Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds
Publisher: Idea Factory
Developer: Idea Factory
Genre: Visual Novel
Release Date: 8/24/2017
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds was a surprising release for me. I’d played Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (reviewed by Alex Lucard here on DieHard GameFAN), as well as Memories of the Shinsengumi (also reviewed by us by Aileen Coe), and well, I just didn’t think this storyline was going to get released yet another time. I would recommend reading those two reviews if you aren’t familiar with the series, as I would rather spend this space focusing on the new material for those who are wondering if they should pick this game up after having played one or both of the older versions of this game.
To give the most basic of plot summaries, you play as Chizuru (or whatever you decide to name her), a young woman looking for her father, who is a doctor. Chizuru goes to the city to find him and runs into the Shinsegumi, a band of warriors with a questionable reputation. She ends up staying with them while she searches for her father and navigates the political turmoil threatening to tear Japan apart. Since this is an otome (a romance game geared toward women), has the chance to fall in love, should she find a man that is to her liking. And my, there are many men to choose from.
The game is beautiful both visually and aurally, as it always is, and balances serious exposition with the kind of humor you can expect in a story where a woman is staying with a bunch of men, many of whom have some of their own growing up to do. The romances vary in intensity and style, with some being more lighthearted, others more serious, and some leaving you wondering if the man understands love at all. There weren’t any romanceable men that I didn’t like on some level, though clearly we will all have preferences for one man (or several) over another.
So, what makes this version different than the other versions of the Hakuoki storyline? For one, I feel like they do a better job expanding on some of the topics and storylines that weren’t necessarily well-explained in other versions of the game. (It is important to note that this game is only half of the storyline. I’m assuming we’ll get the other half in another installation.) In addition, you have three new men to romance:
Hachiro Iba, a man who claims to have known Chizuru from a long time ago. He prefers to find a compromise than to use his sword, though he is a skilled swordsman. As his romance moves forward, you begin to remember who he is, and what he knows about you. (His storyline was easily my favorite of the newer men.)
Kazue Souma, a young man who decides, almost on a whim, to join the Shinsengumi while you’re there. He becomes Kondou’s page and clearly has a lot to learn about the Shinsengumi and what it means to truly be a man. As your romance with him blossoms, he struggles to develop into the person he wants to be. (To me, this was the weakest addition, but even then it’s not a bad one.)
Ryouma Sakamoto, a former Ronin claiming to be working with Shinsengumi Enemy Number One: The Imperial Nationalist Party. Interestingly, Ryouma prefers a gun to a sword. He is the source of a lot of stress as you try to balance being of use to the Shinsengumi and helping Ryouma do what he needs to do. There is no end to his attempts to fluster and frustrate you.
Much of the game is passive, with you reading a bunch of information and occassionally making decisions that will affect the storyline and your progress toward the various romances. To highlight just how much text there is, I played the game on fast forward after the first go around (you can skip over previously-seen text) and it still took me something like 26 hours to completely clear the game. This is partially because so many choices lead to so many new routes, so you end up skipping a lot of text for some storylines where the characters share a lot of space in their routes, but then in another route you won’t skip much text at all because it takes you to a completely different area or change the outcome of a story-related event. This isn’t a game to binge, by any means. If you’re going to play it, I recommend playing it one romance storyline at a time. Rushing it will take away from the experience.
There are likely going to be a lot of terms you don’t recognize if you’re not familiar with the era or the games themselves, but there is a helpful encyclopedia you can use to learn about the context Chizuru inhabits. In previous games, there were often errors with encyclopedia entries, but I didn’t run into any issues with them. I did note a few minor grammatical errors in the game, and there were two times where there were some serious graphical errors, but otherwise, the game runs pretty smoothly.
I like the Hakuoki franchise. I don’t have a lot of experience with otomes, but it feels like a lot of media that’s geared toward women are overly dramatic. Hakuoki differs from that in that, yes, the storylines are dramatic, but not every character has this terrible background and is a wounded man who needs your love, and so on and so forth. I find that as I’ve aged my tastes in these digital men have changed as well. As a teen/young adult, I was fond of Souji, almost entirely for his looks as his personality is not great (though you can understand a little why he is the way he is). It’s been a while since I played the games, though, and I noticed this time around that I much preferred men like Hachiro and Toshizo, who on top of being attractive, aren’t creeps. (Sorry, Souji.) There are reasons to love each romanceable character, and I appreciate that.
At the end of the day, though, I’m kind of tired of going through this particular storyline, in the same way I’m tired of superhero movies giving us certain characters’ origin stories over and over again. I hope that this game (and the next) are successful and that the developers finally feel like they’ve told this story the way they want to so that we can see Chizuru and others go on different adventures. There are other stories to be told here, I think, and I’d like to see them, rather than rehashing the same storyline, or in this case, only the first half!
I’m irritated they split the game up into two parts, especially since the second half of this story is where things actually gets interesting. Given the game’s length I suppose I can sort of understand, but I also don’t much see this appealing to people who don’t want to pay twice for one story, especially when that story has already been mostly told. In addition, there’s supposed to be a PS4 version of this game coming out that has the entire story, which makes this plan make all the less sense. True, the new characters do add to the game in meaningful ways and feel like they should have been there all along, so perhaps that will be enough of a pull for people who have played the game before. I just want them to do something else after the second half of this storyline comes out again. Of course, if you’re new to the franchise, this won’t be a problem at all.
Regardless if you’re new to the franchise, I recommend picking the game up (either on PC, if you’re impatient, or on PS4, where it’s likely to be cheaper and has the whole game), if only because you will likely want to see the end of the other three’s storylines. Hopefully, if this version is successful enough, it will encourage Idea Factory to do literally anything else with these characters.
Short Attention Span Summary
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a wonderful retelling of a story that didn’t really need another retelling. The new characters add to the storyline in a meaningful way and without knowing they’re new additions, you wouldn’t be any the wiser. As always, the art and music are well done, and the storyline is engaging though there were a few minor issues here and there. This is the best rendition of the first half of this storyline, but I hope that after they release the second half, they do something else with these characters. I want them to go on many adventures, not just this one. If you’re wanting to get the best version of this game, however, I’d recommend going with this iteration, but if you have a PS4 and are willing to wait a while, maybe get the version that has the whole game.
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