Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds Review

Game Title: Hakuoki Kyoto Winds
Developer: Idea Factory
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Download: 3.05 GB
Availability: Retail (Europe, Japan, North America), Digital (Europe, Japan, North America)
PSTV Support: Yes

I’ve come to see the otome genre in a bit of a different light since playing a few of the genre’s games. When I first heard of it, I came to know it as “Dating Sims for Girls” much like a lot of Dating Sims are for guys. Essentially, dating games where you play as a girl. That’s how a lot of people see the genre when they’ve never played a single game of said genre.

Today, I view it very differently. After playing Amnesia and the game I’m about to talk about, I see the genre as much less of a dating sim and more of a story-heavy Visual Novel genre with some romance elements thrown into the mix. Though the series I’m about to cover is much richer in Japanese history.

I am, of course, talking about the Hakuoki series, known for being the top of the top within the otome genre. Having experienced it with laughs, cries, and a vast amount of learning, here is my review of Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds!

Story

Kyoto Winds takes place towards the end of the Edo Period in Japan, when the Shogunate is still around. You play as a young woman traveling from Edo to Kyoto in order to visit her father as he works from the Edo. Upon arriving in the town, however, she is jumped by wandering Ronin and later by strange zombie-like men, only narrowly rescued by members of the Shinsengumi, a local police force formed to protect the citizens of Kyoto from rogue Ronin under the Shogunate, itself.

Having witnessed something she was not allowed to witness, the men of the Shunsengumi take her back to HQ, under the assumption she is a man, aiming to execute her for what she witnessed. However, upon explaining her gender and situation, she is allowed to stay under their watch as both they and her try to find her father.

Over the course of the story, you see a lot of battles from Japanese history, starting with the Ikeda Inn incident all the way to the start of the end of the Shogunate. The game is far more Japanese History VN about the Shinsengumi than a dating sim. You get tons of history on Japanese culture. While many parts of the story are fiction, most of it is not. Even the characters for all of the game’s “husbandos” are real Japanese people that were a part of the real Shinsengumi.

One thing to note is that this is the first in a two-part series. There are a lot of things that will develop in the story and not conclude. While many of the endings are very heartfelt and do feel conclusive, do note that there is a Part 2, which Idea Factory International will surely bring West further down the road.

Gameplay

Kyoto Winds is a Visual Novel with otome elements thrown into the mix. Essentially, you’ll always be going through story scenes about the Heroine’s interactions with the Shinsengumi and their actions.

It’s typical VN format. Cutscene after cutscene after cutscene with the ability to save at any time you want, with some light romance elements thrown in, here and there.

I specifically said romance/otome “elements” for a reason. This is an otome game, but you can also play it as a normal VN. The Romance aspects of the game can be toggled on and off, so if you don’t care for the romantic love-dovey stuff, just head into the Settings, turn Romance off, and enjoy it as a VN about the Edo period. For this reason, I don’t really view this game as otome, but more as a VN in general that just so happens to take place from the perspective of a Heroine.

Progress is typical for a VN, but the biggest thing that this game features is Options and Branches. During every chapter, you will have choices that will drastically change how the story progresses. In some of these situations, the story will be the same, but you’ll see a different perspective (like having 2 different groups rally for an attack in different locations and choosing which location you wish to go to), while others can be the difference between a character or even the Heroine, herself, dying and the story coming to an abrupt end.

Aside from the Heroine’s life, your choices will ultimate decide what major character you will end up with when the game’s final chapter hits. The game basically has 4 chapters of story and then Chapter 5 is a character-specific path, where the story will go towards the character ending for whatever major character you’ve interacted with the most.

This leads the game to having dozens of different playthroughs being completely different, not only in the main story, but also endings. Even in certain character paths, there are multiple endings, normally a Good Ending and a Bad Ending.

As far as the length goes, a single play through the game should take you at least 6 hours, depending on how long you spend reading the dialogue that takes place in each scene and chapter. If you only want to play the game once, it is around 6 hours, but if you even want to see the different endings for your character path, it can easily add literal hours onto your play time, depending on how often you save.

Controls

Controls aren’t a huge issue, really. The game is fully compatible with the PlayStation TV, so you can play it on the little screen or the big screen. There are touch controls on the Vita, but they’re not required. You can advance the dialogue with the X button or by tapping the touch screen. It’s just an extra option thrown in there for hand held fans.

Controls are simple enough, once you know them. X lets you advance the dialogue, Circle will make the dialogue window disappear if you want to look at CG artwork, Square will quickly skip through dialogue if you’re replaying and want a different ending, and Triangle will open up the menu to be able to save and load your game data. Start will let you Auto-Advance scenes, and the L/R triggers will let you Quick Save and Quick Load.

The controls aren’t a problem, but the lack of explaining the controls is a problem. The game doesn’t have an Auto-Save system, so you have to manually save every time you wish to save progress. The game does absolutely nothing to tell you how to do this. While figuring out controls is a simple task in most games, not knowing controls can put you in a situation of having to potentially re-do literal hours of gameplay if you don’t know how to save after a long gaming session.

Presentation

Graphically, it’s a VN, so everything is hand-drawn and there aren’t really any 3D animations or anything. What is there is done very well. From the splatters of blood from battles to the details of the CG scenes that show the Heroine spending time with the Shinsengumi, it all looks really nice and the design has a very authentic look to it, which really matches the Japanese setting of the game.

Performance is great as well. The game is fully voiced outside of the Heroine, herself, which is normal for an otome game and there are never any loading issues, crashing, or frame drops.

Summary

In conclusion, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is much more than a mere otome game. It’s a visual novel rich in Japanese history that gives you the options of whether or not you wish it to be a romance VN or a normal VN. The lack of controls explanation can cause frustration with saving, but the story and huge wealth of real-world history to be learned here makes this one of the best VNs the Vita has to offer.

9/10

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