The Hakuoki game series by Idea Factory is a hugely popular franchise in Japan with currently 16 games on most consoles and now has a manga and anime series. Very few have been released outside of Japan, with one 3DS game getting a release in the UK last year and the PS3 game, Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi being brought to Europe courtesy of Aksys games.
For those of you new to the name Hakuoki, let me explain the story as I originally watched the anime before playing the game – did this effect my gameplay? No not at all, it warmed me up to see my favourite samurai’s once more.
The story revolves around the female lead Yukimura Chizuru who has gone to Kyoto in search for her father, a well known doctor. She travels from Edo to Kyoto and runs into some unusual looking ronin with white hair, they are called ‘furies’ and before her demise, she is saved by these mysterious samurai in blue coats, called the Shinsengumi. These guys seem dashing but ultimately must kill her to conceal there secrets but things interesting when she reveals she is in the search for her father Next thing she knows she is captive and made to live as a boy following there orders. A lot of battles ensue and talk of ‘furies’, betrayer and honor. Find my more detailed summary on my review of the anime which I HIGHLY recommend: http://parallaxplay.com/review-hakuoki-season-1-demon-of-the-fleeting-blossom-collection-ova/
You start off by deciding your name or keeping the original, since I have nurtured a hatred for Chizuru, her name was now Dungbeetle Yukimura, which proved very amusing as Dunbeetle sure does like to introduce herself a lot to people. The plot pretty much mirrors the anime you start off thinking about your father and then travelling to Kyoto. Firstly let me remind you this is a visual novel, I thought as it was an anti harem that it would be a dating sim, this is not the case entirely, making certain decisions towards certain members of the Shinsengumi makes them give off sakura petals but not much more in the way of romance. So the game is heavy text based, you read derciptions of the rooms, her feelings, body heat that kind of thing. If you are notinto text heavy JRPG then you wills truggle with this game as you can’t do anything else but READ…RUN AWAY DOOD!
Basically Yukimura complains about her depression of being trapped in the confines of the Shinsengumi quarters, this feels real as you literally are stuck staring at flat backgrounds for most of the game. Any texture added is placed all over so you can have a bamboo divide without the whole screen having the bamboo effect. Before you say ‘that’s a bit pedantic of you to say’ but you are looking a the backgrounds for a long time unless a person comes to converse then you are faced with a beautifully drawn figure with great detail given to their attire and even lip syncing and eye contact down to the littlest of twitches for the character.
The background music is nothing to get excited about and leaves me underwhelmed and you left listening to the same few tracks on a loop through the whole game. I really enjoyed the opening intro with the track done by the same singer from the anime so they kept that consistent.
The furies are a topic of taboo but you begin to get a sense her father is somehow connected, the more she finds out the harder a royute to leave becomes as they can’t have her revealing their secrets. You have parts of the anime cut out in order to focus on certain scenes revealing information on the characters. Dates and seasons are important to the game and make a sort of chapter system. After you complete a certain event you unlock two new sections on the main title screen.
One is ‘Stories’ where you can replay chapters, the point is to collect sakura blossoms (from when you hit it off with one of the Shinsengumi) this in turn is used in the second option ‘Ephermeral’ which is tree with no blossoms from all the blossoms you collect it makes the tree flower with Sakura to unlock something. You also can unlock the option of playing through an extra mode that re-imagines the whole Hakuoki cast in modern day Japan. So the game holds a lot of replay value for any one to play
The main themes in the game are: Politics, supernatural, romance and with occasional outbursts of slapstick comedy. It’s really well balanced for something so serious, however the romance is so subtle is hardly noticeable in the game as well as the anime. SO this game should not be pigeon holes any gender could enjoy the game for great script and also any technical terms to the Edo period is highlighted in red in the text box added to the dictionary which you can check mid sentence by pressing ‘down’ on the d-pad.