Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi
Developer: Idea Factory
Genre: Visual Novel
Release Date: 09/24/2013
The Hakuoki series has picked up some traction outside of Japan, thanks to the release of Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. Although it seemed like a rather niche release that had less of a chance of being noticed (otome games tend to get less attention than other kinds of visual novels, and visual novels tend to be a niche genre in general), it was successful enough that Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi was released earlier this year. Aksys has also delved further into the otome/visual novel genre with the release of Sweet Fuse last month. Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is a port of Demon of the Fleeting Blossom with a couple of extras thrown in, and marks the third US release in the Hakuoki franchise. Let’s see how well it made the transition to the 3DS.
The story is the same as it was in the PSP version of the game. You play as Chizuru Yukimura (you can change her given name), whose father leaves for a trip and goes missing. After letters from him stop coming, Chizuru heads out to try and search for him, but ends up tangled with the Shinsengumi after being at the wrong place at the wrong time. She gradually develops a place with them and eventually a relationship with one of them (unless you go with Kazama). It takes place during the Bakamatsu, and major battles and political intrigue (the conflict between imperial nationalists and the shogunate forces, attitudes towards foreign influence) feature heavily in the plot. While some events are true to history, there’s also creative liberties taken to fit Chizuru and supernatural elements, like the demons, into things (and also to explain how certain people who should’ve been dead stay around after the event they died at in real life). Although you can get with one of the guys, the relationship aspect mostly takes a backseat to everything else going on and develops gradually. Some of the choices you make don’t seem directly related to getting closer with a guy, but they do develop Chizuru as a character, and can end up impressing one of them. The romantic aspects develop gradually and come more into focus towards the end of a guy’s route, so that part is there for those looking for that.
New to the 3DS version is an Extras section, which contains the Photo Booth and Hakuoki Memories. In Photo Booth, you can take a photo (3D photos if you turn up the slider) and decorate it with a frame, add-ons, and full-screen decorations. You can pile on as many add-ons (e.g. hearts, flowers and so on) as you want, but only one frame (featuring various characters that appear in the story) and full-screen decoration (e.g. sakura petals, bubbles). It’s an mildly amusing novelty, but not something I see many people using.
“Hakuoki Memories” is probably the main draw of the extras, and contains extra scenes told from the perspective of each of the guys you can romance. They’re fully voice acted, but only the guy’s portrait is shown along with the text – no portraits of the other characters are here. Towards the end of the scenes, there’s a CG of the guy in question. These scenes take place at various points during the game, some before the start of the game. There’s a reference to a character that only shows up in Hakuoki Reimeiroku, the prequel of this game, though you can still figure things out even if you’re unfamiliar with the characters and events in Reimeiroku. The anime is on Crunchyroll, though the game has not been released here. The white text used in these scenes is mostly legible, but can be harder to see on lighter backgrounds, and the letters seem blurrier than those in the main game. In Okita’s and Saitou’s scene, the game crashed with the message “An error has occurred, forcing the software to close. The system will now restart”. After I beat the game, though, I was able to view both of their scenes to completion. I’m not sure what caused the crashes, but at least I was able to view those two scenes eventually. I played the eShop version, though seems that others are having similar issues, some with the physical version. Hopefully this gets fixed, though in the meantime, it seems like frequent saves (if it’s happening in the main game) or progressing elsewhere, then trying again, may help somewhat.
The translation is mostly solid and very readable, even if you’re not familiar with the time period this is based on (there’s an encyclopedia for the names and events depicted to help you keep track of those), and characters have distinct speech patterns. However, there’s typos here and there, such as “one over several locations” instead of “one of several locations” in the Shikoku Inn entry, and Kimigiku  “second-highestrank”; in dialogue there was “To its. people?”, for instance. Ikedaya Inn was named as Ikeda Inn. I’m not sure why that change was made, since there were other names that remained the same across versions. In one scene, Chizuru asked someone to escort her to Edo, but another character said “Of all the people who could escort you to Kyoto, you would ask him?” when Kyoto was the place they were currently at, and the place she wanted to leave. While these typos don’t affect the overall readability of the text (I even missed the Kyoto/Edo thing the first time around), it’s still a bit distracting when they do pop up. One text box ended with the sentence, “My eyes widened with surprise, but he continued.”, but another text box after it had just that same sentence in it.
A more glaring flaw is that some of the encyclopedia entries are truncated, when none of them were in the PSP version. Examples include the Furies  entry with “in order to tru”, the Yoshinobu Hitotsubashi entry with “and later succee”, and Mimwarigumi with “and the N”. There’s also the occasional odd line breaks like
the bombardment is coming from” and
“The Yodo, Tsu, Tottori, Geishu, and Owari domains
almost certainly throw their support behind the Imperial
Army”. I’m guessing the smaller screen/text box on the 3DS contributed to these formatting/typographicial issues, but if that was the case, these should have been caught, especially the truncated encyclopedia entries. Those without the PSP version to refer to will be lost (unless they just Google the term, I suppose). These issues make this version seem like a less than polished port, which is a shame, because the story itself is worth experiencing.
The same art by Kazuki Yone was used in this game, and it looks just as nice as it did in the PSP version. The guys are appropriately pretty, and their personalities show through their portraits. The coloring is vivid, and you can see patterns in some of the clothes. Turning on the 3D does make the character portraits and text boxes stand out from the background, and objects in the foreground and midground stand out as well. It’s not significant enough that you’d be missing out by not having it on all the time though. Some effects were added, such as blue sparks in a Saito and Amagiri CG, leaves blowing in the CG at the climax of Harada’s route, and sakura petals blowing the final CG of the normal ending. Most of the soundtrack is also the same, but there are different opening and ending songs. I kind of wish there was more variety in tracks, but what’s here is aurally pleasant and complements the mood of the situation well. The voice acting, likewise, suits the respective characters, and everyone is fully voiced except Chizuru. Emotion manages to get across, even if you don’t understand Japanese.
The controls are rather basic and are displayed on the bottom screen. X brings up the menu, left shoulder button quick saves, right shoulder buttons loads said quick save, and Y skips through text that has already been seen. B hides the text box if you wanted to look at a background or CG without anything obscuring it. Given that this is a visual novel, you don’t do much except read and advance the text, except for making the occasional decision. Your decisions do affect some dialogue and determine the route you end up on, but mostly you’re more of an observer. There are 24 save slots, which is double the amount of slots the PSP version afforded you. The empty files are marked with “Cannot read”, which is weird, because I hadn’t saved in those slots yet. Since I’m kind of compulsive about having multiple saves, these quickly filled up. You’ll probably end up having to save over another file eventually if you like making multiple save files like I do, but there are enough slots so that even if you can’t necessarily save at all the places you want, you can still get to the spot you want to relatively quickly.
The stories in each route don’t overlap much after the first three chapters (wherein you can gather romance points for the guy you want to pursue), so there is a good amount of replay value in going through each one. You can skip through text you’ve already read and use the Record of Service to jump to a certain section that you’ve played through, which makes subsequent playthroughs go by more quickly and helps if you want to see all the bad endings and dialogue options. Note, however, that if you use the Record of Service, romance levels are set to zero and corruption levels start at the default amount. There’s plenty of CGs to unlock and bad endings if your romance level’s too low or corruption level’s too high (or if you make a wrong choice). One of the routes also can’t be played until you’ve beaten the game once. As you finish each route, you unlock a frame to use in the photo booth as well. Despite the fact that I beat every route in the PSP version, I still enjoyed reading through them again, and I even managed to pick up on things I didn’t the first time. I did also like the added scenes, as they fleshed out some events or provided more insight into each character, their interactions with other people, and their perspectives.
Judging purely from the cover, this game seems like it would be a more action-oriented game, along the lines of Dynasty Warriors, but it’s purely a visual novel (if you’re looking for that, you want Warriors of the Shinsengumi or some other Musou game). That and the fact that you’re romancing men can be off-putting for some people. But there are plenty of battles, bloody scenes, and historical context alongside those things, which might appeal to people who might not otherwise consider playing an otome game or visual novel. Still, this is a niche game, so it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
You can get the standard edition of the PSP version on Aksys’s site and via PSN for $9.99. This version runs $29.99 for the standard version, $24.99 for the eShop version, and $49.99 for the limited edition (which comes with an art book, a fan, and a towel). The eShop version was initially $34.99, but got a price drop of $10, which is bad for those who bought it prior to the drop, but it’s also more in line with Aksys’s usual pricing for their games (I was wondering why a digital release would cost more than physical). If you’ve never played this game, I’d say to get this version just for the extra content, especially if you’re getting the Limited Edition. If you’ve played this on the PSP, you’re basically getting the same thing, only with a couple of extras. I wish this port was a bit more polished, but it’s good that 3DS owners (and those that don’t own a PSP or Vita) can play this game as well. I also wish there were less issues, especially the bugs causing the game to crash and the 3DS to reset, so that I could recommend this version (and I’m still inclined to point people towards this version, because why not get the version with the most content, right?) without the caveats “Well, the bug here isn’t as bad as the save bug in the 3DS version of Virtue’s Last Reward” or “Yes, there’s truncated encyclopedia entries and a few typos here and there, but the story and characters are worth it, I swear”. I’d be remiss if I pretended this version doesn’t have any issues, no matter how much I like the game otherwise. I was able to beat the main game twice with no issues, so there’s that. Even with the snags I mentioned, they don’t render the game unplayable, and the overall experience is worth it, especially if you haven’t played through it before.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is essentially Demon of the Fleeting Blossom with a couple of extras, which isn’t a bad thing, as those who don’t own a PSP or Vita now get to play this game too. Although this is an otome game, there’s plenty of substance for those who aren’t as inclined towards romancing men. There are some wrinkles, like truncated encyclopedia entries, formatting and typographical issues, and the bug that’s causing the game to crash and the 3DS to restart. These don’t detract too much from the solid story and pretty art, and the game itself is still playable after a fashion. If you haven’t played this before, I’d recommend this version for the extras. If you have, I’d say it depends on how much you want those extras (both in-game and the Limited Edition goodies). Either way, this is worth playing if you’re a fan of otomes and visual novels, whichever version you get.