Game Review – Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds
薄桜鬼 真改 風ノ章 (Hakuoki Shinkai Kaze no Shou)
Otome game
Otomate / Idea Factory
PS Vita

Summary:

Japan, 1864. Civil unrest has made the capital city a dangerous place, a fact Chizuru learns all too well when she sees men been killed. Captured by Kyoto’s patrol force, Chizuru’s death seems all but certain until both parties realize they’re searching for the same person. But why does the Shinsengumi want Chizuru’s father? And will the fires of war be put out?

Review:

Before I go into detail about Kyoto Winds, I need to explain the other Hakuoki games. The English versions Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (PSP), Memories of the Shinsengumi (3DS), and the mobile app all cover the same story, just with different bonuses. (The fighting game Warriors of the Shinsengumi contains both an alternate universe story as well as an abridged version of the original.) Players take on the role of Chizuru, a girl who ends up living with a group of warriors. Throughout the game, decisions need to be made which may boost one man’s affection. If Chizuru gets really close to one of the guys, then their story route will be unlocked. Pretty standard for a visual novel.

Hakuoki Kyoto Winds Gauge

You can see the guy’s affection levels at any time in the menu.

By far though, the best version of Hakuoki was the PlayStation 3 release Stories of the Shinsengumi. Not only did Otomate make enhancements like animated sprites, Stories of the Shinsengumi included the previously-unavailable-in-English Hakuoki fandisk, making the release two games in one. The fandisk included a series of scenes set during each bachelor’s route as well as providing a little mini-route for several men whom Chizuru couldn’t end up with.

Now that I’ve covered all that, here is the important part: Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds contains both double the content and half the content. The double is pretty obvious: there are now a whopping twelve bachelors compared to the original six. Three are characters many of us have been longing to see a full route for, and the other three are completely new characters. For the sake of this review, I’m dividing the romanceable men into three groups:

  • Classics: the original six (Hijikata, Okita, Saito, Toudou, Harada, Kazama)
  • Juniors: ones in the fandisk’s mini-routes that were often requested (Nagakura, Sanan, Yamazaki)
  • Newbies: the brand new routes (Iba, Souma, Sakamoto)

The Men of HakuokiIn addition, Otomate decided to weave most of the scenes from the fandisk directly into the main story. While a lot of these events were pure fluff for the Classics (and served as the basis for the Juniors), for a lot of the guys, these additional scenes really helped detail how the couple developed feelings for each other.

Now, for the half. This is no doubt the most disappointing aspect of Kyoto Winds. The game goes through the common route and then the first chapter of the character routes (up to Chapter 4 in the original game with some added liberties to provide room for bad endings) and then ends. This means a lot of the game feels repetitive. In fact, almost every route ends with the same scene and even the same narration dialogue! Sure, Chizuru may prove herself as a loyal comrade or spend her free time in different ways depending on the choices you make, but with so much left unresolved, I was often left with a hollow feeling. If you buy Kyoto Winds, you are pretty much committing yourself to buying two games. For those who have played one of the Hakuoki games before, this may mean quite an investment for six new routes. (Less than that if you factor in some of the Juniors’ sequences originated from Stories, but at least Kazama’s route is now very different.) I think both games probably could have fit on one Vita cartridge, and Japan has an upcoming 2-in-1 PS4 release. Either option would have been better.

Fortunately, Kyoto Winds makes other changes. I’ll be detailing these differences throughout the review, but here’s a quick one: the Record of Service is actually useful. You can jump to a chapter and not worry about having too low of a romance gauge. While this is not quite as useful as it will be in the sequel, the Record of Service may be needed if you want to read 100% of the game. It is easily to miss some scenes if you don’t choose the right trigger and have high enough romance. The game can be surprisingly sneaky.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds Record of Service

Jump to a chapter or sub-chapter, choose a guy, choose a romance level.

Now that we’re back on the subject of the story, let me elaborate a bit for newcomers. Hakuoki is historical fiction, but you do not need to know much about Japan to enjoy the plot. (You can also access an in-game encyclopedia for help at any time.) The game covers several years as Japan erupts in civil war between those who support the military leader, the shogun, and the domains who resent the shogun system and/or support the emperor. The Shinsengumi is a group of misfit swordsmen who gain respect and notoriety during the conflict, and protagonist Chizuru witnesses their struggle first-hand while she discovers the Shinsengumi’s biggest secret. If you’re not interested in historical fiction, don’t worry; Hakuoki includes many supernatural elements that will appeal to Western fans. Plus, a good number of the decision points are not obvious as to who it will trigger a scene with. If you don’t use a guide, Hakuoki feels like a real “choose your own adventure” story instead of just being a typical “choose the obvious affection boost or avoid it to chase after someone else” otome game.

No doubt that many English-language otome gamers are disappointed that Hakuoki has been released yet again, but that’s nothing compared to Japanese players getting a Vita port just before the remake. Yes, no doubt that other Otomate games deserve a chance as well, but you know what? It’s still a great game. The struggle for honor, assassinations, disappearances, kidnappings, mysterious liquids… Hakuoki is more than just a tale of how a young woman met her future husband. And now in Kyoto Winds, parts of the text have been changed to make the story flow better or improve characterization. (“The Corps” is now “the Furies”, and Kondou introduces himself as more of a representative than a leader.) Even Chizuru herself also seems to have gotten stronger and smarter. In the original versions, Chizuru narrates that she “swallowed and forced my mouth to open” and hoped they believed her if keep repeating herself. In Kyoto Winds, this whole section is pretty much deleted, making her appear bolder than her previous incarnation.

But while a lot of people will be happy to see Chizuru toughened up, let’s face it, she’s not the main draw of the series. While the Classics represented most of the main Japanese character archetypes, the expanded cast means there is some overlap. Toudou, Harada, and Nagakura are close, goofy friends who love to party; Saito and Yamazaki are strict by-the-book types; Okita and Souma are Kondou fanboys. With so many guys to choose from, it’s hard not to find a storyline and guy that appeals to you. Want a route with a man who is sweet to Chizuru? You have a good four to choose from. But then do you want a route that’s a bit more dangerous, or maybe you want to see antagonist D take the spotlight. That narrows the list down.

Let’s talk about the Newbies, as no doubt many of you are wondering if they are “worth it”. Their inclusion definitely seems like a bizarre decision. If Otomate wanted new characters, why not introduce the full Shinsengumi? The group has 10 captains, but we don’t meet them all even in Kyoto Winds. Unlike most of the others, the Newbies don’t get nearly as much screentime or interaction with other characters. Plus, even with the fandisk content, the game can skip several months ahead in time. I can’t help but wonder if the time spent on the Newbies would have been better off spent on filling in those holes with the other nine guys.

For those wondering, Iba is the kind gentleman who shares a past with everyone, Souma is pretty much the kouhai who tries to prove himself, and Sakamoto is enamored with Chizuru from the start. Sakamoto essentially replaces Kazama as the bonus route, as although they both are not part of the Shinsengumi, Sakamoto is much more interested in politics than Kazama. At least Iba’s route was more interesting than I thought it would be as it dives a little more into the mythos of the world of Hakuoki. However, a plot point that was limited to Okita’s route in the original now has an expanded role. I was a little disappointed since a certain character made his route unique, but I’m sure many Hakuoki fans will argue that character should have had a larger role in the first place. I guess I’ll have to wait for the sequel to see if the whole rivalry still comes through or if it has been hijacked.

I was a little surprised Otomate went back to stills for the Vita release. Stories had a faux 3D appearance that caused the characters to “breathe” and heads to bobble. It took a bit to adjust to the visuals then, but it also took a bit for me to adjust to “normal” sprites in Kyoto Winds. Regardless of which you prefer, at least the characters are properly animated (i.e. when they pause, the mouths don’t move).

Since the original artist has left Otomate, a lot of people have complained about the designs and stills in other Hakuoki games. In some cases, they are absolutely correct. Fortunately, the artists tried to minimize the differences between old and new art.

Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi

PS3

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds Hijikata

Vita

That being said, I am a little torn on the new characters. Part of me thinks their designs were a little stiff and boring (I mean, for goodness’ sake, Nagakura walks around with his chest exposed!), but perhaps I’ve just played Hakuoki too much to throw away all my preconceived notions. I do believe Otomate should have made the Newbies more different from each other; all have medium-ish length dark hair that they wear in a ponytail while walking around in a kimono. I would have preferred a design like thisHakuoki Kyoto Winds Kanryusaibe used in a main character rather than a supporting one. I mean, I know this is Japan, but let’s see something else besides kimono and short ponytails.

Two final points on the character designs. First. for some of the main cast, their outfits have been recolored or altered. Kazama in particular looks so much better in white and gold instead of black. On the other hand, Nagakura looks as if he was auditioning for Mitsukake from Fushigi Yugi in some of his CGs.

Other visual improvements have been made as well. When characters are whispering to Chizuru, the game shows an up-close version of the other characters’ face while the one they are talking about is smaller. To represent Chizuru hiding, the camera zooms in on a wall. Blood splatters across the screen, making Kyoto Winds feel like an actual rated M game. The font is huge compared to Stories, but the translucent background is a vast improvement over the solid beige. Otomate even changed characters’ reactions; in previous versions of Hakuoki, one man may be using, say, sprite D but Kyoto Winds uses sprite C. When Kondou scolds Okita in the first chapter, for example, the younger man looks sad; in Kyoto Winds, Okita is still wearing his wolfish Okita face. Some sprites are also redone, like Saito’s shocked face. All these changes gives Kyoto Winds a beautiful face-lift, like it was a Vita game to begin with.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds Battle

The script was rerecorded for the game. If you’ve played Hakuoki before, sharp-eared listeners will notice some altered performances. While the original cast has returned, not every line is delivered the same way. For example, in the original version, Hijikata enters the fray with a loud, forceful voice. In the remake, his tone is softer but icier. I do recommend investing in a good pair of headphones as the whispers are super-soft. A couple of times I had my TV or Vita volume down low because it was nighttime, and I swear I missed entire lines.

But the best news? Chizuru’s name is voiced! Yay!

The Newbies’ voices? All I have to say is three words: Miyano, Kaji, Ono. Yeah, I’m SURE it was a coincidence that three of the most popular seiyuu in Japan (probably the top three according to some metrics) all landed the roles of the Newbies. If somehow those three names don’t ring a bell, then surely their roles will. Chances are you’ve heard their voices a number of times. All three are talented actors, but I can’t help but feel like they were brought on for their name recognition rather than them being perfect for the roles. It just seems way too suspect that out of the dozens — hundreds — of seiyuu, all three score not only parts but the biggest (new) ones. Yes, the Classics had some big names as well, Toudou’s and Harada’s performers are not nearly as well-known across the globe. When you put all three of them on a project they weren’t originally involved in, all I kept hearing was Miyano, Kaji, and Ono; I wasn’t hearing Iba, Souma, or Sakamoto, and this kept me from fully losing myself in the world of Hakuoki.

Translation:

See this post. tl;dr version: Aksys Games script is mostly used, but Idea Factory comes up with lots of their own errors.

Final Comments:

Is Hakuoki worth playing?

Yes.

Is Kyoto Winds the Hakuoki game you should play?

Yes and no.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is definitely more than just a quickly-thrown-together director’s cut edition of an excellent title. Even with the exclusive Stories of the Shinsengumi content, it’s pretty much outclassed… when comparing it to both remake games.

On its own, though, Kyoto Winds feels like an extended prologue rather than ending on a climax or turning point. For previous Hakuoki players, you know for sure how Kyoto Winds ends in five of the routes, two more are not surprising, three are easily explained, and only two are really unique and surprising. Meanwhile, newer players probably won’t fully understand what makes Hakuoki so popular when only half the story is revealed. When you get an incomplete story 12 times in a row, it’s just not very exciting. Wait to play until you get your hands on Part II so that the two parts connect better, or start begging Idea Factory International now for an English version of the PS4 Fuukaden.

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