For specific stage strategy, see Stage Strategy
There are two overriding principles behind PCB. They are:
- Increase the CherryMax level through Borders.
- Collect point items at full value.
Most of the topics below advance one of these two goals. They are organized by complexity, weighted somewhat by difficulty and scoring. That is, the Basic goals might be very difficult to do, but it is easy to remember to do them. So a beginning player can just start with those and work up to the Expert goals. Just try to survive to start.
Lives and Bombs
Saving lives and bombs is very important. First, each life is worth 20 million at the end, which is a sizeable chunk of your score. Second, every life lost or bomb makes you lose Cherry, which will kill your score if you miss in the wrong place. If you bomb twice in a row on stage 5 with Marisa your score is pretty much dead. However, misses early on (Stages 1-3), if they are not on a Spell Card, are not a big deal. You get enough extra lives to let it go unnoticed.
You must pick up the early ones. The actual point value is dwarfed in importance by the +100 cherry bonus you get to all future cherry items. This is crucial in getting borders. The later ones also provide large increases to your score, particularly through one of the advanced techniques.
Collect the point items, either above the point of collection or during a border for full point value. After all, there's no point in pumping your Cherry if you can't collect on it. There are spots in the game where the items come in huge clusters, which will be covered in the Specific section.
The importance of full value cannot be stressed enough. If you just miss, the point value drops a huge amount instantly. This rate depends on your Cherry. If you have 50,000, it hardly matters where you collect it. If you have 500,000, you will only get around 150,000 for just missing. This is painful when you do that with 50 items at once.
The cherry items are also important for getting Borders. Try to get them in the same way as point items, but don't worry too much about getting them at the bottom of the screen. The point values for them don't drop as sharply as the point item values do.
Don't waste them. Sometimes it might seem like your Cherry is really low and a canceled Border would fill it quickly, but that is an illusion. The 10,000 increase in CherryMax combined with the bonus for letting it run out is worth roughly 10 million per border. It is doubtful that cancelling it would make up for that.
In other words, never deliberately cancel a border unless you have a timing issue, which will be described later.
Strive to hit your enemies with the unfocused version of your shot as much as possible. The amount of Cherry you get for this is invaluable. The rewards are usually greater than the risk, but don't be suicidal about it... a quick use of the focus button to squeeze between some bullets has a virtually undetectable impact on your cherry income. It will have no impact on your cherry income if you aren't even hitting anything.
Try to graze, unfocused, as much as you can during Borders. The gain in CherryMax is pretty large, particularly in the critical spots. Focused grazing is nowhere near as profitable... but again, don't be suicidal about it (try grazing a group of bullets, then passing through them focused. You can only graze each bullet once, anyway).
As for grazing without a Border, during non-boss portions of a stage... you can do it if you see a good opportunity, but it is not particularly bountiful most of the time, since you receive no CherryMax for your effort.
Spell Cards are a good opportunity for grazing, due to the extra bonus.
Don't shoot at bosses during a Border. At all. You want to squeeze as much Cherry+ out of them as you can, and during a Border, shooting a boss does nothing for that. Just focus on grazing while you have your Border.
Enemy Bullet Bonus
You get star items and points for all the bullets on screen you cancel out by beating a boss, so try to have as many as possible on screen when you land the final blow.
Dying Instead of Bombing
Look at it this way: there are 9 extends to collect from point items, and 2 as separate items. You start with 2 lives in stock, and the maximum amount of lives is 8. Doing the math: 9+2+2–8=5. Which means there are essentially five lives that can be sacrificed to help scoring without taking a blow to your end-of-game life bonus.
It may sound completely counterintuitive, but in certain cases, especially with Marisa, the cherry penalty for bombing can actually become higher than the one for the loss of a life. Moreover, dying also bears a collateral bonus of getting to collect a power item for mass bullet-cancel, aiding in border timing in stages like 3 or 4. This is especially useful on Easy mode, where bombing for Cherry+ is very hard.
Ususally more helpful than not, dying also replenishes your bomb stock, which may come in handy at the end of stage 6, where massive amounts of cherry items quickly negate the death's hit on Cherry value.
Usually you want to get through a Spell Card as fast as you can, so that the bonus is as high as possible. However, a few spell cards give the opportunity to graze a lot of bullets, which can push the bonus to ridiculous levels like 20 million or even more. Spell Cards 048, 055, 102 and 106 are particularly good candidates for this.
There are certain points in the game where it is advantageous to activate a Border at the right time. This is accomplished by keeping track of your Cherry+, and either using your focused shot on a boss or letting Cherry items drop to avoid activating it prematurely. Sometimes you might have to cancel a border just so you can fix it again at the right place. There are a bunch of these, but these are absolutely critical: the red bullet swarms in stage 4 (each accounting for about 10k of CherryMax if grazed unfocused), massive spam in the beginning of stage 5 (many expensive point items lost otherwise) and the beginning of stage 6 (same as the previous). These and more are described in the Specific section.
Reimu-A: Easy to pickup due to homing shots. The lack of power becomes apparent in the latter half of a game, making it difficult to kill enemies before they escape. This character has a normal Cherry+ gain rate, but homing shots may make it hard to control the damage output on a small scale.
Reimu-B: The "lenient" character. Realistically, she is the second-best character in terms of Cherry gain rate, is and one of the top damage-dealers at both short and long distances. She also has one of the smallest penalties for bombing, the benefits of small hitbox and the largest counterbomb period, making herself the easiest character to balance scoring and survival at any difficulty.
Marisa-A: The "unforgiving" character. Her rate of Cherry per shot is massive. However, her speed and bomb penalty make it very hard to capitalize on this advantage. Particularly, it becomes near-impossible to properly time borders by using bombs due to high penalty, so Marisa-A falls back on higher difficulties, but excels at lower ones, where bombing for Cherry+ isn't pronounced.
Marisa-B: The laser shot penetrates enemies, and the bombs deal a lot of damage, but otherwise she is completely inferior to Marisa-A in terms of Cherry rate and bomb penalty, making herself one of the worst characters for scoring.
Sakuya-A: Complete garbage in terms of scoring. The worst part about her abysmal Cherry rate is the extreme difficulty in timing Borders for critical areas. Still, she is a good character for pure survival, as her tracking focused shot makes it easier to aim at bosses without having to mimic their movements.
Sakuya-B: This character requires much experience to play with, but rewards the skilled player with numerous advantages. Her unconventional shot makes it harder to aim, but is able to both cover a large part of the screen at will. Her bombs barely do any damage, but instead do a terrific job at gathering and canceling the bullets on screen, sometimes reaching ridiculous numbers of 20-23k Cherry+ per bomb in certain areas of Lunatic mode. This lets an experienced player to get a lot of Borders with near-surgical precision, which, combined with large grazing hitbox and moderate speed, lets them earn a lot of CherryMax on high difficulties (which is the main reason the Sakuya-B world records are so much higher on them, compared to other characters).
General rule: bombing is better than dying. The decrease in end-of-game life stock bonus is very unlikely to be made up by the difference in Cherry loss.
However: most people do not bomb as a reflex. In some cases it is physically impossible. So they learn to evaluate the patterns and bomb when there is a high probability of dying. This becomes especially prominent in later games, like Subterranean Animism.
The problem is that the penalty is really high. In fact, before certain critical points, you cannot afford to be wrong. That is, the chance that you might live and preserve your Cherry is worth more than the possible benefit of saving a life. This brings you to a weird situation where you just have to hope you will live through the pattern.
Don't go too far with this. Keep the first rule in mind.
You can extend the stage, providing more enemies and items, if you defeat the midboss as fast as you can. This applies to stages 1, 2, and 4. Consider whether you want to get Cherry, or more items. Usually the items make up for the Cherry anyway.
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