Categories See All →
Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom Review
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: February 14th
ESRB: M for Mature
These days it seems more and more games are reaching our shores. In the past, many great Japanese titles never made it west due to publishers believing they wouldn't sell well. They were probably right by thinking that as well. By now though many gamers are ready to try new experiences and so Aksys is catering to these people. Their latest endeavor, bringing Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom to America, is perhaps the gutsiest move yet. It's rare for visual novels or dating sims to make it to market here, and even less common for the ones focused around a female audience. Yet, the game is set to arrive on store shelves and PSN this Valentine's Day. Is the gamble worth checking out?
Hakuoki takes us into a world that many American gamers are completely unfamiliar with. In it, we are thrust directly into Japan's past - the Edo period specifically. In this period there is massive amounts of political unrest and warring between factions. You start the game as a young woman, Chizuru, whose father has gone missing. She heads to Kyoto in search of him but ends up crossing paths with the Shinshengumi instead. The Shinsengumi are a group of ronin (samurai) fighting to restore peace to Kyoto. Apparently the Shinsengumi were also looking for Chizuru's father, although she doesn't understand quite why at the start.
That paragraph was probably a bit hard to get though. While it is a video game, Hakuoki does not tread lightly with its historical story. You're thrust right into the world as if it were happening now and have strange terms thrown at you left and right. However, before playing the title I had no knowledge of basically everything aside from samurais and now have a grasp on it. This is because while it may seem overwhelming at first, the game excels at introducing things one by one, not all at once. It even has a built-in encyclopedia that will alert you when new terms are used and what they mean. Even if you're not a follower of 1800s Japanese history you can easily get into it.
As the game is a visual novel, expect lots of discussion and exposition. Because of this, the game could succeed or fail depending on if it is well-written. Aksys have chosen well as the title is in fact very engaging to read through. There is war, swordfighting, romance, and even some humor thrown in. Each character has their own personality and it's easy to tell who is who. This is important when there are a great deal of "main" characters to keep track of. The more you engage with the Shinsengumi, the more you feel for them. As the story darkens you find yourself tense and wondering how things will work out. Hakuoki definitely is one of the better visual novels out there.
The title has also been promoted as the first true otome game in North America. An otome game is basically a way of saying that it is "for girls", although don't let that dissuade you if you're not a woman, or at the very least not interested in men. It is called this because throughout the game you may choose to go down the path of romancing one of six ronin. It isn't required, but for players who are interested in learning more about the characters, this is the best way to find out. Throughout the game there will be choices you can make which will effect your romance levels with the various men. If you act in a specific way they may like you more or you might hurt them. Beyond that there are many choices to be made which don't seem to impact your relationships, and simply change the direction of the story - for better or for worse.
For this being an otome game it is surprising how strongly it focuses on the bloody struggle of Shinsengumi as opposed to simply being a fun, happy dating sim. It's certainly appreciated though because many gamers might have completely avoided it if it were nothing other than that. As is, it's quite the intense game which just happens to feature some romance from time to time. It would have been neat to see even more room for romance in the game, but it almost always falls back behind the overarching story.
Even if the romance aspects are not played upon constantly, the game is still adept at tracking changes in your relationships for you. If a character grows fonder of you, a brief animation will play which shows the change. Since it's a bit goofy to see a pinkish bloom around a character, it can be turned off. Regardless of whether you watch the "love animation" or not the game will always keep track of your relationships with the men in a special menu. From there you can see if they have low or high interest in you, as well as if they are less or more corrupt.
Wait, corruption? Yes, there's a lot more going onto this game then simple political strife. There is also a supernatural element which manifests itself almost immediately. Chizuru's search for her father almost gets her killed by a group of unhuman-seeming murderers. What is quickly revealed is that these warriors, named furies, are bloodthirsty and unable to be killed normally. Some of these beings are even aligned with the Shinsengumi. As time goes on, certain story points will cause characters (and the player) to make tough decisions. Through your actions you will be able to lessen or heighten corruption of the men around you. All of these choices in both romance and corruption will affect how the game plays out and what ending you receive. It may be a dating sim in many regards, but there are some truly unhappy endings so make sure to save often.
It is an odd game for many Americans but gamers owe it to themselves to check out. This is an excellent example of a visual novel/dating sim that gets it completely right. The story and characters will be able to hook most people right in. It could have been better to see more romance development than what there is, but because the game is so safe it may pave the way for localization of others. In fact, that's another reason that gamers should snap Hakuoki up. We have very few visual novels and dating sims available to us. There are some, but mostly the market seems stuck on games where more active participation is required. Visual novels certainly aren't for everyone, but it looks like Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom might draw in a whole new audience for them.
+ Excellent story and cast of characters
+ Makes it easy to learn unfamiliar Japanese terms
+ Lots of endings means for a great deal of replay value
- Skimps a bit too much on actual romance
- Edo period story will still probably turn off some players
Overall: 8 (Out of 10)
Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is a fantastic example of a visual novel and will serve to make players hungry for more.
Top Stories From Around the Web