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Review: Hakuoki: Warriors of the ShinsengumiHakuoki Aksys Games hack n slash PSP PSN Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PSP (PSN)
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Last year Aksys brought Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom to a shocked US audience. Visual novels are a pretty big niche, but even more so are otome visual novels. This variety is known for having a focus on romancing male leads. More recently, Aksys let it be known they were bringing over another Hakuoki game. Fans were rightly excited to see another game in the franchise soon being made available to North American gamers. But is this the game that fans were really hoping for?
First, we must get something out of the way. When announced, it was made known that the upcoming Hakuoki game was not another visual novel. Instead, it is a hack ‘n slash full of characters from the series. In the two main modes of play, you can choose to either go through the story of Demon of the Fleeting Blossom via its multitude of battles or try a new story created for the game. Overall though, the focus is not on either story but the fighting.
It’s because of this that the game fails so entirely. What initially lured many players into the original game was a long, exciting, and sometimes romantic tale. As a visual novel, it was obviously the main element of the game and was done quite well. Even those with no prior knowledge of ancient Japanese wars could find themselves wrapped up in the enthralling narrative. Sure, this game includes landmark parts of the story but in a way that feels entirely insignificant.
When playing through the main story mode, I recalled the scenes they mentioned, but they were barely given time in the spotlight. There is very little storytelling to be found throughout the entire package at all, with the most being shown through animated cutscenes. These would be more impressive if they weren’t just scenes from the anime series being repurposed for the game. If you have never played the first Hakuoki and jump into this, you probably won’t have a clue as to the story or even who the lead character Chizuru is. The same is true for each warrior who never gets to display their own unique personalities.
Of course, dating also plays no part in the game. Considering how tacked on it would have felt otherwise, this is one positive of the game. So, let’s stop the comparison of the two games and instead view the game on its own merits as someone would who has never touched the visual novel. Does it perform any better as a pure hack n’ slash title?
Unfortunately it cannot even succeed purely off its gameplay. When it comes right down to it, the play it presents is downright boring. At least it includes features that should be expected of the genre. You can choose between one of six warriors (one unlockable) and play through the two story modes. In battles, there are just two main attack buttons as well as a handful of combos to pull off. There are also items to discover across the battlefield or pick off enemies which can be used later to craft new accessories. Accessories are used to boost various facets of your character such as health, speed, or power.
In fact, elements like these in the game make it appear that there is some meat to it. Each warrior levels independently and carries their skills over to the next story mode. That, as well as a great deal of craftable items, makes it seem as though the game is set to be a fairly interesting experience. Instead, the entire game is far too brief for players to even get into the modification aspects. Well, unless you’re so in love with the game that you find yourself playing modes through a great deal of times.
In-game play offers very little to make things interesting. In either story mode, you are stuck facing off against hordes of respawning enemies that all look the same. Half the time, the game will ask you to kill X amount of enemies while other times it will just require you to find a boss character who is almost always near the end of the stage. Those stages are the most ridiculous, though, as you can simply run from point A to B to accomplish the goal with no grinding required. As for other enemies, they aren’t one to put up much of a fight until you jump to a higher of the three difficulties.
Since there's no need to grind, accomplishing the exact goals of each level is quick work. Both story modes can be completed in half hour to an hour each. Of course, if you factor in each playable character, that could mean you are putting in around ten hours with the game. Still, when each mission plays out basically the same, most are probably going to pass on playing all the characters. It just doesn’t feel like there’s a point when missions are always one of the two or three boring varieties. At the very least, each of the five men have their own swordplay style.
Beyond the entirely uninspired play, the game leaves very little else to enjoy. Visually, the game is passable, although it is humorous to see that most enemies look exactly the same. They even only manage to pop into view when you are a few feet away from them too. Screenshots in the retelling of the original Hakuoki are an especially strange spot. It seems they were also sourced from the anime, which means that a few appear to even have JPEG artifacting. This is a far cry from the gorgeous art of Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. The other mode appears to have new art at least, although why the other mode couldn’t have some as well seems odd.
Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi appears to have been nothing other than a cheap spin-off game in Japan. Of course, many games are of that quality, but why was it then selected to be released for American fans as well? As far as fans should be concerned, there is little reason to play this. It has the same hunky samurai as before now rendered in 3D but that’s all that remains of Hakuoki in this package. Battles which once seemed intense and magnificent before now all play out as dull hack ‘n slash levels that take little effort to complete.
If you’re a fan of hack ‘n slash then there are a wide variety of games to play over this one. If you’re a fan of Hakuoki, then unfortunately there are less ways to get an otome gaming fix. Still, this is not the way to do it at all. There may be some worth to the game for the biggest Hakuoki lovers out there, but otherwise steer clear. Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi is nothing more than a cheap excuse to get gamers' money based off an existing franchise.
+ Five playable characters
+ Many items to be crafted and equipped
- Completely dull play with little variation
- Game could barely be fussed to add in new artwork
- Story aspect is almost entirely meaningless
- Very short story modes
Overall Score: 3 (out of 10)
Few will find themselves delighted when they realized Hakuoki: Warriors the Shinsengumi abandons its visual novel roots for horribly realized hack ‘n slash gameplay.
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