As a fan of interactive storytelling, it’s been great to see visual novels rise in popularity in North America. One of the biggest success stories in the scene has been the Hakuoki series, which has seen releases on both home consoles and handhelds. Set in 1860s Japan, the visual novel allows players to date several important members of the legendary Shinsengumi. Now the series comes to PlayStation Vita via an enhanced port called Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds that promises more romance options than ever before.
Romance may be a major aspect of Hakuoki, but it shouldn’t be dismissed as all the game has to offer. The story revolves around a young woman named Chizuru Yukimura, who travels to Kyoto in search of her missing father. Things quickly go awry, and after an encounter with some white-haired vampires, she finds herself under the protection of a special Japanese police force that doesn’t have the friendliest reputation with the locals.
That group would of course be the Shinsengumi, and it’s up to players to help the samurai. This is done by making sporadic choices in the story, that’ll drastically change how the story ends up. There’s dozens of different endings, and the cast of characters here is likable enough to where I wanted to see all that the story offered. The dialogue balances dramatic scenes with some great humor. Some of the dialogue doesn’t really make sense coming from the mouth of 1860s samurai, but I guess some logic leaps are needed when vampires are thrown into the mix.
What’s most exciting about Kyoto Winds is that it adds a lot of new romance options into the game. There are six new routes in total, with three of them focusing on existing characters (none of which are Kondou, sadly), while the other options deal with totally new hotties. Notably, one of the new characters ends up being a childhood friend of Chizuru, and this takes the story in a very interesting new direction. Another is one of the most famous historical figures of the era, and is one that fans of Ryū ga Gotoku Ishin! will be glad to see.
Since so many new characters have been introduced to the story, a lot of the existing scenes have been altered to include them. This made the story feel fresh, even though I had played the game previously on Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation 3. In addition to reworking existing events, there’s also a bunch of brand new events that help further flesh out the world, and make the story even stronger.
While the story skips around to important events in Japanese history, it shouldn’t serve as a substitute to an actual history book. Hakuoki plays fast and loose with its history, as it often veers into the territory of unsubstantiated rumors instead of the more widely believed version of events. That’s totally fine, as it helps make the story all the more interesting by the end. So, those that are knowledgeable about the battles will get a kick out of them appearing, but anyone new to Japanese history should probably look up what actually happened in the 1860s afterwards.
My one major beef with Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is that the story just sort of ends before it really gets going. For those that read through the story previously, this version ends after the fourth chapter comes to a close. That means there isn’t any proper conclusion, things barely get steamy with the love interests, and there are way more questions than answers when the credits start rolling.
Idea Factory is asking players to spend $39.99 on just half of the story that was available in prior versions. The new content and romance options certainly helps ease the burn, as I was more invested in the narrative than ever before, but there’s no doubt that this isn’t the most cost effective way to take in the story of Hakuoki. The sequel also doesn’t have a North American release date yet, which means that those who are ready to spend the premium price might have to wait quite some time in order to experience the full story on Vita.
The other elephant in the room is that an upcoming PS4 version of the visual novel will contain both halves in one package. That definitely seems like the optimal way to experience the story (assuming it gets localized), and as long as it isn’t $80, it’ll be cheaper too. So, know that if you’re not in a rush that there’ll be an even better version of the game coming sooner rather than later. It’s unfortunate for the game to be released with such a cloud over its head, but this is what happens when companies get iteration happy.
If you’ve got money to spend, and don’t mind waiting for any sort of conclusion, then Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is the best way to experience the first half of Idea Factory’s visual novel. The new scenes help to flesh out the existing stories, and the additional characters help make a familiar story feel new again. It’s a shame that all the hard work gets marred by splitting the story into two games, but it’s still a very enjoyable read.
Review code for Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds provided by the publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation Vita. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.