Visual novels, by design, feature little interactivity in comparison to mainstream games and are engaging as far as their stories pique interests. Immersion could become an issue if the protagonist is someone that players simply couldn’t identify with. This was the issue I had come across inmy time with Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. For the first time, I found gender to be a factor in my gaming.
Set in Japan, Hakuoki follows Chizuru Yukimura on her quest to find her father, who has been lost in the dangerous city of Kyoto. Upon her arrival, she runs into the Shinsengumi, a group of samurai whose mission were to protect the shogun. Eventually, they take her in and begin to become quite acquainted with her. As part of the otome genre in Japan, this game was made for females and will be a hard sell to a majority of male gamers. Despite this, the story should equally draw in and repel history buffs for its inclusion of Japanese historical figures and liberties with them.
The art in this game is done superbly well, with the disproportionate figures of low budget visual novels nowhere to be seen. In addition, the costume designs are appropriate and true, reminding players of a Kyoto and Shinsengumi that is consistent with that of other Japanese media, like classic shounen anime Rurouni Kenshin. Of course, this is probably aided by the game’s own roots in anime. It all leads to an atmosphere that will take players back to Japan’s Edo period. The one exception is the writing, which frequently features the casual tones and words modern speakers are used to, hardly ringing true to the same period’s formal speech patterns. Aksys loyalists will appreciate their usual brand of localization that includes liberal use of casual words and expletives. Though this makes the game more accessible, it also takes away from its credibility.
For the most of the game, players will spend it pressing away at the X button and skipping dialogue that involves little interactivity from the player. Only at pivotal points will the game ask for input from players, which, surprisingly, offered very different events for players to participate in. Not only do these give players different views on Chizuru’s possible adventures, but also chances to build relationships with different characters. However, these are few and far in between, leaving much to be desired.
As an introduction to Japan’s otome genre, Hakuoki definitely eases the west into it by providing a rich background story alongwith the romance. Its anime heritage and quality production provides for someof the best art that US players have ever laid eyes upon and, combined with its character and costume designs, is a 2D visual treat. While general anime fanswill want to pick this one up, those pining for more otome and visual novel games should definitely do so to tell game publishers what they want in the future.
Available on: PSP; Publisher: Aksys Games; Developer: Idea Factor; Players: 1; Released: February 14, 2012; ESRB: Mature; Official Site
Note: A retail copy was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.