Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is the latest instalment in the popular Hakuoki series that needs no introduction in the otome community. Published by Idea Factory International, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is the latest game to join the ranks of the otome genre alongside similar titles like Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ and Amnesia: Memories. As an otome title with its fair share of romance, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a departure from the conventional otome titles on the market with charm and charisma that certainly lives up to the series’ reputation.
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a remastered title of the original Hakuoki series set in Kyoto that takes place in 1863 and near the end of the Bakumatsu period. A lone girl named Chizuru Yukimura searches for her missing father in traveling from Edo to Kyoto. Venturing alone on a dark night, she finds herself in harm’s way when she is attacked by a deadly gang of samurai. On the verge of death, she is unexpectedly saved by the notorious Shinsengumi. As a witness to the deadly encounter, she is forced to live with the men of Shinsengumi who agree to spare her life in exchange for her silence and mutual cooperation. In discovering their dark secrets, she is confronted by a group of men called “Demons” that stands in direct hostility and opposition to the Shinsengumi. Forced to face the dark remnants of her past, she allies with the Shinsengumi in a dangerous era with respect and honor at stake and rapid social change happening in Japan.
Decisions are made throughout the story that determines how you proceed and the relationships you build with certain characters based on your stance and actions. Contrary to other similar titles on the market, you are not tasked with any daily schedule keeping and the choices given to you appear similar but run much deeper beneath the surface. Each Shinsengumi has their own quirks and unique personality but building a rapport, let alone romancing your chosen suitor, is far from easy. Chizuru lives in a time of intense political conflict and the game does not pull any punches when it comes to the violence, tyranny and bloodshed that was prevalent during those years. As there are multiple scenarios and instances to pursue your favorite guy, the choices you have to make can be very vague and confusing with no direct hints to guide your progress. Trial and error may be necessary to date your favorite Shinsengumi as you can miss events entirely based on prior decisions made at key points in the game. Saving at multiple junction points helps to alleviate the guesswork as you try different choices to chase after a separate desired outcome that directly affects the flow of events.
As you acquaint yourself with the Shinsengumi, there is more to them than their initial appearances. Getting to know them, let alone pursuing them romantically, takes much time and effort as they have their guard up around Chizuru. They are skilled and deadly warriors and the way they conduct themselves on the battlefield is quite similar to their real persona. This is not to say that everything is accurate at face value as there are plenty of surprises to be found along the game in the midst of excessive quarrels and fighting. Japanese terms and phrases in dialogue are referenced in the Encyclopedia to provide definitions and minimize confusion. For all the vague hints and obscurity, Hakuoki manages to drop visual effects to indicate that your romance level has increased with your charmed suitor. After completing your first playthrough, the Record of Service is unlocked and gives you freedom to explore any chapter in the game. Furthermore, you can arrange to max out the romance of your favorite Shinsengumi to achieve the desired romantic ending. This is only recommended after players have logged in several hours and have made honest attempts on their own to solve the game without hints or spoilers.
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a remastered title with the visuals received a graphical overhaul from the original title with detailed character art, beautiful background scenery and solid voice acting. The opening and ending themes were composed by Takamitsu Ono, lyrics by Yuriko Mori, arrangement by Chihiro Tamaki and performed by singer, Aika Yoshioka. Much of the polish is visible in the game’s CG artwork that can be browsed at your leisure once they are unlocked in-game. Fans of the Hakuoki series are in for a treat as this game provides more romantic options on top of the original title. A special message from the Executive Producer, Tsunekiyo Fujisawa was posted for Western fans on the main site with a short excerpt: “Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is the rebirth of the Hakuoki series… I truly believe that fans familiar with our previous iterations, and new fans alike, will enjoy our game.”
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is one of the best otome titles on the market with great visuals and a compelling narrative. The game exceeded my expectations with its historical references, intense fighting scenes and romantic relationships. Otome fans searching for a gripping storyline coupled with the challenges of romancing your favorite Shinsengumi warrior will find that and more in Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds. Though the personalities tend to be cliché and a bit stereotypical, this is the definitive version of Hakuoki that long time series fans and newcomers have been waiting for.
PROS (+): Intriguing Plot, Multiple Endings, Beautiful Visuals
CONS (-): Cliché Characters
SCORE – 7.5/10
This review is based on a digital copy of Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds on the PlayStation Vita provided by Idea Factory International.