A band of fearsome swordsmen in the Edo era of Japan seriously doesn’t sound as though they’d make optimal suitors, but play enough of Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi and you’ll change your mind quickly. These valiant bishouned are much more than just pretty faces. They’re also rugged warriors sworm to protect their district, and young Chizuru, who suddenly finds herself in their care after setting off on a journey to find her father. An innocuous journey takes a turn for the dangerous as Chizuru joins the Shinsengumi to search for her missing father and find answers to the questions she has. This 3DS remake of Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is a riveting otome game sprinkled with action, adventure romance, and excellent storytelling. Don’t let the box art fool you — this is a refreshing change of pace from most other otome visual novels.
We saw the original Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom released on PSP last year, opening to positive reviews from fans of the genre and even those who had never dabbled in the genre before. A strong, intelligent lead with admirable fighting ability who isn’t only “eye candy” or a submissive waif comes in the form of Chizuru, who players step into the role of on this tumultuous journey. She originally set out on a trip to find her father (dressed as a boy, in fact) who disappeared while on “business” when she becomes entangled in the Shinsengumi’s affairs. After a particularly grisly battle, she’s forced to stay in their care until they can ascertain the whereabouts of her father. Since she saw too much, she’s got to stay in the compound with those deadly men, during which love can blossom with one of her benevolent captors.
It may sound contrived, but it’s a surprisingly human story with plenty of detail, branching story paths, and a warrior for every taste. The strong, silent types, the jokester, the intelligent one, etc. — the male harem covers all the bases, so if your main aim is to pick the right guy to romance, you’ll definitely be able to do that. The 3DS version showcases them in excellent 3D, and there’s additional story content in this port, with side stories and extra scenarios to pore through. If you feel like taking photos, you can even take cutesy purikuri pictures with the Shinsengumi guys.
It’s important to remember this is a visual novel, so for the unfamiliar that means there is a lot of reading to be done here. Fully-voiced interactions (Japanese only) are interspersed with quick illustrations that punctuate the action going on in the story, with plenty of attention paid to the men of the Shinsengumi for your viewing pleasure. Quick save is handy, acting as a bookmark of sorts if you need to take a break in a hurry. You can save anywhere you want as well, so don’t feel as though you need to devour the whole story in one sitting — though you may want to.
Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is an excellent example of how to pen a visual novel without a horrific female lead, and an intriguing tale to boot. This is a gripping read, with the mystery surrounding Chizuru’s father taking center stage rather than the romance plots. If you didn’t catch the PSP version, snag this one on 3DS, if nothing else but to support the genre so that more visual novels can make their way overseas.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS