Hailed as being the first visual novel to be localized for the Playstation 3, Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi brings not one, but two complete titles together in a compilation dedicated to fans of the series. Originally released in Japan back in June 2010 as Hakuoki Junsouroku, this compilation brought together Hakuoki: Shinsengumi Kitan (localized a few years ago as Demon of the Fleeting Blossom) alongside the Zuisouroku compilation disc.
For those that might have played either of the Hakuoki stories (not counting the PSP action title Warriors of the Shinsengumi), much of the story remains the same. The fundamental core story from either the localized PSP or DS games remains fully intact in this PS3 release, with plenty of added content for fans that want to experience the period piece once more. While this now makes it the third time that players can play through the Shinsengumi drama, each release brings new features and Stories of the Shinsengumi is no exception.
The story in Hakuoki places you in the role of one Chizuru Yukimura, a spirited young woman visiting Kyoto in hopes of tracking down her father, a famed doctor. To avoid unwanted attention, she traverses through the streets under the guise of a young man. Soon after her arrival, she bears witness to a gruesome murder at the hands of Shinsengumi officers, the katana-wielding special police of the era, and is taken ‘hostage’ under their command in order to keep her silence. From that point on, the story revolves around her life with the Shinsengumi (whom quickly discover her true identity) while still trying to locate her father and figure out the truths of what happened that night.
While Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi falls under the ‘otome game,’ or ‘girl game’ genre, there’s still enough engaging action to keep any fan interested. In fact, there’s occasionally too much violence that may put off some players, so be forewarned. Hakuoki didn’t receive a Mature rating for nothing. To offset the violence, there’s a fair share of comedic dialogue to break the mood when it feels necessary. The camaraderie between the Shinsengumi officers carries over into unique story events and comedy skits. Many of these skits might not make much sense to an American audience, but Aksys has done a wonderful job translating and localizing while still staying fairly true to the source material.
There are no puzzles to solve in Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi, no cumbersome inventory to manage, no abstract thinking of any nature. Hakuoki strips all of the conventions seen in recent visual novels brought overseas and simplifies it down to the most basic essentials. The whole game plays as a choose-your-own-adventure style experience. Between lengthy dialogues and story set pieces, the player is occasionally tasked with making a choice from a handful of selections. How the story plays out is entirely dependent upon these selections and often can take the story down entirely different tangents. The difference between choosing loyalty to a given samurai or even whether or not to sleep at given points in the story can have drastic repercussions later down the line. So much so, that the latter half of the game is solely dedicated towards progressing down a particular story path after some of these major decisions.
New to the PS3 release of Hakuoki is the addition of a AAS (Active Animation System) system. These effects bring life to the character, stirring them to simulate breathing and nodding. While not the most interesting feature to add in, it certainly adds a bit of life to the characters and helps it stand out as one of the best looking visual novels on the system. One jarring oddity that springs up on particular characters is that as they talk, their lips never meet. To me, it looks just like they’re chattering their teeth in the cold and adds an unneeded level of humor to the dialogue. For those that prefer static portraits like in most other visual novels, there are a bevvy of options to toggle on and off to customize the experience to your own liking.
If you’re interested getting a little more customization in their Hakuoki experience, there’s a large number of DLC costumes available for sale although they’re purely cosmetic. On the other hand, a number of side stories are also locked behind the DLC paywall although you’ll quickly know whether or not these stories are worth exploring more of the Hakuoki mythos for.
Also included is the Hakuoki: Zuisouroku fan disc, previously only available in Japan. This compilation brings forth new short stories for the six main male leads, in addition to stories for Shinpachi, Yamazaki, Sannan, and Kondou. Perhaps the most intriguing addition is the SSL side story, or Sweet School Life. In this, the main protagonists of Hakuoki are all transported into a high school setting, complete with all of the usual tropes one would expect from an anime in the same setting.
Overall, Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi feels very much like a solid, cohesive package. The new visual effects and touches to the story help make this the best looking rendition of the Hakuoki: Shinsengumi Kitan story. Better yet, all of the new fan service included helps to give both veteran Hakuoki players and newcomers to the visual novel content plenty to discover once the end credits roll. Even if you’ve already played the original story to completion, chances are there’s something here to make you want to come back for more.
[Editor’s Note: Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi was reviewed on Playstation 3. Review code was supplied to us by the publisher.]Hakuoki: Stories Of The Shinsengumi (PS3) Review,