~Hakurei Shrine~ > Help Me, Eirin!

How to get to grips with Touhou - general hints, tips and advice!

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If you're a newbie to the Touhou series or danmaku shmups in general, the chances are you'll be struggling to start off with. The curtains of bullets may seem way too fast, dense and confusing for you to dodge effectively, or you might just be slipping up at crucial moments - at any rate, you're looking for hints, tips and ways of improving. If this sounds familiar, this guide is for you.

There are a bunch of basic techniques you'll need to be familiar with in order to succeed, especially if you're looking to move up to the higher difficulties later on. Hope you guys find it useful. :V

As you may have noticed, this guide is a little bit :wikipedia:, so feel free to skip to the sections you're having the most trouble with or know the least about.


Streaming is without a doubt the most widely used technique in shmups as a whole. It's very common for enemies to fire bullets aimed at you rather than in random or predefined places, and you can take advantage of this by making small movements to one side, letting all the bullets miss you. If there are lots of enemies or a long lasting pattern, you could be moving slowly sideways for quite a while, leaving a 'stream' of bullets behind you.

It seems like an obvious technique, but you never really realise until you try it just how much of these games is simple streaming. If you're entering a section of the game you've never seen before, you may as well just go to one side of the screen and start streaming by default; either the patterns coming up will be random/static, in which case you haven't lost anything, or they'll be streaming, in which case you'll be completely avoiding the danger.

Here is a basic example of a streaming pattern; every bullet can be avoided simply by tapping to move out of harm's way. Not all of them are that easy to spot, however; ZUN quite likes to disguise his streaming, often making it look much more intimidating and difficult than it actually is. An example of this is the start of PCB Phantasm - it may look extremely difficult due to the bullet density and speed, but it's still just a streaming pattern. The opening barrage is made of bullets aimed at you (stream), followed by two sets of bullets aimed away from you (sit still), and another set aimed at you (stream), followed by a bunch of really fast green bullets aimed at you (stream) - I think you get the basic idea. You should be streaming enough that it becomes second nature to you after a while, and it'll help a lot in the long run.

A slightly more advanced technique is the 'crossover'. Often while streaming, you'll notice that you don't have enough space on-screen to keep going - if you try to stream the pattern all the way to the end, you'll crash into a wall. In these situations, you need to perform a 'streaming crossover'. This involves, while streaming, making a very quick dash forwards, then stopping immediately and starting to stream in the other direction. What this does is make a gap in the stream due to the quick movement, which you can fit through and begin streaming the other way. In this way, you can stream a pattern for an infinite amount of time. Here an example of a pattern where streaming crossovers are needed; you need to keep doing them for Sanae's straight, aimed bullets, or you'll get trapped between the more random bullets flying about. Again, this should become second nature after you do enough of them.

Bombing/Resource Management

Good bomb usage is one of the biggest factors in how far through the game you'll get, especially as you're just starting out and don't have as much experience with the patterns. Each Windows Touhou starts you out with at least two, more often three, bombs for every life, with the possibility of getting more. With this in mind...



Otherwise, this will be you (WARNING: turn down your volume before you click this).

I hope I've made my point. :V

I know it's always tempting to attempt a difficult attack without bombing, and in practice mode, this is encouraged, as it'll help you learn the pattern and get more consistent with dodging it. However, in a real run, you should be ready to bomb at any time during an attack you think is likely to hit you, and hit the bomb button as soon as you feel unable to keep up with the attack. You might want to try an 'all-bombs' run in one of the earlier Touhous just to get a feel for how far good bomb use can push you.

This advice is all well and good for the earlier games; Touhous 10-12 aren't so clear cut. Mountain of Faith has a system where bombing removes 1.00 power from your total power stock - however, bombs in MoF are extremely powerful, aside from which your power actually maxes at 4.00; the extra 1.00 when you're at 5.00 power is essentially just a free bomb. In addition to these, the bomb includes autocollect, and often you'll make back most of the power you lost by bombing! As Drake has shown, you can afford to be really generous with bombs here, so go nuts with them!

SA is probably the game you'll want to use bombs in most sparingly; it's like MoF, except minus the 1.00 buffer (it caps at 4.00), there's less chance of getting your power back from autocollect, and the bombs themselves are far weaker. Using too many is likely to hinder you at the very least, so only use them if you need them - having said that, it's still always better to bomb than to die.

For UFO, you'll likely want to bomb as in the earlier games in the series, since there's no power loss for bombing; however, there's another thing to consider here, of course.

-UFO Collection

UFO is kind of a special case due to (obviously) the UFOs. As you'll probably know if you've played the game, various enemies will drop UFOs when destroyed, and will summon a big UFO if collected in the right order. Three reds will summon a red, three blues summon a blue, three greens summon a green, and one of each summons a rainbow UFO. UFOs may spawn life/bomb pieces and other small UFOs when destroyed; in addition, they suck in point/power items while alive (don't worry, you get them back when they die), and when the ring around them is full of these items, they may spawn additional items. The list of spawns is as follows:

Blue UFOs: Spawns a colour-changing UFO when killed, and gives a large point bonus for filling up the ring.
Red UFOs: Spawns a colour-changing UFO and a life piece when killed, and gives another life piece for filling up the ring.
Green UFOs: Spawns a colour-changing UFO and a bomb piece when killed, and gives another whole bomb for filling up the ring.
Rainbow UFOs: Spawns a colour-changing UFO when killed; if you fill up the ring before killing it, it'll spawn two UFOs instead. It's also worth noting that a rainbow UFO will change any power items it collects into point items, and any point items into power items - this can be very useful if you're low on power and want to get back to max quickly.

Obviously, red and green UFOs are the most beneficial for pure survival play. You'll notice that while some small UFOs change colour, some will stay the same colour all the time; you should build your large UFOs around this. As a general rule for survival, you'll want to make a red UFO if there are static red UFOs, a green UFO if there are static greens, and a rainbow UFO if there are static blues, which will help you get more greens or reds in the long run.

There are quite a few spots where you'll have to make a choice between a red and a green UFO. The advantage of reds, of course, is that dying with bombs in stock doesn't hurt nearly as much, and you won't have to think about bombs at all after your stock runs out. However, bombs have the advantage of actually doing damage, as well as avoiding the power loss from dying. Really, it's up to you which to get. I've seen people have a lot of success with either or both - a common route to use is reds for the first four stages, and greens for the last two.

An important thing to mention is when to go after small UFOs. It can be tempting to grab them from near the top of the screen before they change colour to something less useful, but this is definitely not recommended if there's a decent amount of danmaku flying around; it's very easy to get blasted by a fairy from close range, and a death will definitely outweigh all the benefits you'd have gotten from grabbing the UFO. It's also worth saying that a UFO will delay its colour change if you are near it. This is useful if you want to grab it as it is, but if you're waiting for it to change colour, you're better off hanging back at a distance.

-Fairy Wars

Fairy Wars has a bullet freezing mechanic which can be used to clear out dense waves of bullets, and in that respect it works a little bit like a bomb which can get you out of bad situations. As such, it can seem a bit like an emergency measure; however, you should be using it every time there are lots of bullets on-screen. The more bullets you freeze, the more charge you regain to freeze the next bunch of bullets - in addition, you also gain charge towards lives, 'proper' bombs, and shot power, all of which are extremely helpful, especially later in the game. If you're feeling adventurous, you could even use your 'proper' bomb the same way - freezing a full screen of danmaku, including fire bullets, will net you a very large amount of charge.

Hitboxes/Your Field of Vision

You'll notice that from PCB onwards (and in EoSD if you're using the hitbox patch), your hitbox is displayed when you use focus; it can be very tempting to stare at the hitbox so you know exactly what gaps you can fit between. However, with the exception of very slow, very dense patterns (such as Youmu's spell cards which slow down time), it's usually a bad idea to do this when dodging. Many attacks come at you at a very quick pace, especially on the higher difficulties, and if you've only seen them when they're within a few inches of your hitbox, it's often too late to move out of the way.

As you practice more, you'll start to be able to concentrate on more of the screen at once, and intuitively know where your hitbox is from your character's position, allowing you more freedom of vision - however, you'll want to get this skill down as fast as possible, as it'll speed up your progress a lot. I find the default 'best' position to have your vision centred on is about 1/3 of the way up the screen; of course, this is just a guideline, and you can and should change this on the fly based on your position, enemy positions, and bullet speed density. As a general rule, the slower and denser the pattern is, the closer you'll want to be looking at your hitbox.

Another thing that should be mentioned is the hitboxes of bullets. While it may not immediately be obvious, some bullets have hitboxes that are smaller than the actual sprites! In practice, this means you can often fit between bullets despite their sprites touching or even overlapping. As a general rule, the bigger the bullet is, the bigger the percentage of non-hitbox space there is. For example, the tiny 'pellet' bullets are pretty much 100% hitbox,  while large circle and 'bubble' bullets have tons of non-hitbox space - bubble bullets in particular only start with the hitbox around the area where the clear part in the middle meets the colour on the outside, which means you can safely sit inside the white sections (IMPORTANT NOTE: these two types of bullets have a bigger hitbox in EoSD than they do in the rest of the series!). Exceptions to this rule are amulet and arrow bullets, which only have hitboxes in the centre of the spite despite being small, and Utsuho's nuke bullets, which are almost entirely hitbox despite being the biggest kind of bullet.

Having said that, it's usually not a good idea to push your luck unless you're playing for score and trying to accumulate graze - it's much safer to try to avoid a bullet entirely than to scrape past its hitbox by a small margin. This can also prevent annoying 'clipdeaths', which occur when you misjudge hitboxes and get hit while under the illusion that you're safe. Hitboxes can be forgiving, but don't push to take advantage of them if there's another, safer option.

Effective Practice

So, these basic dodging skills are all well and good, but you still won't make much progress on any difficulties you find challenging until you learn the stages well. You often hear inexperienced shmup players say that the kind of 'dodging skill' like what's mentioned above is what's important in shmups, and that memorization isn't that important - let me tell you now that this is wrong. Memorization, and the ability to learn stages quickly and thoroughly, is arguably more important than any perceived 'dodging skill' - sure, if you're good enough you may be able to dodge a relatively simple pattern on sight, but you're far better off learning what can be learned and saving your focus for the really tough patterns which can't be memorized, and even these (or particularly these!) should be practiced a ton.

A good example is EoSD stage 4 - the first time you try it on a difficulty you find challenging, the chances are you'll lose a whole bunch of lives due to stuff flying in from strange directions, huge lasers and a load of other complications. However, after a bit of practice you may notice that almost the entire stage can be streamed without much difficulty. If you practice the stage and learn where the enemies spawn, you can save yourself a whole lot of difficult dodging and practically cruise through the patterns, saving your focus for the potentially difficult battle against Patchouli.

Bearing this in mind...


It can be tempting to just try full runs to try and get the 1cc (or high score) quickly if you think you're close to accomplishing it, but if there's something that gives you problems in the late stages of the game, there is simply no point going through the whole rest of the game to get one shot at practicing the section. If you're serious about your run, you should practice everything that you can't do consistently until you either can do it consistently or write the section off as an automatic bomb (this is entirely fine as well, but if you do this, make sure you follow it and use the bomb - it's very frustrating to die after planning a bomb and failing to use it).

Similarly, IN's Spell Practice works absolute wonders for practicing spell cards, which is very nice considering the memorization-heavy nature of its attacks. You may also find, if you're playing the PC-98 games, that your emulator supports savestates - if so, use these too! If it's not a full run attempt, anything goes as long as it helps you improve and learn the game.

When you want to improve your overall skills at a certain game rather than learning any particular attacks, a good way to go about it is to practice the game a difficulty or two above what you're used to. If you're going for a Normal 1cc, play on Hard for a while, and try to get consistent at some of the patterns it involves. If you're feeling adventurous, Lunatic will improve your skills very quickly, but don't expect to be able to handle everything there straight off the bat. Once you've done this for a while, you can go back to a difficulty  you're comfortable with - you'll likely find that it seems a lot less difficult than before.

If you're looking to practice your overall dodging skills rather than anything specific, there are other things to try; PoDD, PoFV, and StB are all excellent for this. The Phantasmagoria games are very nice for sharpening your random dodging and streaming skills - for the latter, I recommend fighting against Aya in PoFV (just don't expect to win). StB is less clear cut, but there's a huge variety in patterns, most of which are very tough - they definitely go above and beyond your regular Lunatic cards by the end, so you'll improve for sure if you stick with it.

There's one very important thing I haven't touched on yet, which is possibly the single best way of learning how to clear things. Namely:


People have been playing these games for years and have developed all sorts of awesome survival and scoring routes through the stages during that time, and a whole bunch of the best are available on Gensokyo.org, or Royalflare, or even YouTube, and it's a huge waste not to make use of these excellent resources. Often, you'll find there's a very simple trick to something you've been struggling with that just won't occur to you until you watch someone else's run - this is particularly important if you're looking to play Extra stages or Double Spoiler, which are full of 'trick' cards that look incredibly hard until you understand how to tackle them. Don't be afraid to shamelessly rip off copy or take inspiration from other players' tactics - it's one of the best ways to see what you're doing wrong and how to fix it.

Of course, it's also a good idea to watch your own replays to see what you're doing wrong! It's a lot easier to notice mistakes that you make later watching a replay than in the heat of the moment during gameplay, and possibly come up with a plan to fix them. You might also think up better ways to dodge certain patterns - it's very useful sometimes to just sit back and watch the patterns without being under the pressure of having to dodge them. Watching replays both from yourself and others is definitely one of the best ways to come up with strategies on the whole, so do this often!

Scoreplay Basics

First things first - I wouldn't call it impossible to go for scores straight off by any stretch of the imagination, but you'll probably want to hold off on all but basic scoreplay until you can 1cc whatever mode it is you want to score in; after all, survival in itself will rack in a decent number of points in most of the games. Once you're up to this level, there are a few general differences between playing to survive and playing to score:

* In survival you always want to take the path with the least risk; with scoreplay, you need to balance risk and reward. It's often worth attempting something very difficult if it'll give you a huge score increase down the line. In general you'll want to start by learning the easiest tricks with good rewards, and end by learning the most difficult parts that will only give you a little extra.
* In survival you treat all your lives and bombs as resources for not getting a game over; in scoring, it's often necessary to 'spend' your lives or bombs in order to get a ton of graze from certain boss attacks (Patchouli in EoSD Extra and Parsee in SA are good examples). UFO also has another variant of this, namely switching out your red or green UFOs for blue ones as you get more comfortable with the game.
That's the general side of things - for those concentrating on a specific game, as you should be doing if you want to nail a high score, there's an excellent rundown of both the overall scoring systems and a specific strategy for each of the games on the Touhou Wiki, and they can be found here. Definitely give these a read if you're unsure of how the scoring works for a certain game and want to get started.

Well then, that's about it, I think. Hopefully it helps you guys get to grips with things! If you're struggling with something very specific, there's a Spell Card Help thread where you can ask about it and hopefully get some answers on how to approach it from your fellow players. Beyond this, it's largely up to your own practice, so keep at it and you'll have those 1ccs you're after in no time at all. When (not if) you do get them, feel free to post about them in the Accomplishments Thread!

If you have any questions, or think of something that isn't addressed in this guide, is incorrect or could otherwise be improved, feel free to tell me about it either in this thread or PM, and I'll see what I can do to fix it.

Good luck, and have fun. :D

Third Eye Lem:
Very nice guide, it's a bit generic but it does give some good advice.

Nice guide Sapz. Hopefully this will help people improve their skills.

Also: Wouldn't it be a good idea to mention that the rainbow UFO's can convert power items into point items and vice versa?

Ah yeah, probably a good idea, I'll add that in. Thanks for the feedback!

An excellent guide. I'm surprised no one's done this sooner.

The only thing I'd add is that even watching your own replays can be helpful, as you can watch for what you might've done wrong, and come up with ideas as to what to do differently. Saving replays isn't just for bragging rights, after all.



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