If you’re a fan of otome games then you will have definitely come across Hakuoki at some point. Perhaps you’re not much of a gamer and simply enjoy the odd shoujo title; chances are you still will have come across Hakuoki! Having its own anime and film, Hakuoki is also playable as a game on the PlayStation 2, 3, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, and, after a successful launch by Anime Limited on March 31st 2015, Android and iOS! As one of the most popular otome games in Japan, it’s perhaps not surprising that the title is now available in Europe and North America as an app. Released by Idea Factory and licensed and published by Gloczus, the app comes in both Premium and Standard Edition, with the prologue being absolutely free! This mean there’s no excuse not to give this game a try! Likewise fans who have already played Hakuoki on their consoles should not be discouraged at the idea of replaying old content, because this app has some brand new goodies exclusive to the Android and iOS!
So exactly what is Hakuoki? Before the anime and film, Hakuoki was originally an otome game. An otome game is primarily aimed at a female audience and stars a female heroine. Gameplay usually involves the player romancing a number of eligible bachelors with the aim of winning their hearts at the end. Otome games tend to come in the form of visual novels (similar to an interactive storybook with anime graphics) or simulation games, and are most popular in Japan.
The Hakuoki app is no exception and comes in the form of a visual novel. The game is set during the final years of Japan’s Edo period and features a young heroine named Chizuru Yukimura (first name can be changed in-game). She travels to Kyoto in search of her father, Kodo. Once there however, she is attacked by strange, bloodthirsty beings with white hair and red eyes. She is saved (more or less) by men from the Shinsengumi, a group historically represented as the last to uphold an honour-bound samurai culture. It turns out the Shinsengumi are also looking for Kodo due to his very specific medical knowledge, and so Yukimura is quickly put under their protection while they search for the good doctor. War, bloodshed and deceit are suddenly matched with passion, hope, and even the supernatural. With a mystery surrounding Yukimura’s family and a dark secret being kept by the Shinsengumi, Hakuoki keeps players on their toes as they immerse themselves in a story rich with history and romance.
Chizuru Yukimura is a sweet, kind-hearted young girl who always tries her best. She strives to be helpful to the Shinsengumi and admires their strong sense of honour and responsibility. She’s innocent, very polite and quite shy, which can lead to her fumbling over her words, especially when one of the handsome Shinsengumi men are involved! She is overall a very pleasant character, although I do think there were some missed opportunities that could have made her a much more interesting and likable heroine. Without spoiling too much, Yukimura is gifted with certain abilities which, among other things, include super speed and strength. With such amazing abilities you would expect Yukimura to actually use them and possibly kick some ass, but this is rarely the case. It also leads to some inconsistences, with Yukimura at one point being able to dodge a bullet shot point-blank at her head but not the swing of a sword from a charging rōnin. Likewise she is at one point complimented for her skill with a sword and in the next breath described as not knowing ‘which is the pointy end’. I’m not criticising her character for being vulnerable, but I do wish such unique character traits could have been put to better use.
Nicknamed ‘the demon’, Toshizo Hijikata commands the Shinsengumi with an iron fist. He has a gruff attitude and strictly upholds the rules and regulations of the group. He is a fierce warrior who values the lives of his men and, behind that cool calculating mask, worries over the safety of his friends and comrades. He is a kind and honourable man at heart, although he has to deal with a lot of ‘dirty jobs’. Highly skilled with a blade, he readily charges into battle and does everything he can to bring glory to the name ‘Shinsengumi’.
Souji Okita is Captain of the Shinsengumi’s 1st Division and likes to take life somewhat half-heartedly. His favourite pastime is to poke fun at the heroine, his favourite phrase being ‘I’ll kill you’ if Yukimura steps out of line. His jokes are a little dark at times, but in reality Okita is very fond of the heroine. He is extremely loyal to the Shinsengumi and has some childish tendencies, including a love for sweets!
Hajime Saito is Captain of the Shinsengumi’s 3rd Division. Possibly the most gifted swordsman out of all the Shinsengumi, his strength struggled to be recognised by society due to the stigma he received for being left-handed. He is a deep thinker, and what may come across as a cold personality is actually Saito struggling with social skills. He is quiet and only speaks when necessary, rarely speaking more than a few words at a time. He doesn’t smile often, but he has a good heart deep down and is very loyal to the Shinsengumi.
Heisuke Toudou is Captain of the Shinsengumi’s 8th Division. He is the youngest Captain of the Shinsengumi and arguably the most bubbly. He has a lot of energy and always has a smile on his face. He quickly becomes smitten with the heroine and tries his best to protect her. His reasons for joining the Shinsengumi may differ from the other Captains, but ultimately he is loyal to the organisation and the friends he made there.
Sanosuke Harada is Captain of the Shinsengumi’s 10th Division. Although the other Captains weapon of choice is a sword, Harada chooses to arm himself with a spear. He’s a bit of a ladies man who secretly dreams of a quiet life. He has a strong bond with Shinpachi Nagakura, another Captain of the Shinsengumi but who does not have a playable route.
Chikage Kazama is the only romanceable bachelor that isn’t part of the Shinsengumi. Mysterious and extremely strong, he instead works alongside the Satsuma Domain. He’s arrogant and very set in his ways. He has a keen interest in Yukimura and doesn’t take no for an answer.
Samurai and Sakura
Although romance is a key feature in this game, equally as important is history. The game is inspired by the final years of Japan’s Edo Period, or more accurately, Japan’s transition period from sword-wielding samurai to guns and Western battle tactics. At the time the Shogunate, who had held power in Japan for more than 200 years, was challenged by the imperial court. Hakuoki follows the Shinsengumi, Shogunate, Aizu, Satsuma and many other domains during this period which contained a sense of loss through progression. Although you have to take the story with a pinch of salt (not everything that happens in Hakuoki is a historical fact), one of its main aims is to deliver something of a history lesson in a fun and creative way.
We don’t all buy otome games for their historic elements, of course. Exactly how does the romance fair in this visual novel? Well it doesn’t have the most romantic of starts, with Yukimura being forced to dress as a boy and then meeting the Shinsengumi with a sword at her throat. Indeed, the first conversation she has with these powerful men is about whether or not they should kill her. Love might not be in the air, but action definitely is!
That’s not to say that Hakuoki doesn’t have its heart fluttering moments. Some shy glances, suggestive smiles, passionate embraces,
suggestive blood sucking and kisses are assured in every character route. For the more M rated player I have to say that there isn’t much in relation to… eh, mature content, but there are times in which the game hints to some fun between the sheets off camera. A couple of lines about touching or a CG with the happy couple holding a baby is as far as these hints go however, and they won’t appear in every character route. Although the game doesn’t have an adult rating, that doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy the game! This smut-free otome game is sure to leave you with a giddy blush on your face regardless!
The Beauty of a Geisha
Without going into a deep analysis of the art style image-by-image (which I could very well do, but I will save you pain of reading a review with an excessively long word count), I can still tell you that art in Hakuoki is gorgeous. The amount of detail placed into every image is amazing. You can see those bits of cloth torn from that man’s scarf as they get carried by the wind, the fang poking from his wild grin, the rippling of scars and muscles through his long-sleeved gloves. Lightening has been enhanced to create drama, to highlight the ferocity of a duel by having moonlight shimmer on a pistol’s barrel and gleam on the tip of a spear’s blade.
Colour has also been used to its utmost effect. Dark, rich tones have been used to signify those more passionate of moments, with the tiniest of changes in skin tone to signal a blush. The perspectives of images have also been well thought-out, with pictures ranging from panels and scenery to close-ups and long shots. Indeed the following close-up of hands being gripped connotes of the intimate actions the game can only hint at, and the clear focus on the red ties against their hands connotes the romanticism of the red string of fate.
Mechanics, Audio and Gameplay
Converting the game to the iOS and Android has done nothing to dampen the gameplay. The controls are simple and easy to use, with a simple swipe to the right progressing the story and a brief touch of two fingertips bringing up the menu. There are a maximum of twelve save slots and one auto save slot, meaning there is plenty of room available to switch between character routes and replay chapters.
A notable mechanic in the game is the Encyclopaedia. The Encyclopaedia collects and stores names, terms, titles and events as you play through the game. You can then access these terms either in-game or from the start-up menu, and read a short explanation on what that particular term means. This option is very handy, not to mention informative, for those wanting to know more about Japan and its history.
The game is fully voiced in Japanese, including all new content written specifically for the app. The voice acting is excellent, although I must admit I had trouble hearing what was said due to the high volume of the BGM, despite fiddling with the audio settings. If you’ve already heard the opening song to Hakuoki, Shiroki Chikai by Yoshioka Aika, then you should also be well aware of the game’s beautiful music quality.
iOS and Android Bonuses!
There are certain bonuses only available to the Hakuoki app. Unlike other versions of the game, the app contains a ‘Special Episode’ that was especially made for the Android and iOS. Hakuoki also includes a bonus ‘Characters Episode’ section.
Special Episode “Tea Ceremony Event” – The Shinsengumi chief, Kondou, gives you his invitation to attend a special tea ceremony event where you are expected to give feedback on the owner’s new sweets. Kondou doesn’t want you going on your own however (Kyoto is a dangerous place!), and so asks that you bring one of the Shinsengumi men with you. The situation makes for a perfect date-like scenario for you and your chosen bachelor! It’s impossible to get a bad ending as there are no text choices past who you want to choose to go to the tea ceremony with. Completing the Special Episode also gives you a brand new CG for each character! Enjoy this cute, albeit short, event with your lucky husbando!
Characters Episode – Character Episodes give you the fantastic opportunity to experience the game from a bachelor’s perspective. You’re only allowed a snippet, but you gain a huge amount of insight as to what the bachelors are thinking and feeling, especially in regards to Yukimura. It’s set out slightly differently from the rest of the visual novel, with text scrolling across the entire screen and a decorative character image used as the background. Just like with the Special Episode, completing each Characters Episode gives you a brand new CG!
So… Should I Buy the App?
Yes! This is a lovely otome game that holds great appeal for the history seeker, supernatural hunter and the romanticist! With new content especially created for the Android and iOS, fans old and new will find themselves enjoying Hakuoki. The Premium Edition can be purchased for £20.99 and the Standard Edition can be downloaded for free. The Standard Edition is not a freemium app (thank goodness), and so each chapter, not including the prologue, can be purchased for a small fee per chapter. As the Premium Edition works out cheaper overall and allows you to play the new content straight away however, I would recommend purchasing the Premium Edition. If you are unsure about whether this app is for you, then I would definitely urge you to play the prologue!
Enjoy your adventure with the Shinsengumi, otome fans!
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