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This article details strategies a player can use during the game. The main goals to obtain a high score in SA are:
- Graze as much as possible.
- Collect items at full value.
- Have the maximum amount of lives for the final clear bonus.
Lives and Bombs
Like in the other games, you start with three lives. Unlike the other games, though, extra lives are only obtained by claiming five Life Pieces. Unless physically impossible due to an attack that completely blocks the item, these should always be picked up. Also, because the Clear Bonus after each stage is determined primarily by the amount of lives the player has, to keep a high score, one should not die needlessly.
Clearing Spell Cards without dying or using a Bomb's full effect will net the player a Spell Card Bonus, determined by how much time has passed from the beginning of the card. Clearing Spell Cards will also cause the boss to drop a Life Piece item. Note that timing out or dying during the Spell Card will not yield the Life Piece, so it is often preferable to use a bomb against the boss to quickly clear the Spell Card rather than let the Spell Card time out.
Items are easier to pick up in this installment, due to the implementation of the Communication Gauge. By grazing until the meter reaches maximum, the player can instantly pick up items, no matter where the player is located, during this short period of time. Depending on bullet density, this may be a better option to claim Point items at max value than to run up to the POC (which does the same thing). Try to pick everything up at maximum value, and Reimu-B players can take advantage of the auto-collect function if both other methods prove impossible to do.
One should also take the time to gather up Special Point items as well, as these will increase the maximum value of Points until a death. If possible, claim the Special Point items before point items.
Characters in Subterranean Animism aren't balanced in terms of scoring, much like in Perfect Cherry Blossom. Thus, optimal scoring strategies vary a lot depending on which character you're using.
- Reimu-A — the wildcard character. Her bomb and stable damage output at any range make her the best character in the game on high difficulties (akin to Sakuya-B in PCB). Along with Marisa-B, she is one of the characters that can max out the graze multiplier on Lunatic mode. However, these advantages are not as pronounced on Easy and Normal modes, where strategic suicides and using bombs to help grazing make a lower (if not negative) impact on the score compared to extensive item collection and generally safe play. Another important advantage is that she is very easy to handle overall, making a good choice for beginners together with Marisa-A.
- Reimu-B — a really bad character for scoring, but somewhat effective survival-wise. Her special ability might be useful for collecting power items and Life Pieces without putting the character at risk. The homing shots have a pretty wide range which makes aiming easier; at the same time, they are rather weak and are easily misguided by escaping enemies (think stage 4). The bomb can be very useful on bullet-heavy attacks, especially on higher difficulties, but deals very little damage otherwise.
- Reimu-C — the odd one. Her bomb is very powerful, but very hard to use for scoring. Her weapon is very versatile, but similarly hard to use effectively. The special ability has about an equal chance of helping the player and making them die on an otherwise harmless attack. It is unlikely that a beginner would do well with this character, but she is still potentially better than Reimu-B and Marisa-C score-wise.
- Marisa-A — very good for both scoring and survival, perhaps the most easily accessible character in the game. Her shot is wide and has very high damage output at pretty much any range if you fire unfocused. However, this is also one of her disadvantages, since the player has to fire unfocused to deal damage to a single strong target, having to compromise either rate of damage or dodging safety. Inflated bomb stock makes it very easy to panic-bomb when needed, but requires the player to be at point-blank in order to deal actual damage to the target. Overall, she is very effective at low difficulties, but gradually falls back towards Lunatic.
- Marisa-B — the "next best" character. Her special ability needs practice to take advantage of, but this character is pretty much the only one that can kill almost every enemy that comes onscreen, starting at as little as 2.00 (or even 1.00) power. It makes her enormously useful everywhere except boss fights: the lack of a highly damaging long-range weapon requires the player to come at close range in order to kill bosses in less time, making Marisa-B difficult to handle at high difficulties. Her bomb is very powerful, but it's harder to use for score compared to Reimu-A and Marisa-A, though it still allows her to max out the graze multiplier on Lunatic. All these little quirks might prevent her from being most effective character at any given difficulty, so she mainly serves as a good alternative to any other one, and requires good handling to prove useful.
- Marisa-C — mainly a defensive character. It's easier for a beginner to not die accidentally when using her bomb, but unfortunately, once the safety threshold is passed, she has nothing else to suggest for scoring. Her shot is also very hard to aim at moving targets, since the missiles have pretty noticeable activation lag and low traveling speed.
Overall, the characters you want to look at if your goal is a high score are Reimu-A, Marisa-A, and Marisa-B. If your goal is survival, take a look at Reimu-B and Marisa-C. Use Reimu-C if you like weird challenges (or just can't get used to switching Marisa-B's weapons).
Each bomb has a unique effect, depending on the shot type. Like character selection, these are important when considering the skills of the player. These particulars are as follows:
- Reimu-A — once activated, the player becomes invincible for the remainder of the bomb's duration. Moving through bullets does not disrupt them nor affect the player in any way, allowing for potentially huge amounts of graze points to be collected. After a few seconds, the bomb will end, detonating on the entire screen, clearing out enemies and bullets. This is generally the most conductive bomb to score with, as the player is permitted to graze freely throughout the bomb's entire time of effect.
- Reimu-B — once activated, a circle in a certain radius will appear around the player's current location. This field is immobile, so your positioning at the time of activation is very important with this bomb. Any enemy bullets that enter the circle will be turned into homing mist bullets, which are automatically aimed toward the closest enemies. While not too useful on lower difficulties due to the general reduction in bullet density, it is a useful deathbomb on higher difficulties, and generally recommended if the bullets are too randomized to make use of grazing.
- Reimu-C — once activated, a circle in a certain radius will appear around the player's current location. This field is auto-locked at the player's current location, allowing movement into enemy formations. Any enemy that enters the field will take damage, and any bullets will be turned into small special point items. Unfortunately, this bomb makes it very hard to earn additional graze points while it is in effect; further, it can't cancel certain special projectiles spawned by some bosses (stage3: 39—42; stage 5: 131—134). When the protective barrier vanishes, invincibility is retained for another ~0.5 sec, allowing an additional, albeit a very hard to use opportunity to graze. This bomb is compatible with the high-speed motion of this character, allowing for rapid killing of the enemies around the screen, which also provides a positive impact on the score.
- Marisa-A — once activated, a small doll will appear in front of the player's current location, firing a laser. Any bullet that enters the heat field surrounding the laser will turn into small special point item, and any enemies physically touching the laser will take damage. If the doll itself is contacting an enemy, additional damage is dealt. This is more of a shotgun bomb than anything, as it only works on a very small area. It's also fairly worthless in terms of damage, so should mostly be reserved for taking advantage of invulnerability frames.
- Marisa-B — once activated, five small circles will form a pentagon shape around the character's current location, dealing damage with each circle individually. Much like Marisa-A, it's a shotgun bomb, due to the way damage works on the bomb.
- Marisa-C — once activated, a shell barrier forms around the player, gradually growing smaller. If anything impacts the player's hitbox during this time, or if the player hits the activation button again, the bomb will fully activate, detonating on the entire screen. If the entire bomb plays out without activating fully, the player is given back 0.50 Power as compensation. This bomb is unique in that the initial activation will not risk the loss of a Spell Card Bonus, and that lost power may come back. This is arguably the most useful for newbie players, as deathbomb timing is still weak, and premature activation may not affect point score beyond the usual loss of power. Also, there is a glitch, where if you deathbomb at just the right moment, the barrier will activate without going off immediately - so you stay alive while having a fresh barrier up and only losing 1 power.
Each character type has their own type of shot use. For Reimu-C and Marisa-B, knowing how the options go is imperative in order to defeat enemies in the least amount of time. Tactical use of the Focus button for all shot types is sometimes required to defeat bosses with minimum exertion (and maximum Bonus).
With the implementation of the Communications Gauge, Graze has become a primary component of scoring. Because every 100 Grazes will slightly increase the multiplier of Point items by .01x, staying close to enemy attacks is recommended, not only for point issues, but collecting the items from fallen enemies afterwards, due to the fact that reaching maximum on the gauge will activate an autocollect feature (see Items above).
Knowing what each sound effect means can mean the difference between life and death. Therefore, one should have high quality speakers or headphones while playing, to reduce potential mishaps that could be avoided with sound. Some examples are as follows:
- Low hum while you're hitting enemies such as bosses and special enemies. If the sound stops, the enemy has moved/died and you should move to compensate.
- When a boss is low on health for a particular health bar, this hum will change in pitch. This is your cue to stop firing if you are waiting for a certain point to finish off the boss, or if you are milking that particular bullet pattern by grazing. If you are doing the latter, it is still advised that you shoot the boss in short bursts in order to lower her health so that she will die instantly in the next shot, as sometimes the remaining health even when this sound effect applies will take a few seconds to finish off.
- When the timer on a boss has 10 seconds or less remaining, a tone will sound for every second that passes. On the last three seconds, the tone is echoed. This is your cue to finish off a boss if you are milking a particular spell card so that you gain both the benefits of milking the spell card as well as the spell card bonus.
When a boss attack is cleared (regardless of whether or not a Spell Card bonus is obtained), all bullets onscreen are converted to small Special Point items. One should make it a point to ensure that as many bullets as possible are on the screen before finishing off an attack pattern. Note that for the last spell cards used, the bullets will only be converted after the boss has finished exploding.
Again, the point of Grazing is to help increase the maximum value of Points. Supergrazing can be used to project the maximum value to a large increase, especially through bullet formations which are practically designed with this concept in mind.
Note: All of this is from the perspective of Normal Mode.
Perhaps one of the most underrated and underused, players will generally glance at Aya's special ability ('move really really quickly', essentially) and go 'Why the hell do I want to move at uncontrollably fast speeds in a danmaku game?'. Well, it certainly can make collecting post-spellcard item drops easier. And, contrary to what some believe, it's not an all-time thing. If you're focusing or just holding Z, you won't get the speed boost. To be fair, she's probably a bad idea for Lunatic mode, but at certain difficulties she has a number of sneaky capabilities that can be utilized in most stages. Generally speaking, her ability to lock her shot position is invaluable in certain situations. Not only that, but she can pump out extremely high damage at close range, especially if you're bombing them.
Your 180-degree shot saves you some time vs. Parsee's cards, especially the one that causes slowly-appearing bullets to chase you all around the screen. Loop around Parsee so that your option goes through her to maximize damage potential.
In some parts of the stage, fairies will show up in the top corners of the screen. Specifically, I mean the ones that shoot those long strings of 6 or so rice-shaped bullets at you. Stand in one bottom corner shooting up towards their position with your shot locked in the other corner and they usually won't be able to fire a single shot.
Satori will replicate some of Aya's danmaku from other games. Speaking from Normal Mode, while I'm not familiar with two of them, her first (the Leaves one) is easy to dodge. Just stand in the middle of the blank space between the V-spreads and gradually move up to clear the bullets just like you would in MoF. Her arrows are slightly harder (work in progress) but aren't overly threatening. The whirlwind card (where the arrows swirl in and out on the left/right of the screen) is pretty easy for a final card. She'll launch two paired whirlwinds that gradually fluctuate outwards before looping back in on themselves. When they begin to contract, move forward past them. Be sure to constantly monitor the distance between the expanding whirlwind behind you and the expanding whirlwind in front of you so you don't get caught! Bomb as needed, you'll need to save your lives.
Satori in general is much easier compared to Yuugi and Orin so don't be afraid to bomb to save lives. You'll need them!
Orin's stage is usually a nightmare for most, but not Aya. There will be several times when the top of the screen becomes flooded with self-destructing spirits. These spirits all drop items. There are a lot of them. Simply fly up to the top of the screen (bump yourself down a bit), bomb, and lock your shot in a left-right position. You'll continually clear all enemies and gather all items on the PoC line at top value, generally suffering minimal loss of power.
The first barrage of crows are easy to handle, just tiny-dodge. Conserve power wherever possible here, because it is SCARCE.
When the second crow swarm comes (the ones that spit Kunai) you can preempt them by flying to the top and locking your shot in a left-right position, moving yourself up and down to kill them before they fire. This, however, is risky since they start firing very quickly.
The spirits after that are easy to deal with, just tiny-dodge and alter your shot as needed.
Your speed boost will only get you killed when facing Orin, so stick to the default focus speed and don't overdo it.
Some time after you defeat Orin, a spirit will drop down from the top of the screen and then fire out tendrils of swirly danmaku. The hitbox on these bullets seems to be obnoxiously large, but since Aya is a tengu, we're allowed to cheat. Fly up to the spirit, bomb, and lock your focus right in front of them. They'll die. Fly up to the PoC- you've gotten your power 100% refunded with some points to boot. A second one will come out. Bomb it again. Congratulations, you just trivialized half the stage. Good luck facing Okuu.
Marisa B (or Marisa - Patchouli) is a strange - if not weird - team. First of all, you can change the element of your options with a single Focus + Shoot combination. What's the point? Each of them has a different attack range and can be used in certain situations. The order goes Fire - Water - Wood - Metal - Earth - Fire, with Fire as its starting point. Note that the the elements are not equal in damage output, even if all the bullets connect.
"Fire" is straight and focused which is the best for fighting bosses or midbosses who don't move around much. "Water" is fairly weak, but has a wide attack range which you will need while fighting the small fries through the stage. It is reasonably safe to sit near the bottom of the screen with Water element to safely clear weaker enemies before they can get a shot off at you and is good for dealing constant damage when dodging. "Wood" is similar to "Water", except that its attack range is V-shaped. It is quite powerful, but the V-shape actually gives it a big blind spot and thus is not actually suited for fighting during the stages. Wood LVL 3 is actually the most damaging shot in the game, so shotgun boss enemies when safe or after bombing. "Metal" positions the options above and below Marisa and shoots in a left - right position, which is good in certain situations, for example, in the second stage's boss battle, or in the last two stages. If enemies enter from the top of the screen and do not shoot as soon as they enter, then it is possible to safely clear enemies by sitting at the top of the screen and firing (taking care not to collide with the enemies themselves). "Earth" is just as weird as the team itself, since it shoots backward instead. At full power, the damage output is slightly behind Wood LVL 3.
Note that it's possible to beat the game in Normal mode without even using "Wood" and "Earth". This was not confirmed in Hard mode. Another note is that when you bomb, unlike Reimu-C, the explosion stays where you activated it.
The first waves of enemies come from the bottom left and right respectively. The main threat when you first enter the stage is the fairies shooting S-shaped bullet streams. The best way to kill them is to switch to "Metal" and run up to them when they shoot. You can try grazing a bit, though it is recommended that you practice your calculating in Easy mode first - unless you're used to such games. Also note that those bullet streams aim directly for you and that their directions can't be changed once shot. When you get enough powerups, switch to "Water". Stay back and let your options do the fighting. After a while, Kisume will appear, switch back to "Fire" to fight her since she doesn't move much. Yamame Kurodani is not a hard opponent. Make your way through her bullet waves and finish her off.
Most of Parsee Mizuhashi's spell cards are not hard to dodge, rather, require good reflexes. Switch to "Metal" and keep running around her while dodging until she dies. Boring.
To fight the fairies on the top corners, switch to either "Water" or "Wood". If you choose "Wood", you'll have to come closer to the center, which you won't like. Normally they won't be able to shoot back at you. Don't be afraid to bomb since this stage is harder compared to the next one.
Satori will copy some of Patchouli's spell cards, which, you didn't enjoy. They're just danmaku, however, and there's no such thing as unavoidable, patternless danmaku.
If Reimu-C is the best choice for Reimu in this stage, then Marisa-B is the best one for Marisa. When you see the self-destructing spirits, just switch to "Earth", run up to them, bomb, then back down a bit, keep shooting. You will constantly defeat enemies as well as collect items without much effort.
While fighting Orin, you won't have to move much from your place so use "Fire" for most damage. Stay as "Fire" while fighting the two spirits that come up next. Here comes the last boss. You don't have to put much effort in dodging during the first two spell cards, but be careful on the next one since you will feel the urge to sneak between the explosions since they're spinning. Don't. Why, because you will have a wrong feeling about their center points, which is bad. Good luck facing her.
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