Game: Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom
Genre: Otome/Visual Novel
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release date: 2012
Please forgive me for being a bit crass, but I consider Aksys' Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom to be the gaming equivalent of "a grower, not a shower." What I mean is that, for me at least, it wasn't all that appealing at first. I think that's because I expected ... well, something other than what greeted me during the first hour or two of my playthrough of this PSP title.
You see, rather than being the kind of action-packed game most of us in the western world are used to playing, Hakuoki is a visual novel. As such, you can expect to spend a lot of time reading text and hitting your PSP's "X" button over and over again in order to advance the game's story--which follows a young woman, Chizuru Yukimura, as she and the Shinsengumi, a group of samurai who protect the citizens of Kyoto, search for Chizuru's missing father during Japan's Bakumatsu period (1853-1867).
Although you spend a lot of time reading while playing Hakuoki, that's not all you do. Sometimes, for instance, you're able to influence the story's direction a la the Choose Your Own Adventure books that many Americans devoured as kids. At the same time, you're able to influence Chizuru's future, as each decision brings her another step closer to (or takes her a step further away from) one of the game's eligible bachelors, romantically speaking.
Sadly, these moments of interactivity are all too rare. Not only that, but they're more than a bit confusing--especially if you're like me and you've never before played a visual novel or otome game--since it's often difficult to decipher how a particular decision is going to alter Chizuru's path. That said, the interactivity, even if it's a bit ham-fisted, is more than welcome amid Hakuoki's endlessly streaming lines of text.
The good news here is that those endlessly streaming lines of text are both well-written and, for the most part, quite engaging and compelling. Similarly compelling are the game's characters, each of whom are imbued with personality, and its graphics, despite the fact that they're static and more than a little repetitive. Although the word repetitive also could be used to describe Hakuoki's soundtrack, it never really becomes grating thanks to its relaxed nature.
Given all of the above, would I recommend Hakuoki to your average PSP owner? Yes, although with a few reservations. In my opinion, this title is most likely to appeal to those who are OK with playing as a girl, who don't mind games that include a dating component, who enjoy a good page-turner and who have at least a smidge of patience.
See also: Previous 'somewhat gay' reviews