makes the user temporarily invulnerable and uses a special magical attack that generally clears the screen, though limited in number. Each character possess two cards (or only one in some games) with different names and patterns. In additional to a normal spell card, the player can activate one during a short period after being hit by a bullet known as the 'border between life and death' to avoid loss of a life, although the consumption takes two bomb counter instead of the normal one. The amount of time the player has available to use the border is usually around 0.3 seconds. Bosses also have spell cards, but with bosses the term applies to a prolonged pattern of movements and shots that lasts until the player depletes the health bar by a certain amount or the time runs out, instead of a one-shot attack.
Each individual game of the main series after Embodiment of Scarlet Devil has their own unique, different gameplay or system. For example, Perfect Cherry Blossom has "cherry points", which are used mostly in scoring, but can grant temporary invulnerability (known as 'supernatural border'); Imperishable Night has "time points", which are essential to advancing to later stages, and also determine if the player gets to challenge a boss's 'final spell' on normal or higher difficulties; Mountain of Faith has 'faith' points, which help tabulate the score the player receives upon gathering point items and bonuses for clearing spell cards without dying or using a spell card; games like Shoot The Bullet and Double Spoiler does not play like any normal shooter games but instead emulates camera capture system to clear bullets and snap photos of your opponent to clear the stage; while games like Immaterial and Missing Power, Scarlet Weather Rhapsody is a 1 on 1 fighting game which utilizes spell cards for additional attacks, combos and stat raising.
Each Touhou game has four difficulty levels—easy, normal, hard, and lunatic—with each one being harder than the previous one. Regardless of difficulty choice, there are six stages in each game and each one is harder than the previous.
In addition to the four main difficulties, there is also an extra stage after clearing all main 6 stages on at least normal difficulty (except Perfect Cherry Bloosom and Imperishable Night) without continue. Extra stages are usually long and extremely difficult which players must play through hordes of enemies, bullets, and bosses. In Perfect Cherry Blossom, there is also a phantasm extra stage which the stage itself is far more difficult than the Extra stage.
The plots of the Touhou Project revolve around the strange phenomena that occur in the fictional realm of Gensokyo (幻想郷) in Japan. It was said that long ago, Gensokyo was a desolate place haunted by youkai who preyed on lost wanderers in the area. Soon the exorcists were sent into the area to resolve the youkai problem, and they eventually settled in the area. As human civilization flourished, the power of youkai began to diminish and they chose to seal Gensokyo away from the outside world as a haven for themselves.
As a result of the seal, the isolated community developed its own civilization. In Gensokyo, magical and spiritual qualities prevailed over science and youkai and humans began coexisting with each other, although they still fight with each other. The only known gateway from the outside world into Gensokyo is the Hakurei Shrine on the border of Gensokyo. However, the seal began to weakened and more humans are able to wander into Gensokyo from the outside. Things disappearing from the outside world tend to slip into Gensokyo and got introduced to the residents of Gensokyo.
With its focus on bishoujo characters, the Touhou series possesses a large cast compared to other shooting games. As of the 13th main game, Ten Desires, the series has spanned over 100 characters, which the characters are almost female. Even with the mass array of characters, each of them are popular and even obscure stage bosses that appear only once in the entire game have a fanbase. Only 6 characters throughout the entire franchise are male : Genjii, Sokrates, Youki Konpaku, Myouren Hijiri, Rinnosuke Morichika and Unzan.
Although Touhou has a massive amount of characters, the main character of the games is always Reimu Hakurei, joined by Marisa Kirisame (from the second game onwards). Even so, Reimu herself does not appear as a playable main character in every side story games. For instance, Shoot the Bullet and Double Spoiler features Aya Shameimaru being the main playable character on both, and Hatate Himekaidou can become playable in Double Spoiler. While in Fairy Wars, the main playable character for the game is Cirno.
The whole idea and concept, settings, programming, gameplay, music, and the characters for the franchise are created by ZUN. With the exception of Immaterial and Missing Power, Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, and Touhou Hisoutensoku, which is created with the association of Tasogare Frontier. Fairy Wars is the only game where ZUN did not involve in the illustration of the characters (The illustrations are drawn by Makoto Hirasaka).
The idea of Touhou first came to ZUN during his high school years when shrine maiden-themed games were in the minority. He thought it would be nice to make shrine maiden based games and often imagined the music that would go with it. Soon he went to college in hope of composing music for fighting games due to the popularity of Street Fighter II. However, he decided that it would be easier to make his own game to go with the music that he's trying to put his music into, thus the first Touhou game, Highly Responsive to Prayers, was released in 1996. Initially the first game was originally intended as a practice in programming, Touhou only became a shooting game series starting from the second game onwards due to the popularity of shooting games had revived at that time and ZUN had long been a fan of such games (As a reminder, While ZUN has worked for Taito before, he was not involved in the production for Raystorm games). ZUN remarked how the general theme and direction of Touhou only started coming together in the sixth game, Embodiment of Scarlet Devil.
ZUN develops his games with Visual Studio, Adobe Photoshop, and Cubase SX, according to his interview in Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red.