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          Touhou 12: Undefined Fantastic Object, known in Japan as Touhou Seirensen (東方星蓮船 Tōhō Seirensen?, lit. Star-Lotus Ship of the East), is a 1999 3D maniac shooter developed by the Team Shanghai Alice branch of Drillimation Studios and published by Namco for the arcades and home consoles. It was released in the arcades on March 8, 1999, followed by a home console release in Japan on July 19, 1999, then in North America on August 15, 1999, and the rest of the world on August 22, 1999. Nintendo ported the game to the Nintendo DS, which was released in 2009.

This is the last Touhou Project game of the Driller Engine 3 Era and for fifth-generation consoles. The game was also a launch title for the Sega Dreamcast, with its previous two installments receiving Dreamcast ports after sales for them were low in Japan and North America. To commemorate the turn of the millennium, numerous references to older Namco games are present.

Blurb

"Chase the flying fantastic object!"
- Official attention grabber

Touhou Project is back with new challenges and bullets. Spring has arrived once again, but an unidentified object was found in sight. You must jump into the air to unravel its mysteries. You have been assigned to track down the star-lotus ship of the east and free a maiden who has been put to sleep for centuries. This space adventure brings some of Namco's past into the mix, and challenge modes to improve your skills!

  • Three playable characters, Reimu Hakurei, Marisa Kirisame, and the newly-arrived Sanae Kochiya from Touhou 10: Mountain of Faith jump into the action.
  • A new way to earn extra lives and bombs come into shard-collecting.
  • Fight against enemies from Namco's older games, with cameos from Galaxian, Galaga, Xevious, and more!

Gameplay

Touhou 12: Undefined Fantastic Object features three playable characters (Reimu, Marisa, and Sanae), each with two weapon types. However, unlike Touhou 10: Mountain of Faith and Touhou 11: Subterranean Animism, the spell card (bombing) system from the older games (such as Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom and Touhou 8: Imperishable Night) has been reintroduced. Point value penalties for dying have also been removed. There are 4 levels of difficulty: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Lunatic. Each difficulty level features differences in the number of bullets fired by each enemy, rate of fire, variations in the bullets' pattern of movement, and the number and type of enemy Spell Cards used.

A character's "shot" is the player's primary method of attacking enemies. The shot's attack area and behavior vary depending on the character and attack type the player has chosen. Like previous Touhou Project games, there is a line most of the way up the screen called the point of collection. If a character is moved on or above this line, all items on the screen will be drawn to that character. Unlike previous games, it is not necessary to have full power or focus to use the POC because it is always available.

Grazing is the act of positioning the character's hitbox close to the bullets without getting hit. Similar to its older games, grazing is one of the most effective ways to rake in high scores—if done accurately and effectively. For every 10 bullets grazed, the point item value increases by 10 points. Grazing also works during invincibility periods, such as resurrection or bombing, unless the bullets have been destroyed. While grazing in the short term is minimal, it can boost point item totals by a large scale. Being able to calculate remaining point items in the entire game ahead of time is a rare mathematical feat, but it helps to determine whether or not grazing is worth it in certain situations.

Undefined Fantastic Object re-introduces bombs with distinctive visual styles that differ between characters, and even between shot types for the same character. A character's "bomb" is the player's limited-use method of getting out of difficult situations. A bomb's attack area, duration, and power vary depending on the character type and attack type the player has chosen. It typically deals heavy damage to every enemy it touches, in addition to canceling out any bullets in the bomb's way. The player's character becomes invincible during the bomb's use and for a short time after the bomb's effect wears off. At the beginning of the game (and any time the character revives), the player starts off with 2 bombs. The player can increase their bomb Stock by collecting bomb pieces (3 are needed for a bomb) or bomb items. Green UFOs drop a bomb piece when defeated, and a full bomb when their score multiplier is full. The player can carry up to a maximum of 8 bombs at a time. If the player receives a bomb when they already have the maximum, that bomb will be lost. Unlike previous games, if the player loses a life, the bomb counter only resets to the default value of 2 if the player has less than 2 bombs—which means the player can always utilize all of their accumulated bombs. Also, unlike every game up to Subterranean Animism, bombing does not auto-collect every item on the screen.

Some enemies will have small green UFOs circling above them. They drop a small UFO after being destroyed, and some stage mid-bosses will drop 2 small UFOs after their final attack is defeated. The small UFO will fly around the screen. They come in red, blue and green colors. There are two types, blinking and non-blinking. The blinking UFO will change colors every few seconds. However, keeping the character's sprite in close proximity to the UFO will prevent it from changing colors. The other type of UFO will stay a single color. It should be noted that these non-blinking UFOs are not random, so their positions in the levels can be memorized to further advantages.

Collecting three UFO items causes a large UFO enemy to appear on the screen. Three of a specific color of UFO will summon a big UFO of that color while collecting one of each will summon a flashing big UFO. If the player has picked up two UFO items of the same color and then picks up an item of a different color, the first item in line will be replaced by the color of the item picked up last. If the player has two UFOs, a UFO of the color that will result in summoning a large UFO will be surrounded by a flashing pentagon so the player knows what type to collect without having to look at the bottom-left corner. Each summoned UFO has a life bar and timer for how long the player has to defeat it. At about two seconds left on the timer, the UFO will start ascending to leave the screen; it is important to defeat it before it leaves. Otherwise, all the items it has sucked in will be lost. If the UFO is on the screen at the same time with a boss, it will fly away even if there is time left; however, in the case of mid-bosses, the UFO will stop flying away if the boss is defeated in time. The in-game dialog will make summoned UFOs explode.

Plot

Throughout Gensokyo, rumors have been spreading since early spring about a strange, flying, treasure ship. With the help of Sanae Kochiya, the girls take off to Gensokyo to find the ship and plunder its treasures. During the high-speed chase of the "UFO", the player confronts Nazrin, who has come from the flying object looking for something in particular. She insists the ship does not exist. The player then encounters Kogasa Tatara, whose only purpose is to frighten the girls away.

As the player catches up with the ship, Ichirin Kumoi and her familiar Unzan appear, complaining about fairies and humans who have been pestering them. She says the "ship" is actually a remodeled building that has given the power to fly. Ichirin Kumoi also says she is trying to revive someone. The fragments—the UFOs that the player has been collecting—are necessary for this purpose, but rather than handing them over, the player defeats the pair and enters the ship.

Inside, the player finds a strange, flying object that promptly attacks and leaves items. Ignoring this, the player finds Captain Murasa, the youkai ghost captain of the ship. She tells the player the ship is heading for Hokkai, a world connected to Gensokyo that is located on the outer edges of Makai. Because the player entered the ship with enough fragments in their possession, it has already begun to enter Hokkai.

Before long, just outside Hokkai, the player again encounters Nazrin, who has found what she was looking for—the Vaisravana pagoda. After defeating her a second time, Shou Toramaru appears. Now the pagoda and the fragments are together, the revival can begin. Shou tells the player they are trying to revive a "saint" who has been sealed for many years—a person who was punished for helping humans and youkai. After defeating Shou, the player chooses to help revive this person.

The final confrontation happens deep inside Hokkai, where Byakuren Hijiri has been unsealed. The player must exterminate youkai (or, in Marisa's case, to prioritize protecting humans). Byakuren disagrees—she is an ally of both and treats both equally. The player defeats Byakuren in a long battle, and the story ends on peaceful terms as she and Murasa cruise around Gensokyo in the ship before settling down and rebuilding Byakuren's original temple.

However, the mystery of the UFOs is still solved. Upon opening one of them, Marisa discovers a snake and the UFO turns into a piece of wood. The girls take off once again into the night sky to investigate. Kogasa reappears, trying to surprise the player. The strange flying object appears again and transforms into a youkai named Nue Houjuu, who disguised the fragments. Only the player saw the UFOs as UFOs—the enemies the player fought against knew they were actually pieces of the ship. After defeating Nue Houjuu, she says she was originally trying to obfuscate Murasa's efforts to revive Byakuren, but the player caught her interest so she helped the player too.

Development

Development on Undefined Fantastic Object began in late 1998 immediately after Subterranean Animism completed development. Unlike previous games, which have focused mainly on giving the player a Shinto feeling, ZUN designed this one with Buddhism in mind from the very start. There are numerous references to Bishamonten throughout, as can be seen from Shou Toramaru and Nazrin's background stories and Ichirin Kumoi's clothing design.

Aside from coming from a different religious angle, one of the major points of the game was to pay homage to Space Invaders and Galaxian - ZUN had picked up a part-time job at Taito Corporation, the company whom originally developed the game; at the time, Taito was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Space Invader's in 1998, the year before the release of Undefined Fantastic Object. Coincidentally, Namco was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of Galaxian This influence was part of what went into the idea of UFOs being the main gimmick. It is also clearly shown in Stage 6, where the fairy stage enemies move in a back-and-forth pattern very reminiscent of the classic arcade games.

There are also numerous subtle references to the Driller Engine 1 Era games; for example, the main character travels to Makai after Stage 4, and one of Byakuren's spell cards references one of Shinki's attacks in both pattern and name. Besides referencing older Touhou games, a few spell cards also borrow their names from other Taito games such as Bubble Symphony and Bubble Memories, and one other one references Radiant Silvergun, a shoot-'em-up developed by Treasure.

Marketing

Drillimation partnered with Nickelodeon as a way to help promote the home console release. Titled Touhou Project X SpongeBob, commercials for the game featured a live-action Minamitsu Murasa telling a passerby that she is planning to travel to Bikini Bottom. The ad became infamous for playing during nearly every commercial break on Nickelodeon in late 1999.

Reception

Undefined Fantastic Object received mostly positive reviews. The game currently holds an 82% on Metacritic based on 54 reviews. Critics praised the revised bomb system but criticized the shard system as to getting new bombs and lives. A local review in El Kadsre Gaming gave the game a positive review, ranking it 38 out of 50. Famitsu gave the game a 33 (9/8/9/7) out of 40 based on four reviews.

Recall

Around a week after the arcade version was released, Namco ordered a global recall due to a game-breaking bug found by players. The bug would cause the game to randomly crash after hitting 10 million points. This was corrected in a future ROM update of the game and is one of the three Nintendo 64 games that require the RAM Expansion Pak. To get around this, Namco packaged the RAM Expansion Pak with every copy of the Nintendo 64 version.

The update also had some of the UFO models' texture patterns changed in order to make it more distinguishable for color-blind players. This decision was made by ZUN as one of the character designers is color blind, and prefers to draw concept art in black and white instead of color.

Known glitches

  • In the beta version and the kiosk demo, it was possible to have Reimu Type B's orbs linger by bombing just before the stage ends, on the boss's last spell card. Also, it was possible for Sanae Type B to inflict bomb damage on a spell card by bombing on the non-SC before it. Both have been fixed in the final.
  • There was a glitch that caused the game to crash when the score counter reached ten million points, be it while playing the game or while watching a replay. This has been fixed as of revision 1.0.2 and all of its future home console ports.
  • By skipping through the dialogue at the end of a boss fight it is possible to end the stage before the items and star piece are collected by the player.
  • If the game is hacked to have the player's score exceed 2,147,483,648 points, the displayed score overflows and becomes its value minus 4,294,967,296, with an "x" replacing the negative sign; the commas are also removed. The player's actual score is unaffected and is displayed normally on the high score and replay screens. However, due to the way the system is set up, the score cannot display more than 100 million points, as it caps after eight digits. Most players generally score an average of 10 - 20 million points, with the world record currently being 33.6 million points.
  • Reimu Type B's bomb, Fantasy Seal, can cause a very slight amount of damage to Nue during a spell card at the end of her invincibility frames. This is most likely due to the splash damage of Fantasy Seal extending beyond those frames.

Behind the Scenes

  • This is the last Touhou Project game to:
    • Be released on fifth generation consoles.
    • Have capabilities of running on Windows 95.
    • Use the standard Drillimation soundfont for its soundtracks, all future Touhou Project games starting from Touhou 13: Ten Desires onward would use the Roland Edirol SD-90.
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