Review: Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi (Sony PSP)

Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi
Developer: Otomate/Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys
Genre: Action
Release Date: 02/19/2013

When Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom was localized, there was much skepticism on how well an otome would fare. The fact that we got another game in the Hakuoki series indicates that it did well enough for Aksys to take a chance with another game in the series. However, instead of a visual novel, it’s more of a Musou styled game, which is actually fitting given the characters and plot. Let’s see how this entry holds up to its predecessor.

There are two story modes: Shinsengumi Chronicle and Shinsengumi Memorial. Shinsengumi Chronicle features an original story made for the game that is not related to the previous game. Shinsengumi Memorial follows the events of Demon of the Fleeting Blossom from the perspective of the chosen Shinsengumi member and features Chizuru, the protagonist from that game. Neither mode is especially heavy on exposition, and lots of key events receive quick summaries before the next chapter starts. There’s also no romancing of pretty boys like there was in Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, and what plot is presented feels watered down in comparison. The main events mostly play out in the same way for all the characters, though the main events that differentiated each route (such as Kaoru being prominent in Okita’s route) do get included for each character in this game. Kazama’s route is paced differently, but that’s due to the perspective following Kazama instead of Chizuru. A lot of the significance of events and relationships between characters can be easily missed if you are not familiar with the plot of Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (or at least the anime). There’s also a Skirmish mode where you can play through stages you’ve beaten in the other modes with other characters, including a couple of characters only available in this mode. Dialogue and story scenes play out in the same way, even if you’re playing as a different character. This comes off as especially incongruous if you’re playing as certain characters on some stages. While it’s nice to have the option to replay stages without going through individual character routes and play as other characters, this mode feels like a lazy toss-in.

The character art resembles that of the anime. Some of the animated scenes in the game are even lifted directly from the anime. I prefer the art style in Demon of the Fleeting Blossom because of little details like the patterns on characters’ clothes or the flowers and fish on Hijikata’s and Okita’s western clothes, plus it’s more aesthetically appealing to me personally (though your personal preference may differ). Art by Kazuki Yone, who did the art in the first game, can at least still be seen in the loading screens. The backgrounds during dialogue scenes look like those seen in Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. The backgrounds during gameplay and character models are serviceable, but nothing mind-blowing. However, they get recycled a lot, especially the enemy models. While that’s somewhat understandable, since the same events and places are covered across characters’ story modes, it does get a bit repetitive to look at after a while. In addition, you can see on the mini-map that there are lots of enemies near you, but less than what the map indicates spawn at a time, presumably to prevent slowdown. Oftentimes, the path in front of you will seem empty, but then when you walk forward enemies materialize.

The music sounds much like that in Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, and the voice actors for the characters are the same. They fit the mood of the events at hand and the characters, respectively. The vocal tracks that play during final boss fights on the last chapters of each route and during the opening and ending sound nice. However, during gameplay, the characters say the same phrase over and over again while attacking, which can get monotonous to listen to, given how much hacking through mobs of enemies you do throughout the game. As an amusing touch, if you stay idle on the main menu or the menu before chapters for too long, the character you’re playing as will tell you to hurry up.

The controls for combat are fairly basic. Square executes a weak but quick attack, while triangle executes a stronger but slower one. Holding down triangle charges the attack and produces an even stronger and slower attack after you let it go. Pressing X allows your character to jump, and you can attack in mid-air, though I never really saw much of a use for attacking in mid-air. The left trigger centers the camera behind your characters, and the right trigger blocks. In addition, pressing circle executes a Sakura Dance attack that’s powerful and uninterruptible, but drains your Sakura Gauge. If you’ve played games like the Dynasty Warriors series, the gameplay should feel very familiar to you. During story scenes, you can press the left trigger to view a log of the text, the right trigger to fast forward through the text, and start to skip the animated scenes.

The objectives for each chapter are the same: defeat a certain number of enemies, then defeat the mini boss, then the boss character for that chapter. As you mow down enemies, your Sakura Gauge will fill up. Enemies sometimes drop items that can be used in crafting equipment for your character, or items that provide temporary boosts. Chests are scattered around the stages. Red chests contain items that replenish your Sakura Gauge, while blue chests contain health replenishment items. At times, you may break a chest and find an item that completely refills your health and Sakura meter. Certain characters can enter Fury mode when their health meter is depleted (or when the storyline calls for it). In Fury mode, they regain full health and have boosted attack and defense. However, Fury mode is not available in every stage, and some characters (like Sanosuke) never get access to this mode.

Mowing down mobs of enemies and watching that number go up has its appeal, and I do enjoy Musou games. However, this isn’t something you’d marathon with, as it does eventually start to become repetitive, especially given the lack of variety in combos. A lot of assets seem to be recycled, both from the first game and using the same backgrounds and models over and over. The only differences in difficulty are how long it takes to kill each enemy and how much damage you take from hits. The enemies behave in the same way across difficulties – mainly swarming around you and trying to get attacks in, with mixed effectiveness. The characters mostly play similarly (though Sanosuke has more range due to his weapon), but they do differ in stats, which makes more of a difference on higher difficulties. For example, Hijikata’s balanced stats wise, while Okita has good strength and speed, but weaker defenses and gains less health per level up.

I encountered one odd bug in the course of playing this game. After finishing the prologue with Sanosuke in Shinsengumi Memorial mode on normal difficulty, the game froze after showing the victory screen, right before showing the tallies of time taken to complete the chapter, how many enemies I killed, and so on. This happened even after I quit out of the game and restarted. However, when I tried again on easy, the game proceeded normally. This never happened with other characters on any difficulty or mode. It didn’t set me back by much, given I was still at the beginning, and one playthrough doesn’t take too long (unless you’re on a higher difficulty, under leveled, and/or under equipped and dying a lot), but the fact that it only happened with one character on one difficulty in one mode did baffle me.

There are unlockables that can only be acquired through multiple playthroughs. Kazama is unlocked by beating Hijikata’s story mode, Shinpachi by beating Sanosuke’s and Heisuke’s story modes, and Sanan by beating all the Shinsengumi members’ story modes. However, Sanan and Shinpachi are only available in Skirmish mode, while Kazama is only available in Skirmish and Shinsengumi Memorial mode. Unlocking the demon difficulty requires playing through the story mode on hard once. To unlock all the images, you have to play through easy, normal, and hard, and to unlock all the audio you need to play through the demon difficulty in addition to the aforementioned three. While one play through doesn’t take long to get through, there’s some incentive for playing through the game multiple times. Whether it’s enough of a motivator is questionable. I was looking forward to this game since I’d enjoyed the first game and wanted to play other games in the series. While I’m glad Demon of the Fleeting Blossom did well enough for another Hakuoki game to make it here, this wouldn’t have been my first choice for the next game to be brought over. Still, I am glad this made it here, and hopefully more in the series will also be localized.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi is a decent Musou game featuring Hakuoki characters. If you’re looking for plot, stick with Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. For those looking for a portable Musou game, this isn’t the worst choice. Characters don’t have much in the way of moves or combos to differentiate them, and character models, backgrounds, and stages get recycled a lot. This mostly appeals to those who are already fans of the Hakuoki franchise. Even then, there’s not much in the way of story or gameplay to really pull anyone in.



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