Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms
薄桜鬼 真改 華ノ章 (Hakuoki Shinkai Hana no Shou)
Otomate / Idea Factory
PS Vita / PC
Japan, 1868. After several years, Chizuru finally returns to her hometown. It’s hardly a happy homecoming: war has broken out, allies have fallen, and the things she’s learned while in Kyoto have shaken her to the core. But despite the growing despair that her once-happy life is gone forever, Chizuru clings to the growing feelings for one particular man…
Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms is a direct sequel to Kyoto Winds, which I reviewed here. I will try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but some things are unavoidable considering this is the second half of the story. It picks up right after the end of Kyoto Winds.
As a reminder, my shorthand for this review:
Most romance-heavy visual novels fall into one of two categories. One group tells their story via branching paths, where player decisions ultimately drive the protagonist close to one particular individual. The other option is where the player picks a dateable character right from the beginning and then sees the events of the story with them by the protagonist’s side. Kyoto Winds is Type A; Edo Blossoms is Type B. This makes sense story-wise as, after over three years, Chizuru has found someone with whom she shares a strong connection.
Gameplay-wise, it has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, this means that playing different routes isn’t a series of the exact same events broken up by occasional new interactions. Here, while many events are repeated, the scenes are not exactly the same. So even though Kondou’s big announcement happens in most routes (and the same individuals are unhappy each time), dialogue is altered depending on the route. In addition, while Kyoto Winds ends essentially the same way, the biggest threat to Chizuru is often different. This makes each route feel much fresher than in its predecessor. On the downside, Edo Blossoms‘ feels less like a choose-your-own adventure than Kyoto Winds and more of a direct choose A for happily-ever-after and B/C for unhappily-ever after. Of course, we can’t forget everyone’s favorite decision that comes up all the time:
For most routes, you have two gauges to monitor: Romance and Corruption. Make decisions, and these are affected along with some altered scenes. Then, at certain points, you may get a Game Over, but otherwise, you can continue until you get one of the three types of main endings. The game has a ton of endings (over 30, which you’ll need to find to get all the Trophies or Achievements), and thanks to the improved Record of Service, it’s much easier to see them all.
So, moving on to the story. Right away, Edo Blossoms suffers from the similar disappointment of only being half of a journey. If you haven’t picked up (or just haven’t got around to) Kyoto Winds yet, I highly recommend doing one route in Kyoto Winds, then firing up Edo Blossoms and finishing his story. In all the other versions of Hakuoki, it was wonderful to see how Chizuru and her lover have changed over the years, how they’ve grown closer. It was like an dramatic and romantic adventure story with a solid pay-off. Even with the additional scenes and the more romance-heavy implications, Edo Blossoms loses a lot of that impact. Instead of seeing them go from acquaintances to friends to lovers, we only see them switching from friends to lovers — and even in some routes, from unofficial couple to official couple. Plaything through both games at once is the best way to play.
Speaking of the story, let’s start off with the Newbies. Initially, I wasn’t too impressed with the fact three new guys were added. This isn’t a fighting game where you can just add new characters. I was afraid the three were going to be forced into the story. If anything, it would be more logical to me to turn the remaining Shinsengumi captains into love interests, as the original game only showed six of the ten. Well, a few of those blank spots have been filled in, but I still feel like not even mentioning the Fourth and Seventh Divisions is a big hole in the Hakuoki mythos. On the bright side, the Hakuoki remakes provide a lot more information on Demons, a welcome addition to a major aspect of the story.
Anyway, I still can’t say the Newbies still don’t feel like they’re forced in at points, but I can understand why these historical figures were added to the remake. In some way or another, the Newbies kind of turn the usual Hakuoki pattern flat on its head. Iba chimes in with a little bit of information about what other shogunate officials are thinking. Souma shows a little more of the war. Sakamoto reminds viewers of some of the dreams of the pro-Imperial forces. Iba’s and Sakamoto’s routes loosen up some of the normal romantic restrictions of the story, as they both can escort Chizuru away from the Shinsengumi’s headquarters and treat her as a girl. Souma I felt like was a Kondou fanboy (Okita) crossed with Saitou/Yamazaki’s businesslike attitude while also serving as the traditional harem kouhai/younger boy, but he really grew on me. (But dear God, make sure you turn your volume down at points. Kaji screams are no joke.) He also gets the most out-of-place moment in the game. Sakamoto I think will turn out to be surprisingly popular with his open desire to pursue Chizuru. And yes, even his comments which may or may not be serious.
Unfortunately, the Juniors, despite being returning characters, don’t get quite the care and attention I wanted. The creators didn’t add new characters to serve as their main opponents unlike with the Newbies, but they also don’t have strong opposites and/or allies with Shiranui and the others. It doesn’t help that a lot of the rival relationships are either non-existent or dime store knock-offs of the Classics. Amagiri and another certain Demon feel like particular favorites of the developers. The Demons are too important of characters not to keep reusing, but the interactions just aren’t as strong as they were with the Classics. Sanan’s route is much in line with his personality, but I was disappointed by Nagakura’s route. I expected he’d have more interactions with Harada like he does with Harada’s route, especially since the red-haired man’s smoothness with the ladies is contrasted with Nagakura’s denseness several times in the Hakuoki universe.
Both groups still feel like steps down compared to the Classics, particularly the three major routes of Hijikata, Okita, and Saitou. Some guys don’t even get nine different images while some of the Classics get almost double.
Regardless, on the surface, the only Classic who seems significantly different is Kazama. In the original Hakuoki, his story was nearly non-existent until the fandisk (aka Stories section in Stories of the Shinsengumi). His story is reworked (although still partially inspired by the fandisk), and now, wow, I’m a Kazama fan. It flows so smoothly and gives him a lot of depth.
The others also have various changes, some easy to identify, some subtle. In Harada’s route, for instance, there was a point where he avoided talking to Chizuru. Despite his reasons, with his friendly attitude, it was hardly his best moment. Edo Blossoms alters this sequence to them being interrupted, that he doesn’t realize how desperate Chizuru is to talk to him. It doesn’t feel forced either, as the Shinsengumi has just suffered some major setbacks. I could cover a couple of other examples, but it’s more fun to compare for yourself. I’ve played through Hakuoki several times, and there were several moments that surprised me (in a good way). Okita’s route has always been my favorite, and dang, does he still the spotlight again. Not every change or rerecorded performance was for the better in my opinion, but there is little doubt that the remakes are the best versions of their routes. (They also get some new CGs to boot.)
However, I was immensely disappointed that another part of the fandisk was skipped in Edo Blossoms. The Classics each get an epilogue moment and a final CG in Stories, but only Kazama’s is included. That means that Saitou’s epic adorkableness in his final Memories of Love — not to mention the others’ cuteness — are MIA. Even if the events don’t fit perfectly in this new timeline, they could have made it work. We already missed Saitou’s epic ronin takedown in Shinsengumi Adventures (not to mention Yamazaki going full-on ninja), but now this? Along with some of the other content in the game and available as DLC, Edo Blossoms doesn’t fully replace Stories of the Shinsengumi, even moreseo since you don’t have to play through the main game if you want to see many of the extras.
Regardless, though, as I’ve said before, with 12 options, players are likely to find a couple of routes they really enjoy. The teasing killer, the ninja, a route with a Demon’s arm — something has got to stick out to players. In fact, it’s easy to see why the otome market made this game a bestseller. Hakuoki is a wonderful blend of the historical and the supernatural, and it can get surprisingly dark and depressing.
The graphics update thanks to the Vita also can make some scenes feel like bloodfests, and some of the guys have a sprite where they’re covered in blood. Even the fight scenes feel more realistic thanks to the colored swordswipes and the eye close-ups. Yes, the goal of the game is to get a happily-ever-after, but Chizuru and her lover have to go through many life-or-death situations to get there, and it actually looks like it thanks to all the enhancements.
Also, the men’s revised uniforms are much nicer here than in previous incarnations. Chizuru’s name being voiced is even more welcome here than in Kyoto Winds thanks to the guys’ changing feelings. Some of the new CGs reminded me of this review from Hinano, as sometimes I wondered if Chizuru’s face was off-limits to the artists. There were other things that bothered me like opening a chapter with one month, having some narration about what happened, and then actually picking up the story in the next month. Why couldn’t Chizuru just say, “In the past month, this and this happened!”? A few other cases I’m not sure if they were mistranslations or just flaws in the original game. No whistle sounds like a snap, and while Chizuru says she’s pinned to the floor in one route, the matching image looks like a wall even if you turn your head sideways.
I’m not going to go in depth, as I’ve covered much of this before.
- Still influenced by the original translation, although less so. No doubt some people will like the old way certain lines were localized.
- Most incorrect uses of people using Chizuru’s name before they are addressing her familiarly have been corrected.
- Yes, some typos, but less so than some other error-filled otome games. Although at least one case of copying the incorrect line.
- Other things are mistranslated or can be construed wrong. Example: “Just drop it” makes Chizuru feel like she can talk. Huh? The original Japanese would be something like, “Tell me what you’re thinking.” Another instance where it says they have decided, but they hadn’t decided yet.
- Sometimes the dialogue seems randomly formal. “Days in Edo were oft stretched into tedium.”
- Hard to always avoid in a translation, but Chizuru is unfamiliar with certain English words or Western concepts, yet the game uses them. For instance, she didn’t know what a honeymoon was until Sakamoto’s route in Kyoto Winds. Here in one route she’s teased about it. Original Japanese is 新婚, newlywed, so slightly different.
- Speaking of different, dialogue still often punched up. Some English text is too long for the amount of dialogue spoken.
- Some options are more vague in the English. “I’ll do whatever it takes” and “I’ll do whatever I can” aren’t that much different in English, but the Japanese versions of “I’ll do anything [I need to]” and “Even so, I’d like to talk” are clearer.
tl;dr One of the better otome translations as of late.
As I’ve said before, Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms should be played in conjunction with Kyoto Winds. However, Stories of the Shinsengumi still has some great exclusives, so if you can get ahold of the PS3 version, you can still get some extra treats. Otherwise, unless the 2-in-1 PS4 port Fuukaden comes West, the two Vita/PC collections are the best way to relive the Bakumatsu and early Meiji years through Chizuru’s eyes. Because this statement is so true:
Also, one other thing to mention: certain parts of the game directly reference the as-yet-untranslated Hakuoki: Reimeiroku game. You may also know these references thanks to the Hakuoki anime, but Edo Blossoms does drop a few Easter eggs. If you are interested, bug Idea Factory International, but remember Reimeiroku is not an otome game but a general visual novel.
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Thirty endings? Wow, that’s a lot. Most of the VNs I have played only have a handful of finales. Adding new characters does sound like a fighting game. Here comes a new challenger… for Chizuru’s heart.
Well, a lot of endings are just, “I was watching something happen, oh, why is… everything… going… dark…” The End. She may have a lot of suitors, but she isn’t the luckiest heroine around.