Title: Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Aksys (Idea Factory)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, and Violence
We’ve followed alongside and fallen in love with the men of the Shinsengumi twice before. For the third time, Aksys is taking a chance on Hakuoki, with Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi . Some may be wondering if it’s worth the effort, since the base visual novel portion remains practically unchanged. Their questioning is sound, yet I think it was worth revisiting the series again. With Stories of the Shinsengumi, we finally have the complete version of the game, and can (hopefully) move on to another otome visual novel with no regrets.
A Kyoto Fairytale
In case you haven’t been following along with the Hakuoki news and were puzzled by the world otome up there, here’s a quick recap. It’s a visual novel, but is also a dating game created with a female audience in mind. Players step into the shoes of Chizuru Yukimura, who comes to Kyoto in search of her missing father. She comes disguised as a man, as it’s dangerous for a woman to travel alone in that period of time.
Her first night in town, she’s attacked by otherworldly creatures known as Rasetsu. Think of them as humans with a demonic, vampire curse and uncontrollable bloodlust. These particular monsters are dressed in the garb of the Shinsengumi. She’s rescued by other, more normal members of the Shinsengumi, and brought to their compound because now she knows too much.
Fortunately, the Shinsengumi are also looking for her father, who happens to be a famous doctor. She teams up with the group, and their stories become one. It’s a historical drama with supernatural elements, not to mention a little romance since Chizuru can get together with Hijikata, Okita, Saito, Harada, Toudou, and Kazama.
Unlock and Love Them All
Given that this is the third iteration of Hakuoki to reach our shores, there are certain aspects that remain unchanged. Which isn’t bad, because the things that remain the same – the incredible story, Aksys’ fantastic localization, the gorgeous character designs, and the amazing voice acting – remain as wonderful now as they did in Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom and Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi.
What is different is the supplemental content. Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi also contains the Zuisouroku fandisk, which means under the Stories section you can see various events and memories that occurred between Chizuru and the other members of the Shinsengumi. It’s a welcome addition because it not only includes new scenes, with choices, for the six bachelors. It also offers a chance to get to know other characters, like Kondo, Nagakura, Yamazaki, and Sanan, better. It’s a welcome bonus, as it actually offers somewhat romantic events with characters the player doesn’t normally have a chance with, like Shinpachi.
However, the Stories section isn’t all perfect. To start, there’s lots of unlocking. Shinsengumi Adventures Part 1 and 2 must be completed to open up the first chapters for each individual character, which is quite chore. I think I would have much preferred the first chapters for all characters (Kazama exempted, since he’s “secret”), rather than play through the Shinsengumi Adventures segments over 20 times to unlock the single stories.
Also,I expected more from the Sweet School Life segments. They way they were discussed and hyped up, I suppose I thought they’d be small, side stories like the ones found in Stories. Instead, they’re unlocked in Ephemera by playing through Stories and making the right decisions, and they’re just brief comics showing what the SSL versions of the characters are like. Which isn’t to say they’re bad. It was quite refreshing after playing through the standard Hakuoki tale for the fifth time. It’s just that it only offered a taste, and now I want more.
The Best Hakuoki – for Real This Time
With each Hakuoki rerelease, it’s often implied that the current version is the best. You know, what with all the additional content. Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi, however, is the first time where I can really say we have the absolute pinnacle of Hakuoki-dom and that Aksys should move on to a new Idea Factory otome series. The full story is in front of us now, complete with side stories following every member of the Shinsengumi. Pick it up, cherish those brave warriors you’ve loved one last time, and join me in hoping that Amnesia, Hiiro no Kakera, Diabolik Lovers, or at least Hakuoki: Sweet School Life will be next.