Visual novel fans are no stranger to the Hakuoki series. The series began in 2008, although wouldn’t come west until 2012, and has since spread across multiple platforms and genres, proving that fans can’t get enough Shinsengumi in their life. Now, Idea Factory International brings us Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds, an enhanced port of the first part of the original Hakuoki story.
As a minor note: this will be my first otome review, a genre of visual novels targeted towards females. Being one of the biggest visual novel fans on staff, I jumped at the opportunity to make Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds my first and at the same time learn about what makes the Shinsengumi boys so likable to otome fans.
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is set in 1860’s Japan, you assume the roll of a young woman, named Chizuru Yukimura, who is on a mission to find her missing father. She finds herself traveling to Kyoto where her situation takes a turn from bad to worse. Chizuru comes face to face with vampires and must rely on the protection of the well known Shinsengumi samurai to get out alive.
Over the story, the player will get to know more about each of the 12 members of the Shinsengumi. I’ve found them all to have likable as well as dis-likable traits, but I feel that players can easily find their favorite; mine is Ryouma Sakamoto because we share similar dating tactics, which might not be such a good thing to admit.
Throughout the game, I learned more and more about the Shinsengumi and what their purpose as samurai are. For those who don’t know, the bachelor characters in the game are based off of real life people in Japanese history. Although the addition of vampires isn’t real, the game’s story has a steady balance of actual lore and super natural cushion to keep things interesting.
The game has the original Shinsengumi members from the previous release, and adds new datable bachelors as well as original characters to be romanced. During dialog, players will be able to make choices that can alter the story. These choices will determine which of the dozens of endings you’ll get at the end of the visual novel. One playthrough is not enough to get to know all of the Shinsigumi, so I found it best to just focus on the cutest ones and see where they take me.
Surprisingly, with such a large cast of bachelors, I expected at least one of them would be uninteresting or add little to the plot, but this visual novel handles its characters nicely and incorporates them into the story at appropriate times.
So being an otome game, Hakuoki Kyoto Winds does have romancing scenes. To put this into perspective, as the player you are trying to date fictional versions of real life people from Japan’s history. With that said, I found sexualizing pretty boys who have been dead for many years to be quite fun and a valuable history lesson: people in the past needed lovin’ too.
Interestingly, I enjoyed the interaction between characters as they all brought out a different perspective about the Shinsigumi. Some come off naughty and forward (cough Sakamoto cough), but others seem to be really sweet, good guys. As a reader, this made me unsure of the group’s intentions and forced me to judge them on their own merits, instead of as a whole.
After playing multiple storylines and dating multiple men I feel like Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is an extremely well done visual novel. The game’s relationship mechanics give the reader a goal in the back of their minds that forces them to choose the right person for them as the story pushes on.
The decisions the player must make during dialog scenes hold a heavy weight on which bachelor you end up with, but I enjoyed that each choice matters. During the conclusion of the game, it’s evident that this is only half of the story and that could be a problem for some players who have played the previous games, but there is hope for the sequel to be localized.
Being my first otome visual novel, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds has made me a fan of the Hakuoki series. The game handles the large cast of characters wonderfully and allows the story of the Shinsengumi to shine through. For new visual novel fans this is the definitive way to start the Hakuoki series and date the guys that older fans had to wait years for.