Doujin on Steam: Desunoya Games

Let’s look at a couple of Doujin games by Desunoya that have made their way to Steam. However, before we get to Desunoya and their games, let’s try to define what makes Doujin games, well, Doujin.

What are Doujin games? Who is Desunoya?

Essentially, Doujin games are Japanese indie games; it’s been argued that there isn’t a significant difference between the two. In a polygon article the marketing manager of Playism, a publisher of indie games, Nayan Ramachandran is quoted as saying, “One Japanese developer told me he thinks the difference is that doujin is all about hobbyist creators, and indie is sexy . . . To me, the real difference is just semantics.” However, most fans will consider Doujin games a whole different animal than indie games; the key word here is “hobbyist.” Doujinsoft creators, called circles, usually create games at a loss, and don’t really expect profit for their efforts. Creating video games are a labor of love, and instead of putting games out to be widely available, they focus on face to face interaction at conventions or shops. The hobbyist aspect of doing something for fun and enjoyment rather than turning it into a career defines the Doujinsoft scene for some. Sometimes they do end up making games as a career, but it’s never the sole intent or the endgame. Sometimes, Doujin games end up on Steam.

Some Doujin games are spiritual successors to already existing franchises that haven’t had proper sequels, or are games based around popular Manga and Anime series. There’s actually a couple of action games based around the world of Fate/Zero. Many other games are original concepts. The genres range from RPGs, fighters, shooters, platformers, visual novels and some more naughty things I’m not going to cover here. Doujin games are generally hard to get a hold of since they’re sold in small Japanese shops and at a twice-a-year Japanese Doujin convention called Comic Market, or Comiket. However, many Doujin titles have made their way to Steam thanks to American companies like Playism and Sekai Project.

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Touhou Project is a massive Doujinsoft hit, spawning art-books, short story collections, manga and, most important to the game’s identity, an almost endless supply of fan made content. Remixing music composed by ZUN, Touhou’s creator, has become a genre onto itself. There are several fan made music videos that have become as popular as the games; there’s even a couple of very well made fan anime series. This is a franchise where the line between fanon and canon has been blurred significantly. With all this said, there are, of course, fan made Touhou games, some where Touhou characters replace the main characters of popular franchises. For example, Super Marisa Land is a Super Mario type game, with Touhou’s Marisa instead of Super Mario. The second Exceed game used the mechanics of Ikaruga, but replaced the ships with original characters. This brings us, finally, to the subject of this article: the Doujin circle, Desunoya, which develops Touhou fan games as well as original content. The two games I will cover are original games created by Desunoya: Reverse X Reverse and Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon. Both of these games, published, by Sekai Project, are available to purchase, fully translated to English, from Steam.

Reverse X Reverse

Released by Desunoya in 2015, Reverse X Reverse is a platform puzzle game in which you control two different characters possessing unique powers. The goal in each of the 81 levels is to clear the “bug fields” by collecting data discs. There are ten worlds with eight levels each. The two girls in question, Code and Rithm, have specific powers that help traverse the level’s traps, such as enemies and spikes. Code has a dash she can use to get past spike traps in tight spaces and Rithm has a double jump, which is useful for reaching high places and just about everything else. I honestly thought Rithm did most of the heavy lifting throughout the stages. I don’t know if this was intentional, or if I was playing it wrong.

As the game goes on, you will begin to see that the puzzles usually follow certain formats. Some puzzles are rooms where you have to activate things in a certain order in order to scroll the screen to the left or the right. In these types of puzzles, the screen in locked and won’t scroll until you activated a switch. There are some very interesting, and longish puzzles that require the player to scroll the screen to the left and then back to the right. However, everything must be done in the correct order, or you’ll be very angry when you’re one pixel away from the big disc that ends the level. A lot of stages are very trial and error, and will take some time to completely master. Other stages are a test of your reflexes as you try to stay on a moving platform as it slowly reaches the end of the level.

The goals of the levels are to collect discs to remove the bug fields that impede your progress. The bug fields appear as impassable black blocks. The blocks themselves can also be used strategically to advance. For some levels, it’s beneficial to leave a bug field over a bottomless pit and then come back to clear it later. Some levels create situations where the player has to think about which discs to get, instead of jumping around and grabbing everything in sight.

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You can control the girls individually or at the same time. There are some levels that force the player to control the girls at the same time. This is especially harrowing when the screen suddenly starts to auto-scroll and the player is forced to think fast. Other levels allow you to manipulate the character’s gravity, causing the girls to switch places. The saving grace for the difficulty is the ability to try the levels over and over again until you beat it or embed your controller in a wall out of frustration. The odd thing about the game’s difficulty curve is that it seems to peak and trough like a sine wave. There were some levels that took me upwards of forty five minutes to finally complete, whereas the following level was conquered only after a couple of tries. Overall, the controls are rather tight, and I really can’t blame them for mistakenly jumping off a platform into an abyss.

Between each level, we are treated to a short cut scene that advances the story. The two characters are debugging programs working for Desunoya games. It sounds pretty meta, but it doesn’t go very far down the rabbit hole, like say Undertale does. Bug fields are forming in the programming of the levels and it’s up to Code and Rithm to solve the levels and make them playable again. The graphics and voice work is very charming. The sprites are clear and well animated. The amorphous bunny-like enemies are fun to look at, and have different attack patterns.

I love this game, but I know it isn’t going to set the indie gaming world on fire. However, I chose it because it’s a competent game that demonstrates what most original Dojin games are: cute games, with unique mechanics and retro sensibilities, usually staring anime girls. It’s also easily obtainable from Steam. Another thing that a lot of Doujin games, that I’ve played, have in common: it’s easy on the hardware. The next game, released before Reverse X Reverse, from Desunoya continues this same trend, but styles itself as a more traditional platformer.

Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon

Desunoya’s Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon is a platformer that plays like Super Mario by the way of Kirby. You can jump on enemies to kill them, and you hit blocks with your head to dislodge coins. Some enemies, that sometimes look like wizards with bunny ears, will yield a special power if you hit them with a magical staff. Tobari can hold two different powers at the same time and switch between the two. The powers rang from shooting fireballs, and summoning lightening from the sky to having the ability to light up a dark room. Some are more useful than others, but overall the variety is pretty sound and I had fun trying all the different types of powers.

The story follows Tobari as she tries to find her friend Hina, who has done something to cause strange things to happen at their school. For example, bunny monsters are appearing everywhere, and the environments she once knew have changed drastically. Before venturing into the first stage of the forest world, Tobari remarks that the forest used to be lush and green, but now it’s covered in snow and the ground is frozen over with ice. The story proceeds in this way, with a text heavy cut-scene before and after a boss and before the first level of the world. The game is divided up into six worlds with seven stages each. Tobari’s difficulty is old school platformer difficulty, and it’s pretty fun, even though the controls are somewhat slippery and imprecise, which is a common problem with these types of games.

tobariscreen1 desunoya

Tobari’s gameplay style is a pretty good example of what Doujin games try to accomplish. It takes a solid, familiar concept like the platformer, well, in this case, Super Mario and tweaks it. You can take enemies’ power for your own like Kirby, but you can also buy things with all those coins you collect instead it just being for extra lives. Little shop doors appear at certain points in the levels and, inside, Tobari can buy powers, extra lives and healing items. Having these shops available mid level can help with the game’s difficulty, but not too much to make the game easy. The retro, sprite graphics and the anime style, still-image cutscenes complement each other well, even if the story isn’t overly complex.

tobariscreen2 desunoya

Another thing one might notice with the games is the assets. Enemies and sound effects in this game were reused in Reverse X Reverse, probably in an effort to cut costs. Again, like the aforementioned game, Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon probably won’t make your jaw drop to the floor. It’s a familiar concept competently designed and executed. There are some issues with the controls and the story is pretty routine, but it is by no means a bad game. I actually like this a lot and find Desunoya’s art style and voice work very charming. But if these games are not the pinnacle of Doujin gaming goodness, why did I chose them? Why not Touhou? Let me explain.

Final Words

The easiest answer I can give you is that Touhou isn’t on Steam, and the games are a little hard to get a hold of, when considering the hobbyist, face to face nature of the Doujin scene. I imported my copies of Touhou games from authorized online retailers like Jbox (http://www.jbox.com). The shipping can be a bit expensive, and the wait for your items too long. Additionally, sometimes it can be difficult to get the discs to work on an American operating system. Doujin games on Steam circumvents a lot of these hassles. And there are some wonderful bullet hell games on there similar to Touhou,- like Crimzon Clover and Exceed – but it doesn’t look like official Touhou games are going to make it to Steam anytime soon.

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That’s the simple answer, but there’s more. Touhou, rightfully so, is the face of Doujin gaming. It’s a well made franchise with some awesome music and solid game play, but Doujin is more than just Touhou, and that’s what I’m trying to show with this article. There are a variety of games created by a lot of different Doujin circles, and I feel that Desunoya games are a good representation of what playing an average Doujin game is like: a simple, yet challenging game created with love. The fact that these games are on Steam mean that American audiences who are interested in playing these types of games can do so while supporting the creators. Even though it’s not their intent to get paid lots of money, it’ll be a wonderful thing to be able to show our support. Go ahead and try these games out and look back here for some more Doujin on Steam features in the future.

Oh yeah! Here’s a bonus: A Tobari version of Flappy Bird! Enjoy!

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