Review: Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds brings us into familiar territory

How many times have we seen a Hakuoki English release? Let’s go through this together. It started on the PlayStation Portable in 2012 with Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. A year later in 2013, Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi came to the 3DS. In 2014, Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi showed up on the PlayStation 3. In 2015, mobile devices received Hakuoki. It is now 2017 and we’re privy to the fifth iteration on the PlayStation Vita: Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds. While there are new stories to enjoy, it’s difficult to overcome the sense of ennui that stems from yet another version of Hakuoki.

Rather than a port, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is described as a remaster or retelling of the original game. Except it isn’t a complete adaptation of the game we say in the 2012 through 2015 releases. Instead, it only offers people half of the story. The original Hakuoki follows Chizuru and the men of the Shinsengumi in both Kyoto and Edo. Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds covers the first part, while the as-yet unlocalized Hakuoki Shinkai: Hana no Sho focused on the half set in Edo.

While only getting part of the story is disheartening, it does make Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds a good place for any player to jump into the series.

While only getting part of the story is disheartening, it does make Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds a good place for any player to jump into the series. Chizuru is a young woman in search of her missing father. He is a doctor who specializes in Western medicine and was last seen in Kyoto. She disguises herself as a man and comes to the city to look for him. It is there that she meets the Shinsengumi and learns their terrifying secret. Among their ranks are Rasetsu, warriors who drank the Ochimizu Water of Life after receiving fatal wounds to stay alive at a price. The Shinsengumi are also searching for her father, due to his involvement with Ochimizu, which leads to her joining the group’s ranks.

For those unfamiliar with the game in spite of its many appearances, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is an otome visual novel. This means it bears quite a bit in common with gamebooks. You make choices that help Chizuru ingratiate herself with specific bachelors. The original game offered Toshizo Hijikata, Souji Okita, Sanosuke Harada, Hajime Saito, Heisuke Toudou and Chikage Kazama as romance options. Even though the story has been chopped in half, the number of love interests has doubled. Returning cast members Shinpachi Nagakura, Keisuke Sanan and Susumu Yamazaki are now ready to get close to you, while Hachiro Iba, Kazue Souma and Ryouma Sakamoto are entirely new to the series.

As a downside, there is no way to quickly leap to these new characters in Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds. Returning players will even need to head into the options to adjust the skip function, should they want to quickly speed to the newly added storylines. The story is very well written and translated; this is an enjoyable adventure. It just takes some time to get to the original content.

The six new bachelors are all very interesting people. Nagakura, Sanan and Yamazaki are these men we’ve seen and connected with for years, but never had a chance to focus on. Nagakura has always been this hilarious big brother, Sanan always ends up in a rather scary situation and Yamazaki has spent years supporting the Shinsengumi from the shadows. Each of their paths brings them into the light and allows us to see how these characters impact each others’ lives. Sanan’s story is my favorite, as it humanizes him, though Nagakura and Yamazaki’s tales are equally engaging.

We’re used to always thinking of the Shinsengumi as Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds’ good guys; the three original bachelors offer new perspectives that may make us question our own loyalties.

Iba, Souma and Sakamoto are similar. Except instead of giving us more information on people we already know, these bachelors give us a new look at the Shinsengumi. Souma is a new recruit, someone who idolizes the group and wants to be as strong as they are. Iba is a samurai who works for the Shogun, offering a look at another kind of warrior active during the period. Meanwhile, Sakamoto is someone opposed to the Shinsengumi and a con man. We’re used to always thinking of the Shinsengumi as Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds’ good guys; the three original bachelors offer new perspectives that may make us question our own loyalties.

As a plus, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds does make it easy to go through the storyline. The quick save and load feature returns, as does an option that offers a visual cue when a correct answer is chosen. after you get to unlocking them. When bringing up the backlog to check read text, you could backtrack 100 text boxes to catch up. The Encyclopedia is easily accessed from menus or during the actual story. The Record of Service lets you even go back and restart from a specific spot, choosing which of the 12 different characters’ routes you want to follow when reviewing past experiences.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds has a great story to tell. The only problem is, it is only part of a story we have read at least four times before in the last five years. Maybe more, if players pursued multiple routes in each installment. While we do have six new characters to romance, it’s a bit jarring to get more content in one part, but then have the storyline cut off halfway through the story we remember from the earliest adaptations. As such, I could really only recommend Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds to die-hard fans or people who have never played through the game before. This is a game that requires qualifiers; It is the best and most comprehensive version of the first half of Hakuoki that is available in English this year.

Score: 8/10
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Developer: Otomate
Platform(s): PlayStation Vita
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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