Hakuoki Edo Blossoms Review – Otome to Fall in Love with
Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed), PC
Developer: Idea Factory, Design Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Release: 13th March 2018
Hakuoki Kyoto Winds was my first Otome if you remember my review of it. The first part of the split-in-two original Hakuoki was a very appealing mix between a massive armada of possible husbands and an interesting plot set in a believable ancient Japan. Luckily, Edo Blossoms expands on the base in a great way, though not without losing some steam on the way.
For those unfamiliar with the predecessor, Hakuoki Edo Blossoms presents the previous events in a neat little summary, so everyone has the chance to catch up. Especially after around one year between the two games, refreshing the memories ocncerning Chizuru and the 12 Shinsengumis and their battles both against enemy forces and mysterious monster samurais is well needed.
Picking up right when the cast arrives in Edo, after escaping from their lost battle in Kyoto, the game centers on even darker themes than before. Having introduced both the dawning end of the Shinsengumi as a historical organization and their fear to transform into bloodthirsty monsters if their corruption as a furie overwhelms them, the lengthy exposition finally pays off in this part.
On the one hand, Hakuoki Edo Blossoms focuses on telling the historic downfall of the Shinsengumi, a group of feared mercenaries fighting for the Shogunate, due to the never-stopping wheel of time. Now forced to feel from their home, doubts, fear and uncertainty are core themes of the story, exploring how a once proud group slowly loses foothold in a world quickly evolving into our modern one, while abandoning all past obstacles. The melancholic atmosphere, interrupted by happy ones far less than previously, now profits way more from Chizuru´s happy attitude, using her as an opposing force, giving her a greater purpose than ever before. She doesn´t just seem like someone in it because it´s an Otome but because it was necessary. It takes the human, believable story to the next level by evolving it into something darker and puts it against the blooming flower love can be in such a world.
On the other hand, a lot of time is spent at thematising the rather new fantasy side, circling around demon-like samurais. While those monsters are certainly not a historical event, the mysterious substance that transforms humans is just the right amount of absurdity to provide the plot with enough unique appeal to stand on its own two feet. Throughout the game, certain bachelors suffer from corruption and it’s up to Chizuru to help them by letting them drink her blood. It adds both a new layer of desperation and helplessness o the Shinsengumi, a troop introduced as strong is now relying on a girl to survive. Mixed with the overspending plot about finding Chizuru´s father, used to characterize our main heroine, the plot gains a whole lot of personality by completely freeing itself from the historic shackles in most areas. Given, if you expect a dry but somehow faithful retelling like in Dynasty Warriors, Hakuoki Edo Blossoms won´t deliver but uses it as a jumping pad for a historically inspired tale about struggling humans.
Speaking of which, humans, love and also death are core themes of this Otome, contrary to most others circling solely around finding a cute bachelor. Divided into different routes, one for each man, romancing becomes a rather scripted act, as long as the desired one doesn´t fall victim to his corruption by letting him regularly suck blood, for example, the game will most certainly end with a happy love-life. Instead, most of the 6-10 hours routes focus on telling the plot from different sides, exposing either new secrets about the cast or problems. A Shinsengumi who became a furie in the last game will have different problems, struggles and fears than one who didn´t. At the same time, the previous personalities get permanently evolved through obstacles they have to face. Actually, it´s not even that obvious you´re playing an Otome.
Like Kyoto Winds, Hakuoki Edo Blossoms doesn´t feature any dialogue choices, only giving you the option to decide how to help corrupted Shinsengumi or which slightly different path to take. Yet, since the desired bachelor is selected at the start, many options seen in the previous title are gone and replaced by automatic ones to automatically collect “points” with them.
If successful, the game once again features amazingly well-drawn panoramas with Chizuru and her man, battles or landscapes. Overall, the art, in general, looks great again, featuring rich character and environment design mixed with some great colouring. The artstyle tries to convey a certain historic feeling while delivering one of the best looking visual novels on the Vita.
Hakuoki Edo Blossoms can continue delivering a captivating mix of historic and fantasy events, skillfully mixing them together, in order to create a truly unique but brutally honest story about love in a melancholic world. For someone who hasn´t played many Otomes or just wants to try them, the tale about Chizuru and the Shinsengumi will certainly be just as worthwhile as for longtime fans.
[A Review Code was provided by Idea Factory International]