This “visual novel” provides a very unique, narrative experience from Japan where choose-your-own-adventure-type choices rule over button mashing gameplay.
Japan’s Edo Period was drawing to a close. The shogunate, who’d held power in the country for more than 200 years, found itself challenged by the imperial court, and by several domains who had chaffed under shogunal rule. In this midst of this political unrest, an organization rose to prominence: the Shinsengumi. Originally formed to protect the street of Kyoto from dangerous ronin, they came to represent the last, tragic bastion of the honor-bound samurai culture that had defined much of Japan’s history.
In Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, a young woman comes to Kyoto in search of her missing father, and soon encounters danger and the Shinsengumi in quick succession. When it becomes clear the Shinsengumi are also searching for her father, she is put under their protection. But odd things are afoot in Kyoto – possibly even supernatural happenings. Can she navigate this maze of mortal danger and political intrigue? Amidst so much mystery and death, can she find romance?
- One of North America’s First Otome Games: Experience a historical fantasy adventure while pursuing a relationship with one of several male love interests in a game specifically created for a female audience – one of the first of its kind localized for North America.
- Experience a New Kind of Adventure: Enjoy a visual novel filled with beautiful illustrations and changing character portraits. Examine character biographies, check your story progress, and replay scenes you’ve already watched.
- Chose Your Own Fate with Multiple Endings: The story is told through the eyes of one young woman, but the player will be presented with a number of decisions she must make. The result of these choices will determine her ultimate fate, and the fate of the men of the Shinsengumi.
- Introduction to the Hakuoki Franchise: Hakuoki is a series that enjoys major popularity in Japan among the gaming populace. Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom has even received an anime adaptation.
Aksys Games offers this interactive graphic novel, exclusively on the PlayStation Portable, with several intriguing elements that has made the Hakuoki game/media series so popular. Stylistic visuals compliments the bottom center text and corresponding voice audio throughout this game. Players can use options to review text history since the last game load or advance past previously read text.
Artistic character renderings, dialogue choices (no gameplay or sword slashing) with multiple endings and a Japanese otome or “dating” game all center on the main female character Chizuru Yukimura. Set at the end of Japan’s Edo Period, Chizuru begins in Kyoto as she searches for her missing father then soon encounters the Shinsengumi and Rasetsu.
Players choices can help, but a few scenarios limit Chizuru’s progress though the scenarios seem historically accurate. Chizuru acts very bravely in many scenarios, so players can admire her and identify with her culturally.
The strong writing holds a strong interest and is fictional, but based on historical facts. The characters’ reasoning fascinates and can often confuse unless you take the time to understand background – a worthwhile endeavor that enhances the game with fascinating culture differences. A few spelling errors accentuate cultural differences and distract players from the otherwise engulfing game experience.
Players can examine character biographies, replay previously viewed scenes, and check overall story progress that weaves players through different choices and routes. The replay options, a.k.a. record of service, provides more intrigue as players can backtrack from major story points to see where another choices would have led.
The encyclopedia provides a valuable knowledge resource where players can answer reference/word questions and any possibly confusing situations. Japanese historians, mainly in the 1800s, have a definite advantage here, but developers do a great job avoiding information overload by gradually introducing concepts, characters, and scenarios. The visual gallery is a great way to learn all the characters – a recommended viewing before beginning the story.
Secrets, twists, surprises, and blood sucking baddies all mix into classic samurai, historical drama, corruption, society shifts, justice, tragedy, action, mystery and fantasy and romance, which increases the role-playing elements as a special menu tracks relationship progress among Chizuru and several romantic interests.
Players get glowing visual cues when Chizuru makes positive romantic connections with other characters (turn this cue off for a higher challenge). Unlockable elements include a sixth love interest.
The impressive visuals include some graphic moments, but not as many as I expected. Players view bigger pictures at key moments while The voice acting, which includes the original Japanese voices, adds even more appeal.
The audio options include switching the background music and voice acting off, so players have the option to mimic a book even more if they like.
Hakuoki Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is available via PlayStation Network through direct download. The Limited Edition ($39.99) includes a 72-page art book and a CD music soundtrack with a game disc.
Previous Hakuoki games from Idea Factory are available on PlayStation 2, PSP, Nintendo DS and PlayStation 3. Two anime series aired in Japan in 2010 with a third series schedule this summer and two movies coming in 2013.
Review: Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom
Where to Buy: Amazon.com and other stores
What I Like: challenges traditional gameplay (no gameplay, fighting, etc.), introduces otome Games (specifically created for a female audience) to U.S./North American audiences, interesting characters, strong story, multiple endings, high replay value, learning about Japanese history
What Needs Improvement: spelling errors in the text translation, more choices/chances to make Chizuru a stronger heroine
Source: Copy provided by publisher