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  1. Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PlayStation 3 Release Date: May 6 ESRB: M (for Mature) Visual novels have certainly hit their stride in the Western world lately. More publishers are willing to bring the genre that used to be seen as uncouth and shallow dating sims over to a small, but steadily growing fanbase. As exciting adventures like Steins;Gate thrill players and hybrid experiences like Virtue's Last Reward give players a bit of gameplay with their text dumps, more gamers come to learn the value of visual novels amongst the many other games and genres available. Even so, while visual novels are in more of a demand, the otome game--essentially a visual novel where you play as the girl as you build relationships with boys--is widely ignored. While Sweet Fuse seemed to make some waves amongst the fanbase, there are very few otome choices out there... and though the Hakuoki series has actually seen a few titles released Stateside, Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi hopes to win a new audience by being on the PlayStation 3. Will this enhanced port of the PSP and 3DS title Demon of the Fleeting Blossom hold a bright torch for the console visual novel and otome game, or will that torch fizzle out? In Stories of the Shinsengumi, you are Chizuru (whose name can be changed), a young girl who came to Kyoto to look for for her father, who had gone missing a few months before. Upon reaching Kyoto, though, she is accosted by rogue ronin (despite being disguised as a boy to deter that very thing). One thing quickly leads to another, and the girl stumbles upon a dark secret of the Shinsengumi, a group responsible for upholding the peace in Kyoto. After learning of Chizuru's search for her father, who happened to also work with the Shinsengumi, they decide not to kill her to keep their secrets, and instead take her under their (mostly begrudging) care to help find the doctor. Stories of the Shinsengumi follows the path of the force through the entirety of its historical life, from 1864 to 1869. As you might expect, the characters you meet and can eventually build relationships with are actual Japanese historical figures; of course, they have been prettied up a bit to appeal to audience. However, the game isn't purely historical; fantastical sub-plots involving demons and "furies" (which are best described as a form of vampires) add an extra layer of tension to the wars and battles and more weight to the protagonist herself. Granted, these sub-plots are better written into some character paths than others, but for the most part they're a decent, though not particularly great, part of the story. As for the title's overall writing, it usually stays on a pretty high mark. All of the eligible relationship interests and even some of supporting cast get a fair amount of depth to them, mostly avoiding the typical tropes of the genre and giving an interesting plot to work through. Since the men are all loyal members of the Shinsengumi as well, it adds the perspective loyalty, and what everyone does when things take a turn for the worse. The more interesting conversations of the game are between the different captains themselves rather than their relationship with Chizuru, and while it can be questionable why the members of the Shinsengumi would allow a random girl to be privy to all their private conversations, it's an excusable offense to really get a glimpse at the depth these characters have to offer. Due to the fact that this 8- to 10-hour visual novel covers a fiveyear span, the action moves by at a pretty brisk pace. Stories of the Shinsengumi will skip months at the time, and mostly only focus on the major battles of the group, and their eventual downfall. As such, while you get an interesting amount of growth and changes amongst the characters, there isn't too much time for romance. Thankfully, the Hakouki Stories help a little with that, with the Memories of Love offering more tender moments with the eligible bachelors, and the Shinsengumi Adventures are more comical, light-hearted affairs. It's a bit of a shame that these stories aren't integrated into the game proper, but it also makes sense as the small stories would have probably interrupted the flow of the overall story. As you play through these extra Stories, you can bloom your cherry blossom in the Eupherma mode; and as you do so, you'll unlock even more little pieces of content, which is new to the PS3 version from the portable releases. These little bits include random conversations in the Hakuoki world, as well as stints where the the characters are cast into a modern school setting. Honestly, these bits are mostly throwaway, but as you'll likely want to play through the Stories for the extra characterization anyway, it's a nice, but ultimately unneeded, little bonus. Whether or not you'll enjoy Stories of the Shinsengumi depends more on your interest of Japanese culture; obviously, a title involving a historical police force is going to be steeped in Japanese lore. For those not heavily educated on the subject, the game's Encyclopedia helps to explain some of the less known terms, but if you have no interest in Japanese lore, historically accurate or otherwise, it will seem plodding and boring even if it is well-written. Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi is a good otome game, but it will not be everyone's cup of tea. Those that are willing the take the plunge into a game steeped in Japanese history and sometimes strange demon plots will find deep and multifaceted characters and stories that are worth experiencing. Pros: + The potential relationship paths go beyond simple tropes, giving characters with depth + The graphics are surprisingly nice looking on the big screen Cons: - Some character paths have awkward writing or poorly implemented plot threads - The title's setting isn't for everyone Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Stories of the Shinsengumi provides a good story for those that bring an interest in Japanese history and just a bit of tolerance for demons and vampires. Disclosure: A download code was provided by the publisher for this review.
  2. Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: 3DS Release Date: September 19, 2013 ESRB: M for Mature A download code was provided by the publisher for this review Before Aksys brought Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom to the West last year, otome games were largely unheard of here. Since they took the plunge, we've been getting more and more games in the genre. Now, Aksys's efforts have brought the samurai romancing visual novel to 3DS owners with Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi. Memories of the Shinsengumi can be described as a port of the original PSP game with some new bonus features. On top of the riveting main game that includes many routes and endings, Memories of the Shinsengumi also totes six new stories and a photo booth mode. Those that have already played Demon of the Fleeting Blossom already know what goes on in the Hakuoki universe. This may be an intimidating title to others, however, especially because it“s an otome game. True, there is some romancing going on from the view of a female protagonist, but the game is largely focused on Japanese history, politics, action, and violence. The point in time that Memories of the Shinsengumi takes place in is during the late Edo Period. As the game“s title implies, the game follows the exploits of the legendary Shinsengumi – a special police force. Much of the game retells the history surrounding the Shinsengumi, of course. However, not everything is as it seems… Supernatural beings such as bloodthirsty “furies†and demons cause strife throughout the story and make for an interesting twist. The protagonist, Chizuru, still manages to find love during these troubling times. Those interested in the romancing aspect might be a little disappointed that there isn“t much of it throughout Memories of the Shinsengumi, but there“s still just enough to satisfy that sweet tooth. All of the characters are quite well developed and have some great backstories. It“s very much worth it to go through each guy“s route and get all the endings. Be careful, though! You just might fall in love with these handsome men and won“t know what to do with yourself. Now, unless you“re very well-versed in Japanese history, you may have a bit of trouble understanding what“s going on through Memories of the Shinsengumi. There are many people, landmarks, and battles you will not know and have to remember during the course of the game if you wish to comprehend what“s going on. Thankfully, there“s an encyclopedia provided for you in the game menu that is filled out each time you come across a new term. The art of Hakuoki is very beautiful, especially when it“s displayed at its best in the special CG scenes. My problem with the art in Memories of the Shinsengumi, however, is simply because it“s on the 3DS. Because the system“s screen is small, portraits and whatnot have been sized down and look very low quality when compared to Demon of the Fleeting Blossom on PSP. It“s a shame to do such a thing to such pretty artwork, but what can you do? What about those new modes that Memories of the Shinsengumi boasts over Demon of the Fleeting Blossom? Well, the “Hakuoki Memories†mode (the six new stories I mentioned earlier) doesn“t offer much. The stories are extremely short, even if they do offer a little insight into the lives of the men of the Shinsengumi. There“s some very lovely pieces of artwork at the end of each story, though. The Photo Booth mode does offer some silly fun, but perhaps only for a few minutes or so. So, is it worth it to get Memories of the Shinsengumi over Demon of the Fleeting Blossom? If you have a PSP or Vita, you should probably get the latter. Those that just have a 3DS, however, should definitely pick up Memories of the Shinsengumi. As for me, I got the limited editions for both versions anyway! I love Memories of the Shinsengumi and the Hakuoki universe. Not only is it an otome game, but it“s a great game for those looking for something different (or for some hot samurai boyfriends). Pros: + Lots of routes and endings + Encyclopedia to help you learn important historical terms + A focus on history and action for those not interested in romancing aspect Cons: - New features aren“t very exciting - Art quality is lowered from original game Overall Score: 8.0 (out of 10) Great Those that have already played Demon of the Fleeting Blossom might want to skip Memories of the Shinsengumi (unless you want to support otome releases in the West!). Definitely pick this up if you haven“t played the original, though.
  3. It's going to be a hot summer. Thankfully, Aksys has you covered as they've announced a limited edition for Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi for 3DS! Here is what is included in the limited edition: Japanese folding fan ("sensu") Japanese-style towel ("tenugui") Men of Hakuoki Art Book There aren't any images of these goodies yet, but if they're anything like the gorgeous bandana pre-order bonus that came with Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi, then I'm definitely nabbing this limited edition. There is currently no release date for Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi.
  4. Even though Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi wasn't very good, it looks like Aksys is still keen on the series. So, they're bringing Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi to North America! Memories of the Shinsengumi returns to its visual novel roots and explains what happens in between major events of the original game with six new stories. And since this game is for the Nintendo 3DS, you'll be able to view the handsome samurai in 3D! Another fun little addition that Memories of the Shinsengumi has is a "photo booth." Inspired by Japanese photo sticker booths, you'll be able to take pictures with your favorite Hakuoki characters and decorate with a myriad of themes and backgrounds. Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is available only on 3DS and currently does not have a release date.
  5. Developer: Otomate Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PSP (PSN) Release Date: February 19, 2013 ESRB: M 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. Pros: + Five playable characters + Many items to be crafted and equipped Cons: - 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) Poor Few will find themselves delighted when they realized Hakuoki: Warriors the Shinsengumi abandons its visual novel roots for horribly realized hack ”n slash gameplay.
  6. The sequel to the samurai romancing visual novel, Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, will be ready for PSPs and Vitas starting February 19th! Except Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi isn't a visual novel, but a hack-and-slash game. Yup, you'll get to play as six of the samurai you know and love from the original game as you battle enemies and furies. Warriors of the Shinsengumi also contains two storylines – one where you“re able to relive the events of Demon of the Fleeting Blossom and one that takes place in an alternate universe where things happen quite differently. All retail copies of Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi will also come with a 16-page full-color character guide. Neat! But that's not all! If you pre-order from Amazon, you'll get your hands on a rather fetching bandana that features all of the playable samurai warriors of Warriors of the Shinsengumi. Will you be pre-ordering Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi for the really cool bandana?
  7. On Valentine's Day of this year, Aksys Games took a gamble by releasing Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (review here) to a western market. If the title isn't familiar, it is basically a visual novel/dating sim based on samurai. Hakuoki was released for PSP as both a regular and limited physical edition, as well as a digital download. Although the game wasn't a critical hit, there were a lot of positive things said about it. In an unexpected move, Aksys is now bringing out another game in the Hakuoki world to PSP. They announced that Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi will also be published in the U.S. If visual novels aren't exactly your cup of tea then perhaps this game will be more up your alley as it is a hack 'n slash featuring the male leads of the series. However, while that may appeal to non-fans, fans will probably be less pleased by this vastly different title. So far, there is no release date known but it is at least heading to PSP. The game will come to both retail and PSN again, but the likelihood of another special edition is slim. If you're interested, take a look at the newly launched Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi website.
  8. Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PSP 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. Pros: + 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 Cons: - Skimps a bit too much on actual romance - Edo period story will still probably turn off some players Overall: 8 (out of 10) Great Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is a fantastic example of a visual novel and will serve to make players hungry for more.