Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms review
On Valentine’s Day, 2012, Aksys Games made waves with the release of the popular romance game Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom for the PSP. With an engrossing story set in historical Japan and six handsome male characters to fall in love with, players quickly learned why the series is so beloved among fans of otome games (romantic games aimed at women) in Japan. Since then, several ports with additional content, and even a Dynasty Warriors-style action spinoff game, have also made their way outside of Japan.
Now, Idea Factory International has brought over the latest release in the series, Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms, for PS Vita and Steam. Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms is a direct continuation of 2017’s Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds – together, the pair of games cover the complete story of the original Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, albeit with a few new flourishes. The PSP graphics have received a complete overhaul, and additional story content, CGs, and new character routes have been added, making this the definitive Hakuoki experience.
For the uninitiated, the Hakuoki series centers around a young woman named Chizuru Yukimura, who sets out dressed as a man to find her missing father in Kyoto. She soon finds herself mixed up with the Shinsengumi, a special police force founded to protect members of the shogunate during a period of political turmoil and increased western influence in Japan. The Shinsengumi and its members, all actual historical figures who have been transformed into handsome young men in Hakuoki, are well known to Japanese players, as are some of the historic events represented in the game. To spice things up even more, Hakuoki adds an extra dash of fantasy by way of humans-turned-blood-thirsty monsters called Furies, and Chizuru and her father just may be the key to unlocking their mysteries.
Since Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms continues right where Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds left off, you’re able to select which of the 12 character routes (13, including the protagonist’s story) to play right from the get-go. Though there is a short prologue to refresh players on the events of Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds, it cannot be stressed enough that Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms should not be played until you have completed Kyoto Winds. Those who have played Demon of the Fleeting Blossom will be able to jump in as well, but you’ll miss out on all the added content from Kyoto Winds.
Like Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds, Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms is a romance visual novel that is entirely focused on reading, aside from the occasional text-based choices that determine the direction of the narrative. Choices that raise your affection level with the male character you’re currently pursuing reward you with a visual flourish to let you know you’re headed in the right direction. To see the complete story, it will be necessary to replay routes multiple times, selecting different options for different outcomes. Replaying routes is made easy with quick skip functions. There are also quick save and quick load for redoing choices, should you make the wrong decision or stumble into a bad ending.
The six main members of the Shinsengumi remain the strongest routes of the game, but fans of the original game will enjoy the extended route for Chikage Kazama, as well as new romantic routes for Shinpachi Nagakura, Keisuke Sanan, and Susumu Yamazaki. All new characters for Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds and Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms include Hachiro Iba, Ryouma Sakamoto, and Kazue Souma. While these routes didn’t feel quite as impactful as the original six, I appreciated that they included some entirely new content that hasn’t been in any of the other English Hakuoki games to date.
Overall, Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms was a much more rewarding experience than its predecessor Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds, because it delves deeper into the individual characters’ stories and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion. Each of the 13 routes provide a different perspective on and additional insights into the story, and they’re not so long that it’s a major drag to play through them all.
It’s easy to recommend Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms as the finale of the definitive version of the Hakuoki story. The games stand out as some of the most engrossing otome titles to be released in English so far, and their emphasis on a dark, action-driven plot gives them potential for a broader audience beyond hardcore otome game fans.
However, while the original game has received a significant overhaul for the Kyoto Winds/Edo Blossoms pair of releases, it’s frustrating that two games are required for the complete experience. If there must be two games, I would’ve preferred that they were spit by routes. If each game contained 6-7 complete character routes, you would be able to get a complete story for at least some of the characters without needing to purchase another game immediately.
It’s unfortunate that the barrier of entry for Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms is slightly higher than other otome games currently available in English, but players who commit to purchasing it alongside Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds will be treated with one of the best Japanese otome game experiences currently available.