This One is For the Ladies – Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Portable.
In Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, players take the role of Chizuru Yukimura (though her first name can be customized), a young girl from Edo. Her father, a practitioner of Western medicine, has taken leave to the city of Kyoto on business. However, shortly after his arrival, the protagonist stops receiving letters from him. Fearing the worst, she sets out to Kyoto disguised as a boy in hopes of finding him.
Upon arrival, she finds a beautiful and bustling city, although she soon discovers that it can be dangerous as well. As night falls, she is almost mugged by some ronin (samurai who don’t serve a master). Chizuru manages to escape them, but in doing so witnesses an event involving the Shinsengumi (a group of organized ronin who serve to quell anti-shogunate actions) that she was never meant to see. The group takes her captive to figure out what she may have seen, and determine her fate. Quickly, she is thrust into the world of samurai, politics, and warfare.
The story of Hakuoki is fairly in-depth and set during the late Edo period, a time where the samurai and their way of life is starting to be threatened by changing governments and Western weapons. Many characters, places, and settings are based around real-world people and events. While it may seem like a purely historical or political plot at first, it goes on to contain various romantic, supernatural and scientific elements, developing in a very interesting and gripping way.
Should you come across terms or historical events that you’re not familiar with, an encyclopedia can be found in the game menu. This handy volume of text will update periodically with information on characters, locations, and events, stating in-game when it does. Also available here are the save/load features and general options. This menu is available at any time by pressing Triangle.
A key aspect to Hakuoki is choice. At specific points in the tale, players will be faced with decisions that will affect the story’s progression. These can range from small insignificant text changes, to massive changes in location and outcome. Thankfully, if you dislike what happens, you may revert back to a previous save, and choices you’ve already made will be highlighted in red.
The story won’t be the only thing determined by your choices. Hakuoki has various dating sim elements to it, making it what our friends in Japan would call an ‘otome game.’ This means that the main protagonist is a female and, aside from the main story plot, players will be attempting to gain the attention and affection of one of several male companions. Certain decisions will influence the feelings of specific men, causing them to care more for Chizuru, eventually developing a romantic relationship and affecting the later aspects of the narrative. How much a character feels for the protagonist can also be found in the encyclopedia.
Chizuru herself is a very timid girl, often wondering if she’s doing the right thing, hoping that she fits in, or considering herself a burden. This gives her a cute kind of quality, but I feel this may upset some female gamers. While she may be a historically accurate girl from the Edo period, women nowadays are much more independent than that, so this is sure to turn off a few players.
Unfortunately though, story is the only thing you’ll find here. Hakuoki is, in essence, a visual novel. Players will be simply reading text, pressing X to progress to the next entry, and on occasion making a choice. Lather, rinse, repeat. For some players, or rather readers, this won’t be a problem as they will be sucked into the story (while others may be giggling because the “cute one” is hitting on them). For the majority of PSP owners, however, I can see many people putting in a different game due to boredom, or shying away from it completely. There is definitely a very small target audience here.
To accompany the tale are some very pretty visuals. All graphics in-game are done with hand-drawn pictures, in an anime style. Present in all scenes is a background portraying the location, be it the archways of a temple or the bustling city streets of Kyoto. Text is delivered at the bottom of the screen on a rectangular sheet designed to look like paper, resembling something close to a scroll. Each character has a very unique look to them, with very well-conceived outfits and accessories. Combine these together and you have a visual experience similar to reading a very vivid and colourful manga, which is sure to make fans of this Eastern style very happy.
However, many players (like myself) will be expecting a cutscene here and there –perhaps a short anime video portraying a swordfight, since the game is based around the samurai, or a romantic embrace when you finally get the man of your choice. No such luck it seems, as Hakuoki’s idea of a cutscene is to occasionally give the player a special picture portraying the scene in greater depth. It’s a shame, as players have to read about two people fighting and listen to the basic sounds of swords crashing, instead of seeing what could have been an awesome anime video.
Speaking of swords clashing, let’s move on to audio. For the most part, the audio is fairly good. Voice work is present but hasn’t been translated into English, meaning players will be listening to Japanese and reading subtitles regardless of their actual region. Since I’m not familiar with the language, I can’t say for certain if the acting is good or bad. However, if this bothers you (or a single character’s performance reminds you of nails on a chalkboard) then you have the option to turn one or all of the voiceovers off. This is an option I wish were present in all JRPGs, as English acting can get very horrid at times.
The soundtrack to Hakuoki is wonderful, using sweeping strings for tense and emotional moments, sweet and beautiful melodies for romantic instances, and dark, upbeat drums and string work in combat scenes. While the music is beautiful, there’s one aspect of its design that bothers me. When changing tunes, music simply stops dead and immediately changes track. If a scene lasts too long, instead of looping endlessly, the song will fade out mid-phrase and fade back in at the beginning again. This seems incredibly backwards to me, and sounds very weird to the ear.
In the end, Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom isn’t a bad game, just an unusual one. With only a few sword cuts sprinkled throughout, the biggest downfall is that it plays less like a game and more like a unique manga. The male gamers will probably flat-out avoid it, and some female players may dislike it for its lack of action and a less-than-strong female lead. However, if you’re a fan of otome games, or just like the idea of playing through a $30 book, then this is the game for you, as its lush visuals and gripping story will keep you reading for hours on end.
Final Score: 3.5 / 5.0, and a handful of cherry blossoms!
About This Post