I pre-ordered this game with a lot of enthusiasm!!! I was so excited! But like a dummy I didn’t realize it was for PSP, for some reason I thought they were releasing the PS3 version over here. So what does this dummy do? She goes out and buys a PSP 3000 to play it! In hindsight it may have been better to get a PS Vita and download Hakuoki when they fix all the bugs on the downloadable version. But I didn’t realize that was an option until a few hours into the game! SO what’s done is done and I’m not going to worry over it too much! I’ve been waiting years to have an otome visual novel released over here, so I’m definitely a bit positively biased in this review. But lets face it…most gamers will know right off the bat if a “Video Game” known as a “visual novel” with drama and romance is something that they’re interested in, so I probably won’t be able to sell the idea of this game to anyone who isn’t already interested. Most of the images below aren’t seen in the game, after all a lot of the fun is making a certain decision and coming across a beautiful illustration. I do however talk about all datable characters, one has to be unlocked but it’s hardly a spoiler that he is an option.
(Oh also, don’t worry I’ll be playing more games on PSP than just Hakuoki, I’ll finally be able to play Persona 1, 2, Crisis Core, and Trails in the Sky. I really enjoy Persona games and this is my opportunity to finish playing all the main releases)
Ok so, there is a whole lot of text in this game, and quite a bit of this text is describing the politics of what’s going on around in the world of Hakuoki. The first playthrough took me a while, and I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the information and names/faces/groups to try and remember. But eventually all the characters became familiar to me, along with their world. The second time around I actually read all the first few scenes again (now that I understood everything a bit better it made more sense to me). But after that 2nd read through I fast forwarded all previously read text by pressing the square button. Re-playing the game would be misery if it wasn’t for that magnificent little feature. I’ll make a decision, and follow the game through to the end, but then later I can go back to that save file and select the other answer and fast forward through any text I may have already read from when I first chose the other option. Each characters’ story arc has it’s own unique situations. Based on the main character’s decisions made throughout the story the main “villain” of each story arc seems to change, I liked that aspect a lot. The variety of stories was satisfying.
Hakuoki also has a Quick Save and Quick Load feature that’s incredibly handy, it allows you to go back and change your response quickly without having to exit and re-enter the game’s save file. I found this feature especially handy when I decided to specifically go down a particular story path that I didn’t want to stray from. The game also saves every response you’ve selected even if you don’t save that particular game (the previously selected text becomes red the next time you encounter this question) and all gallery images and encyclopedia terms are saved as well. And now we arrive at the next feature I LOVE is the gallery! It’s so nice just to select a character and look at all of the wonderful illustration scenes you’ve seen while playing the game! It also has some bonus images that unlock. The art is gorgeous in this series, no question about that from me. I’d pay a bit of money to get an art book of all of the illustrations, and even more if it had new illustrations! Another great feature is that when you get to a character’s good ending that final chapter is automatically saved in the theatre sectioin. You can view it at any time regardless of what you have saved for games in your files. The music could have been better and more varied, but it never bothered me too much. I was most interested in was hearing the characters’ wonderful voice acting anyway. The voice acting in this series was great, they were all wonderfully chosen seiyu.
Advice on following story paths (no spoilers) – If there is a certain character whose path you want to follow, just make sure every decision you make keeps you within the same area as yourself. If everyone else is going off to have a grand adventure (but not your target) I suggest you give up on that adventure for now and stay with your goal. This is probably common sense to most, but it took me most of the way through my first story arc to fully recognize how this game branches out from which decisions.
I’ll talk about each character in the order of my preference. Pictured above left to right and top to bottom it’s Kazama, Shinpachi, Harada, Okita, Toshi, the heroine, Heisuke, and Saito.
(1st Playthrough) In Picture: Bottom right corner in all black
I succesfully went down the Saito path without meaning to on my first play through, to be honest he didn’t really catch my eye initially. I was far more interested in the cheerful characters like Shinpachi (aaawww not a story option I can pursue), Okita, and Heisuke. I figured I’d get to the “stoic killer” guy at some point, but he wasn’t a priority. But I played my first game by answering all the questions how I personally would, and it mostly put me down his path. I admit I didn’t raise his romance level all THAT high, but my decisions really didn’t appeal to anyone else (except Heisuke a bit) so he won my first story arc experience. Once I actually entered Saito’s story path I found I liked his character a lot, both the design, the mannerisms, the illustrations, and ESPECIALLY the seiyu (Japanese voice actor)! Sometimes I stop the fast forward button (on replays) just hear him speak again. I’m particularly fond of his attack pose and battle illustrations. I’m not sure how much of my love for him is me being biased from him being the first story arc, but apparantly Saito’s my guy for Hakuoki. Kind of a big leap from wanting to go after a character like Shinpachi (In Picture: On the left with the bandana) but…it works. I’ll admit though that I think his story arc could have been a bit better developed in terms of having a unique plot, somehow everyone else’s paths seemed to have a lot more plot twists and turns that were unique to their situation. For a lot of Saito’s path his story goes alongside Hijikata’s (the main guy), but I suppose because of his loyalty to Hijikata and the Shinsengumi it makes sense. I feel like his story arc could have used some more illustrations, but only the two favored characters in the game (Okita and Hijikata) have more than 18 illustrations.
(3rd Playthrough) In Picture: Top center facing out
I was probably the most moved by Okita’s “good ending”, it was a beautiful scene. Hell even one of his “bad endings” was really well done, I had no complaints with that bad ending until all the good guys were dead. I can’t say for sure if Okita would have been my favorite if I had played him first…it’s hard to say…he’s an appealing character and his story has a lot of interesting twists and turns. Plus the humor of the contradiction between his cheerful tone and what he says was fun. Definitely one of the best characters in the game. Unfortunately if you don’t go down his story arc he starts to disappear from the main story a bit, but that makes going down his route all the more special.
So…what we can take away from my top two choices is that when given the option I seem to desire to win the affections of the biggest killers in the group? Well after Okita and Saito, exactly who my preference is over who gets a lot more unsure, each of the rest of the story arcs had something I REALLY liked from each so it made it hard to put them in order. In this picture Saito is on the right and Okita on the left.
(5th Playthrough) In Picture: Bottom left corner with reddish hair
The manliest option! I’m surprised he wasn’t my favorite, he has many great qualities and scenes! I feel a bit guilty putting him at #3. I like his weapon a lot (spear) and his attack illustration is my favorite. In many ways he’s the most unique character of the Shinsengumi captains.
(4th Playthrough) In Picture: On the right facing outward in a black vest
Heisuke was a very likable character, the only one of the group that’s honest and upfront…although I feel like his appearance could have been designed a bit differently in a way I’d like better. Those bangs of his are a bit weird. His story was great too, it went down a path I hadn’t expected and allowed me to get to know certain characters a bit better. The sound of the voice of his seiyu brings a smile to my face too, I can’t help but fondly think of Boss-un from Sket Dance (another character he voices) whenever he spoke.
(6th Playthrough) In Picture: Top left with the body facing away
Kazama’s playthrough was the shortest and simplest but I liked it a lot. Unfortunately once you start down the Kazama path you’re pretty much removed from all of the a activities of the Shinsengumi. It was a bit sad to be separated from them while they were all going through the stories I had just played through. But following Kazama’s story arc last had a lot of impact for me. I ended the game following a story that puts me on the outside of the Shinsengumi looking in, and that point of view gave me a satisfying sense of finality at the end.
(2nd Playthrough) In Picture: In the center
The main guy is in last place…when having a meal I’m the type of eater that LOVES the appetizers and side dishes, and if possible will only take a few bites of the main course. So I guess I like my Otome men how I like my meals, I prefer the side dish variety personalities and eat the main course out of a sense of obligation to the meal. I don’t have many specific complaints about him, in some of his scenes I think he was by far the most
beautiful attractive (the illustration of him on the Limited Edition is GREAT!) and he has a great seiyu. His character is just such a strict prissy pants to follow! But he’s got to stay true to his character as the leader, so I can’t fault him too much for that. I REALLY like him as a character…just not the main character of my story arc, I like his support in the other story arcs and kinda see him as an older brother type.
Comments on the Main Character…
So are Otome heroines typically this bland and useless? I admit I was a bit disappointed in the heroine, I thought there was a lot more she could have done in this story besides acting awkward, and getting rescued all the time. When the story first started out I thought she was doing well considering her situation, and that she would develop even more backbone because she would be within the Shinsengumi during a war. But once accepted into the Shinsengumi it seemed like she just got weaker and had to be rescued from individuals she probably could have defeated had she put some real effort in, I mean come on…you have some fighting training, is that sword at your side just for looks? I understand that the men are supposed to be in the spotlight in an Otome game, but I think the best romance stories are between two strong personalities! I don’t need her to be such a blank canvas that I can imagine myself as Chizuru (chizuru is the default name for her). Make her someone I’m impressed with! Ok *end rant*
Overall I enjoyed the game a lot, I played it in every moment of (alone) free time since getting it. My free moments watching TV were spent watching GinTama it was a bit weird to switch back and forth between such different versions of the Shinsengumi. Should you play the game? Basically if you can handle reading a lot of text and you’re interested in otome games, I’d say go for it. Also, be warned the romance in the series isn’t the spotlight so much as the activities of the Shinsengumi themselves. I’ve never played another otome so it’s hard for me to compare but I believe this game has a lot less romance than your standard Otome game. I hope someone brings over another game like this one to the US, it’s an absolute shame we don’t have more.
Now that I’ve played and loved this game will I watch the anime? I’m tempted to but…not sure I can bring myself to watch it. Plus my experiences with otome games turned into anime have all been kinda disappointing (Haruka: Beyond the Sream of Time). Not to mention…the main character will now have a voice, not really sure I even want to hear her voice. This is part of the reason why I haven’t watched the Persona 4 anime either.