RELEASE DATE: May 6 (NA) & May 9 (EU)
PUBLISHER: Idea Factory & Otomate
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: PS Vita (Japanese & English) & Steam (To Be Released)
GAME LINK: Hakuoki Kyoto Winds – PS Vita [Regular Edition]
STORE LINKS: Hakuoki Kyoto Winds – PS Vita [Limited Edition][NA]
Hakuoki Kyoto Winds – PS Vita [Limited Edition][EU]
Official Site: Idea Factory International
I have been excited about Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds for quite a while now! Although the series is a little outdated in comparison to all the new otome game releases in the past couple of years, I’ve always had a soft spot for it as being one of the first otomes I ever played. It has always remained a solid ‘staple’ of the english otome game releases thus far, and it essentially is the title that really caught the attention of localisation companies. It proved that there was indeed a target market for the niche genre within the western community.
When Idea Factory International reached out to me for a collaboration, I was ecstatic! Although I initially didn’t plan on playing the remake as I played both the original Demon of the Fleeting Blossom on PSP and Stories of the Shinsengumi on PS3; I was still curious as to how they were going to approach a revamp for the series. The important aspect to remember is that Kyoto Winds ONLY includes Chapter 1-5 of the original game.
The second part has yet to be officially announced, and you’re only receiving the first half of the original storyline before it branches into the seperate bachelor routes. Although I initially wasn’t a fan of splitting the game into two halves, after playing through it I can understand why they made the decision. Hakuoki to begin with has always been a very text/content heavy game, with great emphasis on the overarching historical timeline of events. As they have refined and added a lot of additional dialogue/writing to the original game, the beginning chapters are significantly longer and offer many more hours of gameplay.
There are also an additional 5 bachelor routes in comparison to the original 7, as well as new event CGs. Due to the sheer amount of selectable bachelors each having their own routes, marketing and writing-wise it made the most sense to split the game into two. I was surprisingly quite impressed with the new additions to the game, and enjoyed playing the remake despite already being very familiar with the series.
Impressions on the Limited Edition
I was actually really surprised by how large the box for the Limited Edition was when it arrived in the mail. The box is really well made and sturdy; featuring lovely cover art for the game. Normally I don’t like to keep game packaging, but the one for Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds was just too lovely to throw out (laughs). I really liked how snugly all the items fit inside the box, and it was designed very well. It features an exclusive bento box, furoshiki, official soundtrack disk, hard cover art book and of course a physical version of the game.
The bento box is made out of bamboo, and was nicer than I expected. It definitely made a lovely match with the large furoshiki, which features art of all the bachelors from the game. However, I personally think the bento box is more suitable as a display piece or as an accessory container than as an actual bento box for use. My favourite aspect of the LE was definitely the hardcover art book, as it included a lot of CG art from the game as well as detailed character profiles and insights into the overarching storyline.
It provided a lot of extra information on the bachelors, and draft artwork leading up to their final designs. Overall, it’s a solid LE and definitely a step up from the previous LE’s for the Hakuoki series. I recommend purchasing it if you love exclusive well-made display items and are a huge fan of Hakuoki! Purchasing the LE definitely shows support for the series, and would lead to better LE’s in future. Other than that, then I wouldn’t say the LE is an absolute must have. The game is still very enjoyable with or without the extra content.
Japan’s Edo Period was drawing to a close.
The shogunate, who’d held power in the country for more than 200 years, found itself challenged by the imperial court, and by several domains who had chaffed under shogunal rule.
In the midst of this political unrest, an organization rose to prominence: The Shinsengumi. Originally formed to protect the streets of Kyoto from masterless samurai, they came to represent the last, tragic bastion of the honor-bound samurai culture that had defined much of Japan’s history.
A young woman by the name of Chizuru comes to Kyoto in search of her missing father, and soon encounters danger and the Shinsengumi in quick succession. When it becomes clear the Shinsengumi are also searching for her father, Chizuru is put under their protection.
But odd things are afoot in Kyoto—possibly even supernatural things. Can Chizuru navigate this maze of mortal danger and political intrigue? Amidst so much misery and death, can she find romance?
(Official Website Summary)
The website summary actually encompasses the story outline very well, so I won’t delve into it further here. The Hakuoki series has always been well-known for its interesting premise and powerfully interwoven storyline with Japan’s historical period of social unrest and change. It incorporates key elements such as fantasy, love, friendship and betrayal to create an immersive and memorable storyline. The world of Hakuoki is thoroughly fleshed out and demonstrates impressive world building, as the historical events propels both the storyline forward and the development of the characters.
They’re caught in between the cross-fire of a political war that acts as the catalyst for change and the beginning of a new era. A battle that would only imminently end in defeat, and inflict unimaginable death, despair and suffering as there is never a true victor in the aftermaths of war. The characters are on the losing faction, and are forced to question their own beliefs and morality as their organisation once built upon camaraderie and unwavering trust slowly corrupts from within.
They come to the daunting realisation that with the changing world, there is no longer a place for samurai. Their resolute beliefs on what constituted as an honourable warrior were now considered remnants of the past, and wars were no longer won through sheer will or one’s skill in battle. For these men who lived and died by their blades, their once unshakeable beliefs had wavered and their very existences are rendered meaningless.
It is the answering of these existentialist concepts tied in with significant character development over the course of the plot, that makes the storyline of the Hakuoki series so memorable. The writing in the remake Kyoto Winds is quite impressive, and refines the storytelling from the original game. There is just so much more description and attention to the finer details of the story, that is noticeable right from the very beginning.
The additional narration also gives Chizuru so much more personality, and provides the audience with a better understanding of her thought processes towards her own circumstances and the other characters in the game. As the first half is mainly dedicated to the historical events leading into the main complication of the storyline, it can be quite stale at times and very lengthy to read. If you’re not a fan of long introductions, slow storyline pacing and a greater focus on the plot rather than the romances between the characters; then Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds may not be the game for you.
As the first half of the remake only covers Chapter 1-5, it ends just before the common route branches into the character paths in the original. This is the section of the storyline where they lose the battle at the Fushimi Magistrate, and depending on the route; the heroine Chizuru becomes separated from the Shinsengumi and attempts to rejoin them at Edo along with the chosen bachelor.
Although the cliff hanger definitely builds hype for part two of the game, it was quite disappointing as the storyline after the character branch is where Hakuoki truly shines. One of the advertised aspects of the remake is the ‘new content’ they added to the game for all the bachelors, along with new dateable characters. If you’ve only ever played the original PSP or DS version, then you’ll definitely enjoy the remake as all the content will be completely new to you.
However, if you’ve already played the PS3 version then you’ll realise that half the new content is actually from the translated fandisk (Zuisouroku). This was the ‘Memories of Love’ portion in Stories of the Shinsengumi, which unlocked after finishing all the bachelor routes. Rather than keeping it as an ‘extra’ standalone fan service segment, they actually incorporated the fan disk moments into the overarching storyline itself. This was quite effective, as the events in Zuisouroku did follow the linear events of the main plot.
It made the storyline and characters much more immersive and likeable; as there was a greater balance between the plot and romance aspects of the game. It provided greater insight into the bachelor’s feelings and thoughts, and they’re not quite so dismissive and emotionless towards Chizuru in comparison to the original game. However, I was still rather disappointed as I thought when they claimed it’d be all ‘new and never before seen’ content for the game, it meant that they wouldn’t be reusing old scenes and labelling it as ‘longer bachelor routes’.
The other half of the content however, did keep to their promise and included new scenes and CGs. It took 3-4 hrs to complete my first play through, and around 2-3hrs for every bachelor afterwards. I did all 3 endings for every character, which totalled to approximately 25-30hrs of play time.
Character Development ★★★
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!
As the first part of the game only covers Chapter 1-5, I will only be discussing the character development that I’ve seen so far and giving a run down on their personalities. The second half will contain more detailed thoughts, as the branches into the character routes is where we see their relationship with the protagonist truly blossom.
There is no particular route order for Kyoto Winds, as all the stories progress in the same linear fashion by following the chronological historical events. If anything, I would recommend the main Shinsengumi characters first in any order (Hijikata, Okita, Saito, and Harada), followed by Chikage Kazama. The remaining characters should be played after, leaving the three new bachelors for last (Iba, Sakamoto and Souma).
HIJIKATA TOSHIZO: The acting leader of the Shinsengumi, and regarded as the ‘demon commander’ amongst his men. He is a force to be reckoned with both on and off the battlefield, and has little tolerance for lack of discipline. Hijikata strongly believes that war is not won through mere skill alone, but through perseverance and sheer willpower.
He is one of the most dedicated to the Shinsengumi, as all the lives of his men rest upon his shoulders. He has led them to victory time and time again, showcasing his skills as a master tactician. To Hijikata and Kondou, the Shinsengumi is a representation of the dreams they once shared in their youth: that even regular and poor men without noble upbringing such as themselves, could become revered and honourable samurai.
Despite his cold exterior, Chizuru soon realises that he is much kinder and more considerate than what he usually shows to others. He is one of the few members who rectifies Chizuru as apart of the Shinsengumi, assuaging her fears of being a burden to her newfound second family. Hijikata admires her tenacity and wholehearted dedication to the Shinsengumi, respecting that she is an invaluable member he does not wish to part with.
He abides by her wishes whenever possible to assign her tasks around the headquarters, even though it is inefficient and counterproductive from a strategic standpoint. Hijikata is truly a man of his word, exhausting nothing less than his best efforts to protecting Chizuru. He strongly believes that an honourable samurai must always keep their promises, and to go against such code of conduct is akin to throwing away his pride as a warrior.
With the extra scenes and dialogue in Kyoto Winds, I really enjoyed Hijikata’s route so far. It’s not the gruelling read I remember from the original, as Hijikata’s route is the longest and the only one where you see to the final end of the Shinsengumi. As a result, the romance and relationship development really takes a backseat to the historical recounts and the activities of the Shinsengumi.
The additional moments with Hijikata made him a lot more relatable as a character. It was the little interactions and small acts of kindness that he showed to Chizuru which revealed his true feelings towards her. In the original, it felt like Chizuru was always second to the Shinsengumi. In the remake, despite Hijikata being bound by his duties as the leader of the Shinsengumi; he still does everything in his power to accomodate to Chizuru’s needs and feelings as much as possible.
OKITA SOUJI: One of the most feared and renowned swordsmen of the Shinsengumi, there are very few men who live to tell the tale after facing Okita on the battlefield. His skills and finesse with the blade are unparalleled, and unlike most men who waver in the face of bloodshed and death; Okita has very little reservations towards such sentiments. His sole life purpose is to act as a sword and a living weapon for the Shinsengumi: any enemy of Kondou’s is also an enemy of Okita’s. He completely disregards his own sake and livelihood for his beliefs, and it is this reckless abandon that makes him such a formidable warrior.
His relationship with Chizuru has an extremely rocky start from the very beginning, and he coldly asserts that if she were to ever impede the goals of the Shinsengumi; he would not hesitate to kill her. It is a running motif between the two, as Chizuru is perplexed by how Okita can always utter such frightening words with such a gentle voice and smile on his face. In stark contradiction to his cruel promises however, Okita saves Chizuru at every opportunity and does not hesitate to protect her at the cost of his own body. It is this complexity that forms the crux of Okita’s character, and the complete contrast between his words and actions.
Okita has always been one of my favourite characters from the original, as well as one of the more popular bachelors with reason. Unfortunately his constant switch between hot and cold is frustrating for the majority of his route, as well as his one-track mindset and his complete dedication to Kondou. However, he makes an interesting character that you cannot help but become drawn to over the course of the storyline. Morikubo Shoutarou does such an amazing job voicing Okita, and perfectly captures both his inner anguish and playful personality. He delivers his lines so smoothly and it really is a delight to listen to.
Another reason contributing to his character popularity is due to the more notable romance in his route in comparison to the other bachelors. As he quickly becomes incapacitated and rendered bedridden due to illness, he has many more opportunities to be ‘alone’ with Chizuru. In the remake, the romantic interactions and tensions between the two are even more palpable. There’s just so much more integral character moments between the two that leads to the development of their relationship. It is one of the routes where their romantic feelings for one another become very apparent (especially on Chizuru’s end) from very early on in the story.
Despite Okita’s complex nature, Chizuru shows surprising insight into his true feelings and thoughts; understanding him on such a personal level that it unhinges him. Despite his cold detachment from others, he finds himself wavering in the face of her unabashed honesty and wholehearted efforts to become closer to him. Unsure of how to respond to her affectionate sentiments and his own growing feelings that impede his life’s purpose as a sword that serves Kondou; Okita constantly pushes her away, unable to admit what she truly means to him.
SAITO HAJIME: Unlike the previous two members of the Shinsengumi, Saito is more so dedicated to the art of swordsmanship rather than the organisation itself. He has devoted his entire life to honing his skills as a warrior, and views sentiments such as camaraderie to be unnecessary on the battlefield. He respects and admires Hijikata’s leadership, as he views that he is the embodiment of an honourable samurai and a commander worth following. The Shinsengumi to Saito is akin to a sanctuary: it was the only place he could truly practice his skills as a warrior, due to the fact that he was left-handed.
All the dojos he attended rejected him, as wielding a sword with one’s left hand was considered the incorrect stance for prestigious samurai and disgraceful practice. However, Hijikata and Kondou wholeheartedly welcomed and accepted him, after witnessing his superior skill. As a result, it is with the Shinsengumi that Saito truly feels a sense of belonging as they shared the same views on what constituted as a true warrior and samurai.
Although Saito is a man of very few words, in the moments he does speak to Chizuru he is very kind and tender. Unlike the others, he always takes the time to answer her questions and is very patient when speaking to her. I really loved Saito’s route in the remake, since it really brought out all the cute nuances of his character that was absent in the original. In the original, Saito continually justifies that he only protects Chizuru out of duty and because he was ‘ordered’ to. With all the additional dialogue and character moments however, it is clear that Saito feels much more for Chizuru than what he leads on.
Saito truly has the best embarrassed and ‘blushing’ moments with Chizuru, as he is always at a complete loss for words with her unexpected forwardness. To Chizuru’s confusion, he is just so shy and she wonders what could be the cause for his strange behaviour. Although the snow bunny scene is a rehash from Zuisouroku/Memories of Love, it is still one of my favourite moments between the two. It is just such a heartwarming scene, that really showcases how adorable their relationship is with one another.
KAZAMA CHIKAGE: The prestigious head of the demon clan in the west, Kazama proves to be a force to be reckoned with over the course of the storyline. He directly opposes the Shinsengumi, as he sides with the the enemy faction that desires the collapse of the Shogunate. Due to his status as a demon and pure lineage, he is extremely powerful and possesses strength, speed and skill far beyond the scopes of human abilities. Kazama takes immense pride in his position, and resents mankind with every fibre in his being due to the suffering that demons have endured in the past at the hands of human greed.
As a result of these instilled beliefs, he is condescending, arrogant and spiteful. He truly believes that there are no humans worthy of his respect and that there is no such thing as true samurai or warriors. Upon discovering that Chizuru is a pure-blooded female demon, Kazama begins to pursue her relentlessly due to his duties as clan head. Female demons are extremely rare, and their population is scarce; copulating two pure-blooded demons would in no doubt produce an even more powerful offspring that would be beneficial for the future of their race.
Although Kazama is insufferable and a thorn in the side of the Shinsengumi in all the routes, he is without a doubt my favourite character in the game. My main source of interest in the remake was that Idea Factory finally addressed the unanimous fan request for Kazama to have a proper character route. In the original, his story can barely be classified as a ‘dateable bachelor’ as it ends so abruptly, and there’s hardly any moments of genuine interaction between the two. I definitely wanted to see exactly how much more content he would have, and how they would address his storyline.
To my surprise, I was very pleased with how it turned out. What I liked about his story and character is how different he is in comparison to the other bachelors. He really brings out the fire in Chizuru’s personality, as although she is very passive with the other characters; she turns into a complete tsundere regarding Kazama. She is vehement and adamant in opposing his views on humans, and completely refuses his advances at every opportunity. This greatly amuses Kazama, as he is thoroughly content in entertaining her whims and certain that she would inevitably become his.
I really liked the relationship dynamic between the two, and Kazama’s infuriating arrogance really made for very humorous dialogue and character moments. Out of all the bachelors, I always felt that Kazama suited the heroine the most as he truly brings out the best in her. He forces her to admit the things she doesn’t dare usually voice, and he addresses the truth behind her past, family and demon lineage. Although this was hardly delved upon in the original, they definitely touched on it a lot more in Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds which I really liked.
With the additional character moments with Kazama, it really showcased that he isn’t truly a heartless demon and is much more considerate than he initially appears (at least regarding Chizuru). There is genuine and notable development between the two, as Chizuru slowly comes to realise his surprising kindness and thoughtfulness towards her feelings. In his own way, he respects her desire to stay with the Shinsengumi and concedes that they may be different from other humans. To me, in the remake it definitely showed in Kazama’s actions how much more he cared about Chizuru than his words would imply.
HARADA SANOSUKE: One of the kinder captains of the Shinsengumi towards Chizuru, Harada is extremely popular amongst women due to his handsome looks and thoughtfulness. He is surprisingly perceptive regarding the emotions of women, and very considerate of Chizuru’s circumstances in all the routes. Unlike the other captains who live and die by their blades, Harada desires a peaceful life outside of the battlefield. As the organisation slowly corrupts from within, Harada is forced to question what he truly wishes to do with his life. What was once built from mutual camaraderie and men who shared the same beliefs, had now been tainted by the inevitabilities of war and human greed.
Out of all the bachelors, Harada is without a doubt the most romantic route. His story is much more light-hearted in comparison to the other character paths, as he is not as deeply invested in the Shinsengumi itself. With the remake, he shares even sweeter moments with Chizuru that only serve to further justify his status as ‘best husband material’. There really isn’t anything too melodramatic about his route in Kyoto Winds, as the relationship between Chizuru and Harada develops the most naturally in comparison to the other bachelors.
He is a gentleman through and through, always places her needs before his own and notices things about Chizuru that the others do not. It was very enjoyable and refreshing to have a story that didn’t revolve so much around the angst and conflict that pervades majority of the characters.
HEISUKE TODOU: The youngest Captain of the Shinsengumi, Heisuke is extremely close with both Harada and Shinpachi. The three are rarely ever seen apart, and regularly drink together at Shimabara. In spite of his age and youthful looks, he is exceptionally skilled with the sword and certainly earned his position as a division Captain. Although he initially joined the group due to his strong beliefs in camaraderie and friendship, he quickly becomes disillusioned with the Shinsengumi.
In comparison to the others who are wholeheartedly dedicated to the Shinsengumi, Heisuke is unsettled by the corruption within the organisation and the grand scheme of the war. He considers things that the others do not, such as what political stance would be best for Japan itself. His route delves further into his reasons for joining the Guardians of the Tomb, and his wavering beliefs on what is the right path to take.
I felt that out of all the characters, he was the most realistic and surprisingly insightful in his views on the Shogunate and overarching war. Rather than a one-dimensional perspective solely focused on what it means to be a warrior, he has the forethought to decide for himself what he truly believes in; even if that means separating from the people he cared about. As Heisuke and Chizuru are around the same age, they quickly become close and fall into a comfortable relationship with one another.
I was surprised by Heisuke’s forwardness in the remake, as unlike the others; he is quick to realise what he is truly fighting for and whom he wishes to protect with his life. This was a welcome and very refreshing change that I really liked. One major complaint I had about Heisuke’s route was the complete lack of CGs of him with Chizuru. Almost all of them were sole portraits of himself, and I felt that he really got the short end of the stick in the art department which was rather disappointing to see.
NAGAKURA SHINPACHI: Another formidable Shinsengumi Captain and the loyal right-hand man of Harada. The two are rarely ever seen apart, and they share a closely-knit friendship as a trio with Heisuke. Shinpachi is exceptionally cheerful, bright and a source of comic relief amongst the men. Unlike the others with poor upbringing, he was born into a prestigious house of samurai. However, he abandoned his family home to be a lordless ronin as the stifling life of a retainer did not suit his free-spirited nature.
He is one of the few main characters who did not have an individual route in the original game, and I was very curious as to how they would approach it. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed. His route is extremely platonic in comparison to the other bachelors, and felt very lacking in terms of romance and CGs. He constantly asserts that he views Chizuru as a younger sister whom he must protect, and nothing more.
Despite being apart of the main cast, his story felt like an add-on or a side route at best. Even by the end of Shinpachi’s story, I couldn’t bring myself to view him as a ‘romantic interest’, due to the complete lack of emotional development. I felt very little writing was invested in actually getting to know Shinpachi as a character, and his past prior to the Shinsengumi. In comparison to the other bachelors, I dislike how the decision to become a fury was essentially forced upon him by another.
This creates a sense of guilt that tarnishes his once-pure relationship with Chizuru, and was an outcome that Shinpachi would have never willingly wanted for himself. In comparison to the others who knowingly accepted the fate of a fury for the sake of their own pride and the ability to protect what they hold dear, Shinpachi protects Chizuru due to the oath he made with Inoue. It only furthers the whole ‘platonic sibling relationship’ dynamic that pervades his entire route.
SANAN KEISUKE: The Colonel of the Shinsengumi, and regarded as a high-ranking officer within the organisation; even above the Captains themselves. He has a strong stake in the order of operations and works closely with both Kondou and Hijikata. Although initially beloved by the troops for his kind and gentle demeanour, he quickly becomes jaded and hostile after he receives a critical injury that renders him unable to wield a sword.
To a warrior, such an injury is considered even worse than death. He becomes increasingly dangerous and unhinged as he laments in his worthlessness, and the change in the eyes of the troops who once revered him. He eventually succumbs to the Water of Life and pays the price with his own mortality to once again wield a sword. Sanan is prevalent in all the routes and plays a significant role in the overarching storyline, due to his deep involvement and research in the Furies.
I had always disliked Sanan’s character from the original game, as he is more or less akin to a fallen hero turned villain. I was surprised that he would be a dateable bachelor in the remake, and I was curious as to how they would flesh out his story. Unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed by what could barely classify as a ‘romance route’. Although you come to understand Sanan’s motives and innermost thoughts, there is very little interaction between the two that can be considered as a ‘potential love interest’.
Their relationship is more so akin to a father gently scolding a petulant child. Other than a few scenes with Sanan where he reverts to his once gentle and kind self, the bulk of his content is apart of the main storyline that is present in all the bachelor routes. As a result, in terms of new content it was very lacklustre and left much to be desired. I also found it strange how even if you become closer to Sanan in his route, he is very much still obsessed with the notion of improving the furies and using Chizuru as a means to do so.
He completely disregards her feelings and emotions on the matter, and still forcibly uses guilt to coerce her into the notion that it is all for the sake of the Shinsengumi. The scene where he enters her room and attempts to cut her for a sample of her own blood (until forcibly stopped by the other Captains) still occurs in his route.
It is very difficult to see Sanan as a love interest, when he shows such disregard and callousness towards Chizuru’s wellbeing. I genuinely felt that having Sanan as a dateable character added very little to the overall storyline, other than revealing some more information about the Furies.
YAMAZAKI SUSUMU: Part of the ‘Watch’ division of the Shinsengumi, Yamazaki is mainly involved in stealth missions and reconnaissance rather than on the front lines of battle. He holds Hijikata in high esteem as a skilled commander who cares for his men, and devotes himself wholeheartedly to him. Yamazaki is serious, dedicated and prioritises the success of a mission above all else. I always liked Yamazaki’s character from the original game, and I was very excited to play his route in the remake.
Surprisingly, I actually really enjoyed his character story and how his relationship with Chizuru developed. Yamazaki is just so adorably shy and reserved, and his serious nature prevents him from expressing his true feelings. It was quite amusing to see how all the other characters slowly became aware of their relationship, whilst Yamazaki remained completely oblivious.
It was so sweet when he revealed how he came to fall in love with Chizuru: that he was always watching her from afar, and it was from these moments that he truly came to realise her innocent and honest nature. It is because of this that he cannot stand to see her hurt, and feels powerless to protect her as she has become someone irreplaceable to him. Unlike the other warriors who possess the strength to fight, Yamazaki is constantly forced to watch as his comrades perish in war.
Chizuru in turn assuages that in his own way, he is fighting his hardest in order to prevent more casualties from occurring. He is a vital part of the Shinsengumi, even though his strength does not lie within his ability to wield a sword. Chizuru is able to understand him in a way that others cannot, despite his quiet and withdrawn nature.
The two just complement one another so well, and it’s the little things that really endeared him as a character to me throughout his route. If anything, I wish there was more writing dedicated to fleshing out his story. I felt it was so short in comparison to the screen time the other bachelor routes had.
IBA HACHIRO: A childhood friend of both the protagonist and the Shinsengumi, Iba is popular amongst the men due to their youthful memories of learning swordsmanship with one another. He has been promoted to the position of vassal for the Shogun, and inherited his prestigious family dojo during their time apart. As a result, he wields a blade with superior finesse and skill. However, it is clear that unlike the Shinsengumi; he has never tarnished his sword with the life of another.
Soft-spoken, handsome, gentle and charming, Chizuru is unsure initially as to how to respond to his forward affection. She slowly falls in love with his kind nature, and becomes frustrated that she cannot seem to remember the fond childhood memories that Iba holds dear. Iba on the other hand, dedicated his entire life to swordsmanship in order to gain the strength needed to protect the girl he loved in the past.
I had little expectation going into this route as Iba is a new character, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Although the whole childhood friend trope isn’t by any means groundbreaking to the otome genre, I felt that the writing and dynamic between the characters were done well. It is very difficult to dislike Iba, as he is very forward, honest and genuinely cares for Chizuru’s wellbeing above his own.
I found the ‘ancient demonic arm’ aspect of his route to be quite interesting, and not what I anticipated at all. The premise was not seen in any of the previous games, so it was nice to see something completely new to the Hakuoki series. However, I felt it was integrated quite poorly and had some glaring loop holes such as how it even attached to his own arm in the first place. In one scene it was completely separate from his own body, and in the next it had magically fused with him.
You would think that the writers would address such a crucial development in his route, and I was left very confused at how it was left unexplained. Despite the lacklustre incorporation into the storyline, it was still a welcome change and refreshing angle to his character route. In the original Hakuoki, barely any of the stories ever truly expanded on the ‘demon universe’ fantasy aspect of the plot. It’s quite disappointing, as there is just so much of Chizuru’s own background and past that is left unexplored.
SAKAMOTO RYOUMA: A ronin from the Tosa domain, Sakamoto is a man of mystery and proposes radical concepts far beyond the scope of his time era. He strongly believes in working for the sake of Japan’s future as a whole, rather than living a simple and meaningless life as a vassal. He quickly becomes a target and creates many enemies, due to his weaponry dealings with various domains and his lack of allegiance to a single side in the war.
He immediately becomes interested in Chizuru from first glance, and attempts to become closer to her at every opportunity. To her dismay, he is very flirtatious, suave, charismatic and handsome; often leaving her extremely flustered and confused as to what the underlying meaning behind his actions are. I found their relationship dynamic very interesting and refreshing, as it was very different from all the other bachelors. His route also offered a lot more context to the overarching war, and different perspectives on why important events occurred.
I found the whole ‘letter writing’ asoect of their relationship to be very cute, and it definitely showed the development of their feelings for one another. It built up anticipation for the readers, wondering when the pair would next be able to meet. However, one aspect of the route that I found quite lacklustre was Sakamoto’s reasons for falling in love with Chizuru. Unlike the others, he is intrigued by her from the very beginning and without much given reason.
Their relationship develops very rapidly, and I couldn’t help but question his motives throughout the route. Just why was he going so far for essentially a stranger? What was compelling him to do all these things for Chizuru? Does he have a hidden agenda? The address of his initial feelings was never answered even until the very end of his story, and it definitely made the romance progression feel much weaker in comparison to the other routes.
SOUMA KAZUE: Souma is a bright-eyed warrior, who abandons his former family upbringing in order to follow the ideals of the Shinsengumi. Souma truly believes that the Shinsengumi embody what it means to be a Samurai. He is initially appointed as Kondou’s page, and works beneath Chizuru who acts as his mentor throughout the story. He quickly learns and attends to the chores within the compound, as well as sword training underneath the other Captains.
As a result, the pair spend majority of their time with one another and become fast friends. Although his skill with the sword pales in comparison to the Shinsengumi Captains, Souma is determined to attain true strength and works hard each and everyday. Out of the new characters, Souma’s route was the one I did last as he had very little presence in all the bachelor stories and he did not pique my interest at all.
As Iba and Sakamoto’s routes were quite promising, I went into Souma’s path with high expectations. However, I was once again disappointed as it suffered from the same glaring issues as Shinpachi’s and Sanan’s routes. It had very little romance throughout the entire story, and I considered it platonic at best. For the bulk of his story, he does not even realise Chizuru is a girl; which made for some very comical moments that I did enjoy.
But as a result, the romance naturally suffered due to his lack of awareness of her true gender. I felt that Souma’s route was underwhelming and stale in comparison to the other bachelors, as very little events of substance actually occurs. His route also doesn’t reveal or contribute anything noteworthy to the overarching storyline. The only redeeming quality of his route was that his character is voiced by Yūki Kaji. I’m hoping his route picks up in the second half, as that is where I’m expecting the actual romance to occur.
The beautiful art for the Hakuoki series has always been one of the highlights of the game. The bachelors are just all so well designed, and very distinguishable from one another. The background art has also notably improved in the remake, looking much more refined and crisp on the PS Vita screen. They also incorporated many new backdrops that were not in the original game.
As I mentioned earlier, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds included many more CGs for all the bachelors than I expected considering it is only the first half of the game. It included both CGs found in the fan disk and new CGs exclusive to the remake. Although Idea Factory decided to design new characters to entice returning players to the remake, I personally didn’t find myself as attached to their designs in comparison to the original cast.
To my knowledge, the original artist for the series Kazuki Yone is no longer affiliated with the company; and the new characters and CGs were illustrated by an unknown artist. It is clear that they attempted to emulate as closely as possible the original art style, with the new bachelors and CGs. Although most of the new CGs are quite well drawn and lovely, in several of them I noticed the expressions of the characters were particularly different in comparison to the original artwork.
It definitely seemed quite stiff, and not so smoothly drawn when placed side by side with Kazuki Yone’s illustrations. I will never understand the decision behind removing her from the series, as I felt her unique artistic touch to the original characters is incomparable. It’s just so distinct, and really brought the characters to life. The new character designs although attractive, were nowhere near as memorable and well designed in comparison to the original cast.
Considering how ridiculously popular the Hakuoki series is, you would think that they would wish to maintain the main selling point of the game which is the artwork. If you’re new to the series then the differences will not be as apparent, but as I am very familiar with the game I instantly noticed the artistic changes. It’s very disappointing, and leaves me apprehensive for future artwork in the Hakuoki series.
Music and Voice Acting ★★★★
The music and voice acting is another aspect of the Hakuoki series that contributed to its immense success. One thing I didn’t expect from the remake was a completely revamped soundtrack, in comparison to the original game. The bgm tracks have significantly improved, especially for the battle and combat scenes. They suited the theme and motifs of the game perfectly, and were very effective in setting the mood of the story.
As additional dialogue and scenes were added to the remake, I also found the voice acting had improved from the original game. The new dialogue showcased more of the bachelor’s personalities, and enabled the voice actors to be so much more expressive in demonstrating their character’s feelings and inner conflict. The voice acting cast for the Hakuoki series has always impressed me, and it features a prolific and experienced line up of seiyuus. They emulated all the characters in the game immaculately and really brought their personalities to life.
The standout performances to me were definitely Miki Shin’ichirou (Hijikata Toshizo), Tsuda Kenjirou (Kazama Chikage) and Morikubo Shoutarou (Okita Souji). Hakuoki was the series that really made me a fan of Tsuda Kenjirou’s voice acting, as I felt his interpretation of Kazama’s voice and character was even greater than anything I could have imagined. His voice is just so rich, and distinguishable. He perfectly captures Kazama’s resentment towards humans, and his unwavering arrogance that Demons are superior in all aspects over mankind.
- Hijikata Toshizo | VA: Miki Shin’ichirou | 三木 眞一郎 |
Black Wolves Saga series as Nesso Galland, Pokemon series as James, and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood as Roy Mustang
- Okita Souji | VA: Morikubo Shoutarou | 森久保 祥太郎 |
Code: Realize series as Impey Barbicane, Persona series as Hanamura Yosuke, and Naruto series as Shikamaru Nara
- Hajime Saito | VA: Toriumi Kousuke | 鳥海 浩輔|
Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as Poyo-poyo/Shiki Hanamiya, Danganronpa series as Ishimaru Kiyotaka, Diabolik Lovers series as Sakamaki Shuu, Nightshade as Momochi Choujirou, and Naruto series as Inuzuka Kiba
- Kazama Chikage | VA: Tsuda Kenjirou | 津田 健次郎 |
Nightshade as Hattori Hanzo, and The Charming Empire as Amazaki Soshi
- Iba Hachiro | VA: Miyano Mamoru | 宮野 真守 |
Ouran High School Host Club as Tamaki Suou, Steins Gate series as Okabe Rintarou, Death Note as Light Yagami, Vampire Knight series as Zero Kiryu and Kingdom Hearts series as Riku
- Souma Kazue | VA: Yūki Kaji | 梶 裕貴 |
Black Wolves Saga series as Rath Vogart, Diabolik Lovers series as Sakamaki Kanato, Code: Realize series as Finis, Collar x Malice as Okazaki Kei, Norn 9 series as Yuiga Kakeru, Accel World as Haruyuki Arita, Attack on Titan as Eren Yeager, Final Fantasy series as Hope and Ao Haru Ride as Kou Mabuchi
The system overhaul and overall UI improvements were quite impressive in the remake. They completely renewed the text dialogue appearance, as well as the system navigation options. It incorporated a significantly better design than the original game, and felt very smooth to use. It included all the basic functions such as CG Gallery, Music List, Scene Recollection, and skip options.
I definitely would’ve really liked a ‘jump’ button included in the game, as the common route reused so many scenes and it was very time consuming to skip through for all 11 bachelors. The ‘Record of Service’ was extremely useful in the completion of the game, and unlocked after finishing a bachelor route. It enables the player to select exactly which chapter they would like to start the next play through on, as well as adjusting the bachelor’s affection level to access the different endings.
The encyclopaedia was very helpful in understanding the historical terminology and timeline, and I liked how they also added a side image of the character when providing information in regards to them. They also included effects such as floating cherry blossoms in between chapter transitions, and falling snow during the winter which were very nice extras to see.
Similar to the PS3 version, they again incorporated sprite animations such as moving lips, blinking eyes etc. However, I felt it looked much smoother in comparison to the original, as the animations were rather stiff on the PS3. There was also an on-screen butterfly effect which hovered over a particular bachelor, if you increased affection points with them after a decision.
I felt that out of all the new features, the ‘Warrior Record’ could’ve been designed much better. I was initially so confused as to what the purpose for it was, until I realised it indicated the current bachelor’s level of affection. I felt it was quite inconvenient to use, as you had to individually scroll through every bachelor to find the one you were after. Also, the percentage indicator was so small and it was why I couldn’t decipher what it’s function was to begin with at all.
The aspect I was most impressed with were all the new character animations and effects during the battle scenes. It’s significantly more interactive in comparison to the original, and actually included effects like blood being smeared across the screen, and improved blade animations. The transitions between the images were much smoother, and the overlaying of the character sprites felt more ‘authentic’ to an actual battle scene.
In conclusion, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds was definitely a better remake than I had initially expected. The writing is noticeably more detailed, which created a significantly more immersive storyline and multi-dimensional characters. The overall art improvements and complete music overhaul was also a great plus to the game. However, I did have some notable criticisms with the remake.
By the fifth and sixth play through, it definitely became extremely tedious going over the same common route so many times over. As someone who is very familiar with the series and played it on multiple ports, I did struggle with completing the game. Although it was very enjoyable playing the better written characters and routes, the new additional bachelors felt rather bland in comparison. Despite Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds offering a lot of new content, it became extremely text heavy as a result.
If you’re not a fan of long introductions, slow storyline pacing and a greater focus on the plot rather than the romances between the characters; then Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds may not be the game for you.
Not only that, but as it is ‘Part One’ to the series; it’s essentially a constant rinse and repeat of the story introduction, the same historical events and political unrest within Japan before any of the actual romance happens. Although it would be more enjoyable for new players to the series, it would still become noticeably tedious in the later play throughs.
The new characters were a lot better than I initially thought, but they were nowhere near as memorable and likeable as the original cast. I definitely would have preferred more content with the original characters, rather than having that screen time split with the new bachelors. For example: Shinpachi, Yamazaki and Sanan can barely be classified as ‘new routes’ and they definitely felt like side characters despite being apart of the main cast.
On the upside, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds offers a lot of replayability and content to read as it took me a long time to finish the game. Eleven dateable characters is by far the most I’ve seen out of all the otome games I have played. There is plenty of beautiful art with every bachelor, despite some characters receiving more than others.
As I mentioned earlier, although there is definitely new never before seen content in the remake, not all of it is ‘completely new’. For example: a lot of the ‘romance scenes’ with the bachelors are reused from the fan disk (Zuisouroku) and Stories of the Shinsengumi. Rather than being a standalone segment of the game, it is integrated into the storyline itself for more seamless and cohesive storytelling. This is rather misleading advertisement for returning players to the series, and a little disappointing. However, if you have never played the aforementioned fan disk or PS3 version; then this would not affect your enjoyment of the game at all.
Initially, I was stuck between 3.5/5 or a 4/5 rating due to how repetitive the game became in the later play throughs. However, after factoring aspects such as the art, music, voice acting, system, and improved writing; it definitely bumped it up to a 4/5. You can definitely see a lot of significant revamps and improvements in the remake, in comparison to the original Hakuoki title. I still enjoyed it despite being very familiar with the story and characters already. I have high hopes for the second half of the remake, as this is where the storyline really picks up. It actually diverges into the individual character routes, and where the true romance and character development happens.
Again, thank you to Idea Factory International for reaching out to me for the opportunity and I’ll definitely be posting up more reviews soon!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Written By Cherry