Game Review: Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms

When we last left the Hakuoki crowd in Kyoto Winds (the previous entry in the franchise), the Shinsengumi were in a bad state, but the game was rather good: despite the lack of interaction, the story was excellent and the different paths you could chose meant that replay value was very high. There were some niggles here and there, though. Has the city of Edo been more kind to us than Kyoto was? Let’s find out.

This is, through and through, a game that’s driven by its narrative. If you’re not familiar with the series, the game follows your adventures as a young girl in distress: your father’s missing, you’ve been taken in by a group of former Samuari called the Shinsengumi, who have some outstanding business with your father themselves. Without spoiling too much of the previous entry, the constant threat of change in feudal-era Japan mixes with your own issues as you develop feelings for any given male-tagonist, and you must navigate the turmoil while still keeping your heart (and life) in check. Some nasty details about yourself and your past have emerged, though, and the genetic mutation/Fury changes affecting the Shinsengumi (a lot like vampirism, but Japanese) come to a head… on your poor, little shoulders.

Thankfully, you won’t be alone.

There’s a lot to like about the storytelling in the Hakuoki franchise, but I found the quicker pace of Edo Blossoms much more to my liking than what the slower (and longer) Kyoto Winds had to offer. If I’m being honest, however, I fail to see why the games needed to be split in two to begin with: it would have been better to simply release “Hakuoki”, include both games with the dynamics of Edo Blossoms and call it a day. Maybe one day I’ll know the reasoning behind this.

Another highlight aside from the great plot is the voice acting. Though not every single line of dialog is narrated, the bits that are, are done so in the exquisite, almost-over-acted-but-better-because-of-that way that only Japan can bring. The characters are deep, multi-layered and relatable, and it’s very easy to choose which husbando’s story to follow. There are plenty to choose from, as I mentioned before, so a lack of content won’t be an issue if you decide to pick the game up.

What might be an issue is the aforementioned lack of interactivity. There’s very little decision-making aside from which storyline to follow, and there does not seem to be any major consequence to choosing one option or another after you’ve started a husbando’s trail. The game simply tells the story and brings you along for the ride. It might be your cup of tea, and the story leaves little to nothing to be desired, but many times I wished for more control over what was happening. Thankfully, the interface is not completely bare of things to do, though: there are plenty of Japanese terms that are specific to both Feudal Japan and the Hakuoki series. These can be looked up on an interactive dictionary that pops up every time a challenging term is displayed. It’s great to have the option to brush up on the story, background of characters and, most of all, Japanese history through the language of the land. Of particular interest are the terms related to Feudal Japan, the Shogunate and its hierarchy, Samurai and other idiosyncrasies of the time period. Really, as a history lesson, it’s probably one of the best I’ve ever had. Certainly one of the most entertaining.

As is the need to play slightly questionable games on the Vita.

Saldy, there are some issues that prevent me from fully recommending the title to anyone: the aforementioned lack of interactivity is probably the biggest gripe I had with the game, but there were also issues with the English localization (with some common terms being translated literally instead of being translated in according to their context), and honestly, the download size is ridiculously large for what the game is: over 3GB for basically stills with a bit of mouth movement and some transitions? It took me 2 days to download the game. My connection is slow, but still, if you’re running out of space on your (not inexpensive) Vita memory cards, this is a tough pill to swallow.

At the end of the day, however, this game is aimed directly at its core audience: not everyone will enjoy an Otome game to begin with, let alone a visual novel. But those that do will find in Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms a truly remarkable story, with memorable characters and a fantastic, in-depth depiction of a very interesting period in Japanese history, complete with commentaries on the social roles of women, the power struggle between socio-economic classes… and yeah, some love affairs. So, if that sounds like your kind of thing, I cannot recommend the game enough. I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would, and kept coming back for more, not out of necessity for the sake of this review, but out of intrigue as to what would happen next.

At a glance:

  • Title: Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms
  • Publisher: Idea Factory
  • Developer: Idea Factory
  • Format: PSN Download / Physical 
  • Memory Card Space Required: 3.2GB
  • Cross Buy: No.
  • Cross Save: No.
  • PlayStation TV Compatible: Yes

Vita Player Rating - 08

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