Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi
Release Date: September 19, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Aksys Games (Idea Factory)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for 17+
Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is the 3DS port of the PSP game of the same name from Idea Factory and Aksys Games. An Otome (dating Sim) in visual novel form. It is the most recent release in the Hakouki series of Otome games and anime series dating back to the PS2. As an Otome, it very much geared towards female players, and as a visual novel it’s more about reading than playing. Don’t let that scare you off however, because despite it’s extremely narrow target audience, there is a lot more beneath the surface than you might expect.
Love in the time of Samurai and Demons.
Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is set in ancient Japan against a backdrop of political upheaval. You play as a young girl who travels to Kyoto to try and find her father who stopped communicating with her some time ago. After an encounter with a couple of Ronin, and then a group of demons, shenanigans and adventure ensue. I’ll refrain from going into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but the story is pretty good.
In fact for a game who’s goal is ostensibly to choose the dreamiest samurai and make him fall in love with you, Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is shockingly dark and compelling. There are demons, and genetically engineered vampire super soldiers, political intrigue, mystery, and devastating warfare. The story is completely at odds with the underlying mechanics of the game.
Graphically, Hakuōki: Memories of the Shinsengumi honestly doesn’t have much to offer. Its predominantly still images of serviceable but slightly dull artwork. The characters are well done enough, but backgrounds are re-used far too often. Still, for the purpose they get the job done. The 3D effects are actually pretty nice, considering its all still images. The is subtle, but just enough to give the otherwise plain artwork some pop. I actually spent more time with the 3D turned on in Hakuōki than in probably any other 3DS game I’ve played.
It is much the same in the sound department. Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi doesn’t really feature much of anything in sound effects, and the voice acting is all in Japanese. The voice work is very well done and leaving it in Japanese does help keep the authentic mood of the game quite nicely. Musically there isn’t much to talk about, the soundtrack is mostly mellow, classic Japanese music that sort of disappears after a while. Again, while not outstanding, the music does its job of maintaining the feel of the game and not standing out as a destruction to your reading. It tends to be rather relaxing in fact which is great for just sitting back and falling into the story, but don’t expect any outstanding, memorable scores here.
Turn the page
Which is a good thing, because reading is basically the only thing you will do. Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is a visual novel, so if you are familiar with the genre you know what you are getting into. If not, then just think of the game as a “choose your own adventure” style e-book with your 3DS taking the place of a Kindle. Every so often you will be asked to make a choice, based around which character you want to end up with at the end of the story. This is probably the game’s biggest single flaw as these choices don’t occur nearly often enough. For the most part you just sit there wearing out your “A” button for hours. There are several endings for some replay value, but unfortunately it feels like it takes almost half the game before you see any effect from your decisions, so it may take some concerted effort to sit through the opening chapters again to see the other endings.
Since it is a visual novel, the story is really the most important part of the game, and on this front Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi does not disappoint. The localization to English is utterly flawless, huge kudos to Aksys for translating so much text so perfectly. The game does tend to get dragged down into some excessive detail about minor things, and some of the dialogue is rather awkward, but the bigger picture is what really matters here.
The story of a young girl, who secretly has Wolverine-style healing abilities, disguising herself as a boy and taking off across Japan to find her lost father winds up being a lot better than I ever expected from this game. After being chased down by some Ronin, and then beset upon by some sort of Vampire demons, you soon find yourself living amongst a feared group of Samurai called the Shinsengumi, and who also seem to be intimately familiar with the aforementioned demons. Throughout the story, Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi will delve into everything from Japanese Imperial politics, to the morality of genetic engineering. For a game that’s supposed to be about you trying to hook up with the cutest samurai, I couldn’t believe how dark the story was, and how much I wanted to find out what was going to happen next. It’s almost disconcerting when the game reminds you that you’re supposed to be falling in love with one of these guys.
Unfortunately things start off really slow, I mean really, really slow, so it’s hard to get into at first. It takes a while for the plot to really grab hold and start to go anywhere, but once it picks up the pace, it gets to be rather entertaining. I should note that I did a terrible job and got the “worst” ending, because I wasn’t actually trying to chase after a guy, but rather I kept doing what seemed the most rational choice for any given situation. Don’t do that, it doesn’t end well.
Ultimately Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is a difficult game to recommend to anyone not already a fan of the genre because it starts off so slow, offers essentially zero gameplay in the traditional sense, and while there is replayability, you need to get halfway through the game before anything really changes.. That being said, for fans of the visual novels it does a pretty solid job. I found the story rather enjoyable, even though it tends to get a bit bogged down in the minutia of how dreamy so-and-so’s eyes are, but it is a dating sim after all. So long as you know the kind of niche game this is, and are fully aware of what you are getting into with it, Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is great at what it does.