Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms Review
Release Date: March 13, 2018
Publisher/Developer: Idea Factory International
Platform: PlayStation Vita, Steam
Price: $39.99 (as of release on sale for one week for $29.99)
In April of last year, I was tasked with reviewing Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds. As a heterosexual, monogamous, married male, it was odd to find myself in the shoes of a young woman romancing a harem of eligible bachelor samurai. As a new Hakuoki title was offered for review, I learned something that could have changed my attitude toward the original game. Although it is slightly mentioned in the Steam page, the PlayStation Vita page and (so far as I can find online) the physical packaging for the card doesn't really discuss how it was the first of a two-part story. Hakuoki is a tale that has been told many times through visual novels dating back to the PlayStation 2 and has even had an anime series that debuted in 2010 and has been adapted into a manga. The story is well known for fans of the series, but as a first timer I was unaware that there was more story to be told. I was frustrated that in a game that revolves around choice, I religiously ended up at the exact same downer of an ending. Edo Blossoms continues the story, and appears to pick up right after that ending, with no loading of the previous title's save file, so I'm running on the assumption now that the first game had to get there.
Adding to that previous statement of "no load" is perhaps my biggest joy and biggest frustration with Edo Blossoms. In the first title, Kyoto Winds, you had the troupe of samurai through the entire story, and choices you made during the game pushed you toward romantic interludes with them. During the game, I felt that I may have gotten closer with some of the suitors but never really reached the level needed for a true romance. In Edo Blossoms, there are actually a myriad of stories focused on each individual suitor, and you choose a path to go down at the start. Choosing your suitor at the beginning focuses the game on the suitor as if you had completed the last game with him as your intent. One of my biggest problems with the first game was the confusion as to what you needed to do to prioritize a particular suitor. Starting the game with a "vision" in mind allows me to at the very least guide my decisions toward that suitor. And yet, I wish that my work on the previous game had actually made some semblance of impact on the end of the full story.
The amount of story involved in Edo Blossoms is baffling. While the overall story remains the same, several characters branch off during the game. One branch may lead you to go to the battlefield with your beau, while another may see you stay around the main compound with someone who stayed behind, or defecting with someone else. Paying close attention to each branch will show the "butterfly effect." In the moment you feel as if what you choose doesn't make a lot of difference, but your lack of presence in another timeline does slightly change what happens, though you have to be watching for the alterations. I was only able to work on two of the myriad storyline options during my review time. One run through the story isn't enough to experience all the game has to offer. Again, and odd point for me. When my Fire Emblem save got killed, I couldn't bring myself to link up with anyone other than my suitor from my first playthrough. Fans who want to see where all story options go will have more than enough to go through.
Given that these games are made to go together and tell the same story, I find myself hitting a few of the same issues I had with the previous game. Your heroine Chizuru is in a strange Stockholm Syndrome situation, having originally been basically kidnapped by the society of samurai she is now a part of. In Kyoto, I found that the easiest way to enhance the romance meter was to basically play the subdued mistress, going along with whatever the Men Folk wanted to do. You would upset them if you stood up for them when they were being overpowered by their enemies. The samurai I follwed in this tale seemed more open to your support, but it still seems that you are along for the ride, even further enforced in this series by Chizuru not being voiced at all. The story rolls on, full of lengthy Japanese character names so diverse that you need an encyclopedia to keep up with them.
This is an otome visual novel, so again interaction is at a minimum. You're shuffled through scenes like a choose-your-own adventure book, so it is welcome to see a fast forward option available to get through what you've done before. Without spoiling too much, at this point in the story a large percentage of the samurai are known as "furies," basically feudal Japan vampires. The game strays a bit too much into "fanfic" territory for me here. The samurai you are following may go into a bloodlust mode, wherein you can tell them to fight through it, give them a special medicine, or offer your own blood to satiate their desire. Option three results in a bonus screen of them feeding on a cut you self-inflicted, while the other two just go on. A meter seperate from the romance meter shows how far they are into conversion, but again, my choices seemed to haphazardly effect that meter, or not effect it at all. This pushes further into my concern about the submissive Chizuru, as you are rewarded for such heavy sacrifice. Another side note is in the first story I played, I sneaked to my father's home, where I found a medicine to quell the urges, as discussed above. In my second playthrough, I went there with others and actively found nothing to help my friends, I immediately found myself in one of the above scenarios and still had the medicine option.
The Hakuoki series in general is definitely a niche game. With mountains of text, strictly Japanese voice acting, and the base game being a combination of historical battle documentary and male harem management, it's not going to win over a casual gamer. It doesn't help that by and large Chizuru is an afterthought to the story, despite everyone talking directly to her. It seems that you are more successful the more submissive you are to, essentially, your captors. I really wish the first game had been better billed as part one of two, and strongly recommend anyone getting ready to play this one to hit the first one up prior, as Edo Blossoms rolls in guns blazing, expecting you to know every character and situational nuance possible. Fans of the first title have no reason to not buy this one, as it's the equivelant of the second good book in the series, with enough branching storylines to keep you busy for a long time. Someone looking for a "game" is going to be severely disappointed, as each playthrough may only have a couple few choices per hours-long chapter. If you are looking for a quality romance novel with the chance to innfluence decisions along the way, however, the Hakuoki series is a great place to start.
-New start method focuses gameplay on your desired suitor
-Each choice at the start leads to a different view on the story for extensive replayability
-Previous game's story choices do not effect this game
-Bloodlust and romance reward you for submissive roles
You can win a copy of the game!