Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A somewhat gay review of Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (PSP)

Game: Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom
Genre: Otome/Visual Novel
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
System: PSP
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


Viewtiful_Justin said...

Hm. Although I love your use of "grower, not a shower," I'll skip this one, I think.

warp said...

I have to agree with Justin, I want to like this, but I probably would get bored of it pretty quick. The dating and plot sound interesting, but I need some sort of action or battle system to keep me playing. I was barely even able to make it through the first Phoenix Wright.

Bryan Ochalla said...

Justin: I'd really love to read others' opinions of this game. Although I liked it well enough, I think most NA gamers wouldn't like it -- which makes me wonder why it was localized in the first place. I mean, surely Aksys hoped it would appeal to a wider audience than gals and gay guys who don't mind visual novels?

Regardless, I actually think there's a chance you'd like this game if you gave it a try. The story is compelling enough that I'm currently playing through it for a second time, for instance. Also, everything is a lot less boring than I maybe made it seem in this review.

Bryan Ochalla said...

warp: I think that if this sounds extremely boring, it probably wouldn't be for you. That said, I wasn't all that sure about it myself before I played it, and I ended up quite liking it. I realize, though, that only a certain niche of gamers are really going to enjoy such a title, especially one that costs $29.99.

Milki said...

30 bucks is quite cheap, considering how much had to be translated.. :/

I still haven't gotten the game yet, since it's not playable on the Vita, but I'll definitely get it at some point. Tho I can't stand Chizuru much.. at least in the beginning, she's even more useless than Akane from the first Harukanaru Toki no Naka de. I mean, seriously, Chizuru's trying to pass as a SAMURAI, but freezes whenever someone points a sword at her and everyone else has to save her all the time? That's no heroine to me. :(

Well, that's how 90% of otome heroines are, so yeah, gotta live with it. But at least the trend is going to more independent and strong heroines lately.. :3

Well, before Aksys licensed the game they had a number of polls to ask people's opinions about otoges, so I don't think they just blindly released it, hoping at least someone would buy it. ;) But it surely isn't one of their most profitable titles.. I'm hoping it brings in enough money for them to consider releasing other otoges tho. *_*

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hey there, miruki! Yeah, I really shouldn't have suggested $29.99 is too much. I didn't mean it that way, really -- what I meant was that I think that most people who are on the fence about the game aren't likely to want to spend $29.99 on it. I think some of them would be willing to pull the trigger at, say, $19.99, though.

As for finding Chizuru annoying: I can see that, esp. at the beginning. I really came to like her, though, and all of the other characters, too. Sure, many of them are fairly flat stereotypes, but I still enjoyed them.

Finally, I'm really glad Aksys "took one for the team," so to speak, and released this game. That said, I can't help but question how many copies they expected to sell, as it just doesn't seem like a game that will interest all that many gamers. Like you, though, I hope they sell enough copies of Hakuoki to not only make it worth their while but also to prompt them to release more such games.

Unknown said...

Yay, I was waiting to hear your final thoughts on this! Funnily enough, I actually got my limited edition in the mail the other day (finally).

I think I've iterated this before, but I have to say that though I appreciate the gamble Aksys did by releasing it, Hakuoki remains one of my least favorite otome games (that I've played, of course). I agree that if anyone reads your description and isn't grabbed by that , they probably won't enjoy playing it. I wish more companies would try licensing otome titles, but I'm not sure that's in the cards...

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hey there, Anne! Ah, you went for the LE, huh? What's included with that, anyway? I'm still considering picking up the regular version of this game, despite the fact that I already have a digital copy thanks to the kind folks at Aksys.

I know my review probably seems a bit "ho hum," but in all honesty I enjoyed the game quite a bit. I tried to be honest about its flaws, though--especially since I think they need to be pointed out so people can walk into this game fully aware of what they're getting themselves into.

Anyway, I really wish I could play some of the otome games you've played--the ones you enjoyed more than Hakuoki. I love games that break the mold of what I'm used to experiencing in a game, and this genre definitely fits that description.

Let's hope Hakuoki sells enough to get the folks at Aksys--and at other pubs, too--to give the genre at least one more try :)