|Title: Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Idea Factory
Console: Nintendo 3DS
Release: Sep 19, 2013
Genre: Visual Novel / Otome
When I first started Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi, I was excited to see what a different style of otome novel would have to offer me. I should state here and now that I have not played any of the other games in this series. This was my first experience with this story as well as my first play through of a visual novel on the Nintendo 3DS. About five minutes in I realized that this was going to be a very in-depth story that would demand my full attention. That is something that very few activities actually manage to get, so I couldn’t wait to see how things would play out. Would I devote my full attention and be in love with one of the characters soon, or would I find the game lacking?
In Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi you play as Chizaru Yulimura, who has set out on a journey to look for her father who has gone missing. The game is set in the late 1800s, so things are quite different than what you and I are used to. To start with, you are dressed as a boy to deter any would-be hooligans from harming you. Then you witness some scary stuff while your father is missing. We’re off to a great start with intrigue at least. The Shinsengumi are involved in what you saw and must now decide your fate. The events that you witnessed are not the type of things that they can allow to be known by others. Do they kill you for what you have seen or keep you around and see what happens?
You make a choice here about when to tell them certain details, like that you are a girl and that you are looking for your father. After you give them some information, they decide that they won’t kill you, but they will force you to live with them so they can keep an eye on you. This way they don’t have to worry about you telling anyone what you have seen. You must continue to dress as a boy to blend in, with only the high ranking members knowing that you are a girl.
Living out your days with this interesting group of characters, a few of which would have chosen to kill you and not keep you around, allows you to get to know the guys. You slowly find out what goes on behind the scenes, and the goings-on can often seem sinister at first. Usually there is a good reason for this. Everyone seems to have something to hide. This game is rated M and for good reason; expect a lot of fighting, death and foul language. Take advantage when you can and see what you uncover about your “hosts” along the journey. Many secrets will be revealed and you never know when a plot twist is headed your way. The story can turn dark at the blink of an eye as you discover what is going on with the Shinsengumi, and this can cause you to question just what the hell your father has been up to.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to make as many decisions as I would have liked. I don’t expect to be making choices every two minutes, but I do like to have a little more control over what happens. It helps keep me intrigued in the story and it ensures that I will keep up with everything going on. The lack of opportunities to influence the story also made me feel like I had less control over which guy I wanted to be my love interest. It was more as if the story was going along exactly how it did regardless of if it was me or some random person playing the game and making decisions. I do realize that the story in most visual novels do have certain paths, with certain story events that are going to happen regardless of what I do, but I prefer to feel like I am having a bigger impact on how I get from point A to point B.
The controls are set up fairly well. You can access everything from the bottom touch screen. To progress the story and read all of the text, you can press the A button or use the stylus to tap on the play icon on the bottom screen. Be cautious when using the stylus, since when a choice comes up you can very easily click the wrong one. From here you can either play it out and see what happens or restart the game. If you save often, or quick save often enough, that won’t be a huge issue, but it is annoying.
There are a lot of different people and groups to keep up with as the story unfolds. The story is always changing, with new situations being sprung on you and new groups of people being added to the equation. The Encyclopedia in the game will give you everything you need. If you find yourself scratching your head wondering who someone is or what is being talked about in the story you can likely catch up with the Encyclopedia. Things that are covered in this are: people, places, different groups, etc. Each time a new keyword (which will be marked the first time it appears by appearing in red text) is used, an entry is added that you can access at any time. This gives you a basic overview of whatever subject you have looked up. There are a few entries that are cut off mid-sentence or mid-word that can leave you still slightly confused. This doesn’t happen too often though.
Other features in the game are quite helpful as well. When you access the menu you will see Biographies, which is where you can check your romance level with each character. The quick save and quick load feature works brilliantly; hit the left trigger to save and the right trigger to load your last quick save. If you skip over some text too quickly and need to read it over again, you can access the History icon found on the bottom screen and scroll through quite a bit of text.
There are a couple of extras found in the game in addition to the features that help you as you are playing. One of these is the Photo Booth that lets you use the camera in your 3DS to take pictures of your surroundings, and decorate them with themes from the game. You can find this extra on the title screen. Select Extras and then Photo Booth. The other extra is Hakuoki Memories. Here, you can watch as the story unfolds from the perspective of the guys.
The voice acting is done in Japanese and you can leave the voices on or turn them off in the options section. The music in the game ranges from soothing to upbeat, depending on what is going on in the game. Each section of music seemed well done and was enjoyable to listen to. None of it was overpowering and I often had trouble hearing it if anything else was making noise around me. Throw on some headphones and that problem is easily solved.
I wasn’t sure if I would like the graphics style found in this visual novel, but as I played it really grew on me. Everything is done in a soft way, with nothing being too boldly colored, and it all seemed kind of soothing. You get to see a few outside areas, the town, and the dwellings where you spend your time. I didn’t like the roughness of the guys chests as they are drawn in the game. I have no problem with a muscular chest, but it’s as if their chests are being overly exaggerated in an almost plastic way which doesn’t offer any sex appeal, to me at least.
The 3D in this game looks great, but there isn’t a huge need for it. The guys look good popped out in 3D but since this isn’t an action game, there aren’t a lot of chances to put the 3D to great use. Even so, it was well done.
All in all I enjoyed my time with the game, even if I did find a few faults with it. The story is detailed enough with such dark events happening that even without feeling like I had enough control, I was interested to see what would happen. There are quite a few intriguing things that happen with the members of the Shinsengumi and your father, so you won’t be sorry you picked this title up. For $24.99, if you don’t mind not having a lot of control over how things play out and you just want a great story to delve into, you will get your money’s worth. I have roughly 20-25 hours in the game and I haven’t come close to experiencing everything the game has to offer.
Title was provided by the publisher for review purposes.