Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is an otome visual novel from Design Factory that mixes historical fiction with romance. This is an enhanced port of the original Hakuoki story with fancy visuals and additional routes. I have never played it before, but I have heard great things. As of this writing, it is the highest ranking otome title on VNDB. After seeing the acclaim and enjoying other Otomate brand games, I was looking forward to giving this one a try.
*Review code provided by the incredible folks at Idea Factory International.
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds tells the tale of a young woman from the Yukimura clan. The story begins when she arrives in Kyoto in search of her father. However, while looking for a place to stay, she witnesses something she should not have. To protect their secrets, the Shinsengumi take her in to determine how much she knows. As fate would have it, it turns out they also happen to be searching for the protagonist’s father. Eventually, an agreement is made: the protagonist will live under the watchful eyes of the Shinsengumi and help them find the elusive doctor.
The story mostly focuses on action and political intrigue based on actual history. The visual novel covers the interesting period of time in which firearms were making swordsmen obsolete. At the start of the story, the Shinsengumi are a group of ronin who dream of becoming proper samurai. Through hard work, they slowly attain the status they desired for so long only for the worth of that position to come into question. Additionally, this tale also has a unique supernatural element to it which helps make the fights more dramatic. The good endings bring the story to an abrupt end, though. All story lines end with preparations for an upcoming conflict while nothing actually gets resolved. The bad endings may involve death or abandonment, but at least there is a clear conclusion.
Throughout the story’s 12 routes, the protagonist grows close to various male characters. These men all vow to protect her even if it costs their life, but physical contact is rare and few express romantic intentions. Many of these relationships could easily be platonic love, and no romance goes farther than a kiss on the forehead. This lack of romance makes the story easier to get into for those that do not want it, but it can be disappointing for those who do.
For the most part, the story’s tone is fairly serious, though there are a few gags here and there. This game has a relatively large cast and each of the primary characters have their own charming qualities. Readers will likely find someone they will want to spend their time with between battles. However, while the Shinsengumi are skilled warriors who are often victorious, their tale is not entirely a happy one. The affection players develop towards the cast makes it hurt that much more when tragedy inevitable strikes.
There are quite a few typos in this text. Issues include missing words, incorrect homonyms, doubled text, misplaced punctuation, and so much more. Thankfully, these are minor issues and the story is still understandable with context. However, these mistakes were rather distracting. During a somber scene, a character is described as waivering instead of wavering, and I could not help but stop and imagine would that might look like. Naturally, this ruined the mood. As the game is not officially out yet, there is a chance a day one patch will fix this. Still, these problems affected my impression of the game, so I am making a note of it.
[UPDATE: There was no day one patch and typos remained in place at launch.]
While Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a remake of a PSP title, it looks pretty good. I did not see any noticeable artifacting or other issues that sometimes pop up in ports. Characters blink intermittently while on-screen and their lips move in time with their dialogue. There are not many visual effects present, but the ones that are function well enough. There are multiple layers to the falling snow and certain flakes will disappear behind sprites.
This visual novel has quite a few characters. In addition to the main 12 who have their own routes, many other prominent people have their own sprites. Despite the large quantity, they all manage to look distinct.
During serious scenes, the music in Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds does a great job of setting the mood. Whether through dramatic drumming, dissonant chords on a piano, or full orchestral pieces, the soundtrack successfully creates tense atmospheres. These tracks also manage to avoid standing out too much and drawing attention away from the story. When a scene does not require such tension, the songs remain innocuous and feature pleasant yet forgettable melodies. This is not a soundtrack that I would listen to for entertainment, but it works well for its game.
While the protagonist has plenty of lines, her dialogue is silent. Aside from this exception, every character is fully voiced. This voice acting is not bad, but it is not particularly impressive either. Should the player choose to keep the protagonist’s default name, the cast will use it where appropriate.
As Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a visual novel, players will be reading for most of their time with the title. The primary method of interaction aside from advancing text comes in the form of dialogue options. Most of these choices lead to entirely different scenes rather than just a few alternate lines of text. However, outcomes related to the overall plot remain the same no matter what the player picks.
Choices made by the player can also increase the affection various men have for the protagonist. Certain scenes throughout the story will only appear if the corresponding bachelor loves the protagonist enough. There are 12 men to pursue and each has their own ending chapter. Affection levels determine who the protagonist follows at the end as well as which ending the reader gets for that route.
This visual novel has a few tools to help those who want to experience all of its content. When accessing the text log, players can rewind which makes it easy to see all outcomes of each branching point. There is also a chapter select that includes a function for manipulating affection values. This is great for seeing those scenes that only appear under specific circumstances. However, a few scenes can be difficult to find.
Other common mechanics such as auto-forward, text skip, and save anywhere systems are present here. This title also allows players to control the game entirely via touch controls. For those who prefer buttons, it lets you reconfigure them all. These features are hardly thrilling, but it is much better to have them than not.
For those who are into tales of samurai and Japanese history, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds seems like a fairly decent visual novel. The music and supernatural elements make for some heart-pounding scenes. However, the romance is unlikely to have the same effect. Still, by keeping the intimacy to a minimum, the story remains accessible to a wide audience. This visual novel happens to have some nifty features for efficiently viewing all content, which is rather nice. The historical setting and plot also happen to be rather interesting. I would not recommend this title to everyone, but those who are interested in the concept will likely enjoy it.