By Jenni . February 9, 2012 . 5:00pm
When people think of the Shinsengumi, they think of the strong Japanese police force formed by the Tokugawa Shogunate, not a group of ridiculously goodlooking men fighting supernatural forces. That doesn’t matter with Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. You don’t need to know about the men, their battles or their fates. All you need is to enjoy an active, dramatic and occasionally romantic adventure about a girl searching for her father with the help of the some of the most gorgeous 2D men you will ever see.
Chizuru Yukimura is on a mission. Her father, a rather well known and respected doctor, disappeared in Kyoto, so she’s dressed herself up as a man to go look for him. It’s an absolutely horrible disguise, but apparently she’s managing to fool some people. Of course, dressing up like a man and carrying a sword doesn’t make you a fantastic warrior and soon after arriving in the city Chizuru finds herself under attack by these strange, vicious, white-haired men with red eyes.
Cue the Shinsengumi! She’s saved as they cut down the men attacking her and bring her to their headquarters. It turns out they are searching for Chizuru’s father as well. As long as she maintains her "disguise," so as to not distract the soldiers too much, she’s allowed to stay with them, helping with daily chores and in the search for her missing father.
From that, you’d Hakuoki would be a Mulan-style adventure about finding love while also following the warrior code. It is, but there’s something more to it. Those white-haired men who attacked Chizuru when she arrived are becoming quite a problem in Edo, there are demons about, there’s something not quite right with certain Shinsengumi warriors and Chizuru’s got a secret even she doesn’t know about. Not to mention she may find love eventually with Toshizo Hijikata, Hajime Saito, Souji Okita, Heisuke Toudou, Sanosuke Harada or Chikage Kazama.
Hakuoki has a really well written and engaging story. Of course, you’ve probably gathered that, because Aksys wouldn’t have taken a chance on something that didn’t. After all, you’re not going to want to spend between four and eight hours reading something that’s tedious and predictable and you especially wouldn’t go back and replay it. While some of the romantic lines do read like something from a Harlequin romance, for the most part it does ring true and will provide plenty of warm, fuzzy feelings. There’s also good pacing and characterization for all the characters, and you can see characters grow throughout the story.
Not to mention it also looks and sounds gorgeous. There is no English dub, but the original Japanese voice acting is so spot-on that you won’t miss it. The only acting that occasionally grated on me was Hiroyuki Yoshino’s portrayal of Toudou. To be fair, he was supposed to have a more youthful voice since he is the youngest member of the Shinsengumi, but I still found it occasionally annoying. Kazuki Yone handled all the character designs and artwork, so each one is beautifully detailed and there’s a fantastic use of color. I think Hakuoki‘s CGs are superior to the ones she created for Hiiro no Kakera.
Still, as good as Hakuoki‘s story and art is, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed when I first heard Aksys had picked it as the first otome visual novel to receive a North American localization. As a fan of Otomate games, I was hoping for one of my favorite titles, like Will O’Wisp, Beastmaster & Prince or Wand of Fortune to get the honor. After plaything through Hakuoki twice now, I’ll admit I was wrong. Aksys, you knew best. Hakuoki was the perfect pick not only because of its high production values, but because it is more than just an otome game. Yes, that’s its foundation, but the story is one that transcends gender. (I think Aksys’ fantastic localization helped.)
This is especially true due to the supernatural elements and violence scattered throughout Hakuoki. These men are fighters. Even once Chizuru starts off on a specific character’s route, odds are they’ll be more dark, dire or dramatic moments than lovey-dovey ones. Plus, the twists in the story are enough to keep people playing regardless of gender because you’ll want to know what’s going to happen to each of these men with whom you’ve bonded and what will happen with the demonic and vampiric monsters encountered throughout the adventure.
Yet, those dramatic and dark moments mean you do have to be prepared when playing Hakuoki. It didn’t get that Mature rating because its so romantically suggestive. (Though yes, you do get more than a few steamy moments.) The Shinsengumi are warriors and Chizuru is tagging along with them, so expect blood and grit. Also, maybe have a kleenex or two as you get near the end of a character’s route. Spoilers aside, there are quite a few melancholy endings. Yes, some still technically fall into the good category, but knowing what you do about the situation the men face after the game can paint a somewhat bleak future. At least there’s some satisfaction in knowing that Chizuru and her beau get to be happy for a little while.
Aksys definitely deserves kudos for taking a chance on Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. It’s a well written adventure that deserves a wider audience. While most of the audience picking it up will be female, I would urge men who are interested to also give it a chance. It is a dating game, but there’s much more to it than just making sure Chizuru ends up with some hot guy. Hakuoki has all of these additional elements of action, mystery and fantasy which would make it appealing to anyone who loves a good story.
Food for Thought
1. The art for Hakuoki is done by Kazuki Yone, who also did illustrations for the Hiiro no Kakera and Hanaoni Otomate games.
2. Here’s who’s voicing who: Shinnichirou Miki is Toshizo Hijikata, Kousuke Toriumi is Hajime Saito, Shoutarou Morikubo is Souji Okita, Hiroyuki Yoshino is Heisuke Toudou, Koji Yusa is Sanosuke Harada and Kenjirou Tsuda is Chikage Kazama. The voice actors reprised their roles for the anime series as well.
3. Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom does not include the Zuisouroku fandisc content. Of course, that should have been expected since the fandisc received a separate release on the PSP as well.
4. Playthrough length varies depending on the guy you pursue, whether you skip scene text and how fast you read. Harada’s route will take around five or six hours, while Hijitaka’s long route will easily go at least seven hours.
5. You can only go for Chikage after clearing the game once.