Finding love in the midst of feudal war times is tricky business!
Visual Novels need more love. No really, they do! Reading is fundamental, and Visual Novels help put that ‘fun’ part back in the equation for those non-reading types out there.
Like all medium, there are different genres of Visual Novels out there, and one genre that’s particularly interesting is the Otome game. They are Visual Novels that are marketed specifically at woman (but that doesn’t mean that guys can’t enjoy them!), and play out as something called a “Reverse Harem”: you, the female protagonist, in the midst of a bevy of men, the majority of whom are incredibly handsome and available bachelors.
Idea Factory decided to create an Otome game based on Japan’s historic Edo period… but, of course, with a little twist. How does it pan out? Let’s find out in this review of Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom!
Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom
Genre: Adventure/Visual Novel/Otome
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Original Release Date: February 14, 2012
ESRB Rating: M for Mature (17 +)
Reason for Rating: Blood, Sexual Theme, Strong Language, Violence
The year is 1864. Japan’s shogunate system was on shaky ground. People were growing anxious, and some were getting violent. Such is the way during times of war.
A young girl, Chizuru Yukimura, leaves her home in Edo to search for her father, a famous doctor whom she had not heard from for a few days. Disguised as a boy, she wanders the streets of Kyoto looking for clues, but comes out empty-handed. That night, she stumbles upon trouble of a most unnatural kind, but is promptly saved by a group known as the Shinsengumi, men sworn to serve the shogun and uphold law and order in Kyoto.
The bad news in this case is that Chizuru saw something that she was not meant to see (uh-oh!), and the men are tempted to do away with her. That is, until, she explains herself. Turns out, the Shinsengumi are also looking for Chizuru’s father, and have decided to take her under their wing until Dr. Yukimura is found.
Naturally, it’s not going to be that easy. The country is on the brink of an all-out war, there are strange, blood-thirsty creatures roaming the streets, and a strange group of people who have taken an unhealthy interest in Chizuru. Will our plucky heroine discover the truth behind her father’s disappearance, weather the storm of the incoming war, AND find true love!?
Pretty as a Cherry Blossom
Visually, Hakuoki is nice to look at. The backgrounds are all still images that have a sort of postcard-like feel to ’em. They do the job that they were meant to do: make ya feel like you’re in feudal Japan.
But you’re not REALLY looking at the background, are ya? No, of course you’re not 😉
The character designs are great, as well they should be since you’ll be staring at them the entire time. And those boys are pretty. Oh so pretty…
There are a handful of tunes in the game, and they also do a good job at conveying the appropriate emotion when necessary.
The Prologue and first three chapters of the game act as any Visual Novel would: you’ll meet the central characters, and are introduce to the main conflicts that you’ll have to deal with. Because this is based on historical events, a lot of terms will be thrown about. Fortunately, the game provides you with an Encyclopedia that you can refer to at any point. New, important terms will be written in red and an Encyclopedia entry will be created for it.
Now, each of the eligible bachelors has a Romance Level, which may increase over the course of the game. You’ll be ask to make a decision as to what to do or say next at certain points, and your choice will affect how the other Shinsengumi feel about you. If you say something that one of them particularly likes, they’ll start to warm to you and their Romance Level will increase. You’ll be able to check those Romance Levels on the Status submenu (located in the Encyclopedia main menu).
At the end of the third chapter, the game will look at the Romance Levels of all the gents and you’ll start to pursue the one who has the highest Level.
I really, REALLY enjoy those early chapters, particular the interaction between the members of the Shinsengumi. Yes, seeing them act like a well-oiled machine is impressive (and to be expected… they are the stuff of legends, after all), but what really got me the most was the sheer camaraderie. The way they joke around with each other, both on and off the battlefield, and their general demeanour; it’s like they’re one big family. Men who have known each other for years. The fact that they are so close, like brothers, makes things all the more heartbreaking when the crap hits the fan.
And it does hit the fan. Hard.
From Chapter 4 onward, the story takes a darker turn (not that it was particularly light-hearted before, but I mean… well more dark) as tensions boil over and all-out war breaks out. To add to the insanity, your love interest may drink an elixir called the Water of Life. Anyone who drinks this elixir will become what is called a Fury. In simplest terms, they are a vampire: their eyes turn red, their hair white, and they are super strong. And like vampires, they’re gonna need blood in order to keep their senses.
Here’s where things get interesting. The longer they go without blood, the more they lose their mental facilities. If they’re too far gone, they’ll go berserk. Not pretty. So now, in addition to the storyline choices that must be made, you have to choose to give blood to your sweetie, do nothing, or give them medicine. Their Fury Metre increases by one at the beginning of each new chapter, and if you don’t do anything to keep the Metre as low as possible, you’ll get a Game Over or Bad Ending.
Oh yes, that’s right. Beginning in Chapter 4, if you make a poor choice in the story, those two dreaded words come at you and punch you in the gut.
The game’s a jerk, eh? I mean, it lulls you into a false sense of security. You’re reading along, making choices here and there, maybe not giving it any thought. Then all of a sudden you make a choice, you’re reading, and… BOOM! Game Over! At least you can experiment with choices by saving in one of the 12 available save files before making a choice that could make or break your current game. Though you may want to make choices that lead to a Game Over (more on that later).
The Perfect Romance… Right?
Well, there are a couple of things worth noting. First of all, if you’re coming into this thinking that it’s gonna be sweeping-off-your-feet romance from the instant you start the game, you’ll be sorely disappointed. In most instances, the lovely-dovey stuff doesn’t happen until late in your path, and even then, it’s not a heck of a lot.
That part doesn’t really bug me so much; some folks aren’t into high-flootin’ romance, so they’ll be able to get into the game without being turned off by too much mush. The next point, however, DOES bug me: dropped story points.
As you go about playing through the beginning chapters, you’ll be introduced to several people who play some role in the events to come. Heck, you’ll probably see them on several occasions. However, depending on the path you’re on, you won’t EVER see them or hear them mentioned again; as if they never existed in the first place.
That bugs me to no end. I mean, I understand that some characters are more relevant to the particular path than others, therefore there would be no need to mention those particular people. But from a storytelling perspective, to simply mention a character early on in the story and proceed to build them up to the point where you, the reader, are left with the feeling that said character is important, only to have them vanish completely is rather troubling.
Repeatedly Swept off Your Feet
The obvious reason for wanting to play over and over again is to get all the endings. There are five paths available to you initially, but a sixth one opens up after you finish the game with at least two paths completed.
Another incentive to getting all the endings is to complete the Gallery. There are a lot of lovely still images that land in the Gallery once you’ve seen them in-game (and a couple of special ones that pop up when you get the others). For the most part, you’ll get them by going through the straight-up “Good Ending” path, but you may want to consider going off to the Less-Than-Favourable path. What’s neat is that you can relive the scene that particular image showed up in by hitting the Triangle button. In the same vein, there’s the Theatre, which allows you to watch the special end credits that run when you complete a path.
If, for some reason, you saved over the files for a particular character and wanted to go back to their path to experiment with other decisions, you can use the handy Record of Service tool on the Title Screen to help. It will allow you to re-visit Chapters that you’ve already experienced to make some different choices. Depending on where you decide to start, however, you won’t be able to get the Good Ending of a character via this method (Romance Levels won’t be high enough).
Loving You, the Samurai Way
Hakuoki: Demon of the Demon Blossom isn’t too bad, especially if you’re new to Visual Novels. It’s got a lil’ something for the history buffs, something for the anime lovers, and something for those lookin’ for lovers. It does have its hiccups (disappearing important people hurt me so), but there’s still some enjoyment to be had.
I must say, before I wrap things up, that I’m rather surprised. I mean, I managed to maintain control of myself for the most part and didn’t completely fly off the handle into an incomprehensible babble of goop. I mean, with all this talk about pretty, delicious men, you’d think I’d go off the rails…
… well, that lasted all of ten seconds. Until next time!
7 /10 – This game has lots of potential. Not a bad experience at all
- + Boys are lovely to look at (and so are the backgrounds)
- + Story’s interesting enough to keep you coming back for more
- + Some of the music’s pretty badass
- + Boys are lovely to look at
- + Boys (okay, I’ll stop now)
- – Depending on your path, story plots are dropped and characters mentioned in the first half disappear/never mentioned, as if they never existed in the first place
- – A bit light on the love and romance stuff, but considering the story’s taking place in times of war, that can be expected