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Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi Review

by on November 19, 2013
 

After indulging in Hakuoki 3D: Memories of the Shinsengumi I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve got a pretty short attention span. Well that, or a fidget-inducing desire for input. Hakuoki is a visual novel, you see, and my previous experiences with this rather restrictive genre have been quite speedy, with conversation choices being frequent and actions having clear, often immediate consequences. My other interaction with this sort of linear, choice-led narrative lies in the realms of Goosebumps, where I was normally dead after four pages. Don’t follow me into a haunted house. Or trust me with a life-ending camera.

But yes, Hakuoki 3D. Want to know something about Hakuoki 3D? It took about an hour and a half for the game to present me with my first choice. An hour and a half. It was an exciting hour and a half, sure: playing the role of Chizuru Yukimura I’d come to Kyoto searching for my father. Eventually it got dark and I was set upon by a mob. That mob was murdered by a bunch of chaps in blue robes, and then that group was murdered by another group of fetching looking chaps, the titular Shinsengumi, who took me back to their hideout because I’d seen them slice up those first chaps, and leaving witnesses on the street is rather frowned upon in the murderers’ handbook.

Quite a bit happens, but I have no input. It is very pretty though, with the depth of 3D or not, and the art is clean and handsome. But then it should be handsome, as this is a game aimed at the ladies…

There’s murder, and a spot of mystery in the search for Chizuru’s father, but the core of Hakuoki is in getting to know the Shinsengumi, a male troupe who would have probably been a boy band were it not for the whole living in ancient Japan thing. There’s the stern and disciplined one, the forward and cheeky one, the weird one, the quiet and studious one, etc… And you can build a relationship with any of them over the course of the game through the sparing, but rather impactful, decisions.

So yes, while there aren’t many decisions to make in Hakuoki 3D: Memories of the Shinsengumi, each one you do make has a rather chunky impact on the flow of the story, and the men you spend time with. It’s easy to play through again and take alternate paths – you’re free to save whenever, and the game marks past choices in green – and the scenes you encounter will be markedly different.

But even then, it’s hard to really rate Hakuoki as much of a game. As a novel it’s fairly competent, if occasionally plodding, with an in-game encyclopaedia filling in all the little side details as they’re introduced by the cast. Hakuoki’s visuals are top notch too and, at times, rather beautiful. Put these two elements together and Hakuoki fulfils its genre role quite aptly, I suppose. If you’re looking for a little light romance with a side helping of sort-of-historically-accurate honourable stabbing then it’ll certainly scratch your wonderfully specific itch.

But – and I don’t know if this is just my crazy perceptions or some lofty expectations of titles on the platform here but – Hakuoki 3D: Memories of the Shinsengami is being released on a machine that has seen the likes of 999 and Virtues Last Reward, titles that mix intense decision making with mind-melting puzzles. Hakuoki just feels so pedestrian in comparison.

But I don’t know why I’m comparing; that’s not what Hakuoki wants to be. This is a visual novel through and through, and if it wants to lean heavily on the novel and focus on telling a story then who am I to deny it the right to release on whatever platform it wants to? While you may not have much in the way of constant choice, you get to choose who to fall in love with after all, and there are some strapping lads in the line-up. And then when you’ve enjoyed all of the narrative you can use the 3DS cameras to take pictures of your face next to the game’s well sculpted chaps, which is a quaint feature if you’re really that into them.

VERDICT: Hakuoki 3D: Memories of the Shinsugami suits a very particular niche, and it does so with admirable confidence. A visual novel that casts you as a female in ancient Japan who finds herself the hostage of the most attractive clutch of men this side of Il Divo, Hakuoki 3D doesn’t bombard you with choice, and it can feel painfully restrictive because of this, but it does tell a nice tale of mystery and romance if you’re in the market for that sort of thing.

6

DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.

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Review copy provided by publisher.

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