Review by dolphinmage
Is this a kissing game?
Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is an otome game, which is a type of visual novel that focuses on romance from the perspective of a female character. My experience with both otome games and visual novels that lack actual gameplay is very slight, but I do love to read. This review will be most helpful to anyone wanting to know what to expect from a game described as a girls romance game.
Hakuoki starts with the heroine, Chizuru, leaving her home to look for her missing father. Soon after her journey begins, she stumbles across something she never should have witnessed. Because of these series of events, she ends up meeting the Shinsengumi, a group of warriors who lie somewhere between street thugs and samurai.
The story takes many twists and turns beyond the initial premise and alternates between large battles, missions, talk of politics, casual downtime, romance, and supernatural happenings. Since the events of this game are based loosely on Japanese history, an in-game encyclopedia was included to keep track of any important characters, terms, and events. This is really handy for anyone with limited knowledge about the time period, or Japanese culture in general.
The first half of the game progresses along a fairly linear path. There are some dialogue options and choices that lead to different scenes, but it generally touches on the same events regardless of what decision Chizuru makes. Its worth noting that the scenes dependent upon her choices are long enough to provide a different experience, unlike decisions that only influence the next line of dialogue spoken by a supporting character.
The second half of the game is dependent upon which bachelor Chizuru has impressed most. This is where paths diverge greatly. Characters might appear in some paths never to be met or explained in other paths. Someone who might be Chizuru and her bachelors mortal enemy in one path might actually ally with them in others. It is impressive how much the story changes, even while having characters still remain true to their basic personality. There was really only one character that seemed a bit off in some of the paths.
Since Hakuoki has such a massive story, it approaches its romance a little differently for the first half of the game. The choices play out more like something from a choose your own adventure story than a dating sim. For example, Chizuru might hear a noise and have the option to go investigate it or stay in her room. Both options lead to different events and her actions will catch the interest of different bachelors. It makes for a more natural development of the romance between Chizuru and the bachelors. If Chizuru tends to pick actions that are more timid, she will attract a man who wants to protect his beloved. Likewise, choosing options that are more courageous will catch the interest of a man who is interested in brave women. It offers a lot of insight into the characters and makes the story progress more believably.
One downside with the way the paths are initiated is that it can be difficult to easily tell which guy likes which action. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out if Chizuru has made the right choice to catch the interest of a specific guy. Fortunately, since the game can be saved at any time, the task is a little easier. I think the slight difficulty in pursuing a particular guy is worth it for a more fluid story.
About halfway through, the story will branch based on which guy has the most affection points. From there on, the choices are generally the typical affection raising choices. Its nice that the guys dont show much interest in Chizuru romantically until the branch. It makes the story feel less about a girl stuck choosing between a half dozen attractive men, and keeps the focus on the events being experienced by every character.
It should be noted that since the bachelors have very different ways of expressing affection, and since the events in the different paths are so unique, the emphasis on romance varies dramatically based on the path. Some paths feel like star-crossed lovers against all odds while others are far more subtle. It makes for nice variety, but it does mean that romance can be pretty side-lined depending on the guy chosen.
The artwork for the characters and the CGs is gorgeous. The characters are drawn with such personality and the CGs are so dramatic whether expressing a tender moment or an intense action scene that it is easy to get drawn into the story. The background scenery is not as impressive, but it isnt really bad either.
The music fits the scenes well and is quite good. It wouldve been nice to have more of it though. The tracks repeated a little too often. The voice acting was very impressive. I cant understand Japanese, but the actors were able to portray the correct emotions so well that it didnt really matter. I listened to every line, and Im one who usually skips to the next text box as soon as Ive finished reading, regardless of the language.
Each path takes about 5-8 hours to complete. Since there is an option to skim quickly through the dialogue, it can be even shorter for a subsequent playthrough. However, since every path is so unique, and every bachelor is so interesting, six playthroughs will be needed for the full story.
Since there is no gameplay to speak of, this game can be very niche in its appeal. However, I can easily recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story. It has a little bit of everything, so as long as you can handle a decent amount of history and action to go with your romance, it is definitely worth playing.
Product Release: Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (US, 02/14/12)
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