Genre: Visual Novel, Otome
Platform: PS Vita, PC via Steam
Release Date: March 13, 2018
Disclaimer: The game is divided into two parts, Kyoto Winds and its sequel (Edo Blossoms). It’s advised that both reviews are read together.
As previously stated in my Kyoto Winds review, the two visual novels mentioned above are meant to be a remake of the popular Hakuoki, which first launched for the PS2 in Japan in 2008. Thankfully because of its massive popularity, it has become one of the few Otome to be localized and released in the West.
After playing both sections of the remake, I don’t feel as conflicted about the decision to split it into two, since the outcome of the latest part wasn’t bad like I initially suspected it to be. The transition between the two installments is seamless, as it picks up from Kyoto Wind’s ending and even offers a short prologue recounting its most important events.
I still stand by my argument that the switch between the two entries was easier for me for the reason that I played both Hakuoki without the year-long gap from the release of one to the other. Nonetheless, rather than trying to put myself into another player’s shoes, in this review I’ll aim to describe my own experience with the remake as a whole.
The story this time around had positive aspects over the prequel, yet the overwhelmingly grim tone of the game brought negatives that often overshadowed the positives.
While Kyoto Winds is the build-up to the real drama, Edo Blossoms explores the most important plot points and delivers a mostly satisfying conclusion to each of its routes… as long as you don’t look at the big picture, of course. I’ll elaborate on this point later on in the section with spoilers.
The most prominent good highlight of the game is that it contains the mess that its prequel prepared us for. The main problem I had with the fist part of the remake was that it kept information from me by forcing me to run into an invisible wall in the middle of each guy’s route, which could only be overcome after clearing every route and moving on to the next entry. This move annihilated my anticipation not just for the future of the route I was playing, but also for the remaining stories I had yet to play, as I knew the plot would just end abruptly without offering the epilogue I needed.
Unfortunately, the negative aspects are brought up by the positives. Although it is true the story is inspired by the real tale of the Shinsengumi, I didn’t play the game to judge how closely it followed the historical events in real life, so the excessive angst definitely got to me as I worked my way through it. Players who are mostly looking forward to the romance will definitely find themselves in a predicament; no matter which guy you’re pursuing, the routes get increasingly more depressing as you progress and all of the endings are very bittersweet.
The highlight of Hakuoki’s narrative is definitely its characters. The general plot by itself doesn’t stand out much – the historical events are extremely boring and the whole demon deal is just an excuse to throw some ridiculous bloodsucking scenes into the mix. Also, seeing that the game was set in Edo era Japan, the “girls can’t fight”, “females tend to the household chores” and “a man needs to protect women” ideas are brought up every 10 minutes. This kind of misogynist ideology often comes up in Otomate’s visual novels, so the historical setting just gave them a reason to bring it up even more often than they usually do.
The main cast is the only reason I cared about what was happening, since I wanted to know what fate awaited them. The original Hakuoki had a bigger focus on the horrible writing described above, which is why I considered it a waste of time; however the remake manages to drown out the boring and annoying aspects by increasing the character and relationship-centric content.
Each main character has traits or behaviors that make them stand out from the rest. I genuinely came to care for most of them and the writers did a great job portraying twelve different individuals that stood out from one another.
As a whole, the writing felt more consistent in Kyoto Winds, taking into account the fact that Edo Blossoms often dropped the ball with the plot’s progression. The writers came up with many revelations and turning points for each story, however they felt like Spanish soap opera material because of how randomly dramatic they were, and the transition from one to another was often rushed.
To be honest it seemed weird that they often cut short many scenes, it almost looked like they just didn’t want to write more. Each route was 3 to 4 hours long, so I couldn’t help but wonder if they had strict time constraints – perhaps the fact that they had to make 13 routes played a big part in this.
My opinion on other aspects of Hakuoki remain unchanged, since the resources used for Edo Blossoms are largely the same as the ones in its prequel. The only noteworthy addition are the new sprites and CGs.
Although I have to admit most characters’ new haircuts killed me inside because their original long hair was superior, the new designs with Western uniforms for each guy were great and the quality was consistent with their original sprite. I only wish Chizuru got her own Western uniform in more routes – it only made an appearance in 4 routes; in the other ones she was the odd one out still wearing Japanese clothes.
The CGs this time around fixed an aspect I talked about in the first game’s review – the scene and composition choices were much better. All routes had beautiful illustrations of the guys with the protagonist, and it was just eye candy all around. The original main cast got more illustrations than the other characters so the graphics were superior in their stories –since you got to see a new CG every other scene– but thankfully the images are evenly distributed in the other routes so that you don’t spend long periods of time without seeing a new illustration.
As gamers may already know, remakes can be a hit or a miss, considering that the magic of the original installment is often lost when developers make haste to pump out more rushed material and end up turning a series into a cash cow. The Hakuoki remake as a whole was a hit, and the end result was much better and more complete than the original game. Many “what if?” scenarios were explored in the newest entries thanks to the new scenes and romance options. Even some of the previous problems that made the visual novel boring to play were fixed; I’m unsure if many scenes were rewritten because this time around the main routes weren’t a bother to play.
When it comes down to evaluating Edo Blossoms itself, it’s not a bad entry but the writing does take a hit at times, and the angst might be very overwhelming if you’re like me and prefer more light-hearted games. It’s not that I hate angst in general, it’s just that the entirety of the narrative in Hakuoki was war, death, and depression. The game does have many romantic scenes scattered throughout it and succeeded at keeping me invested in the plot’s development despite the fact that by the ninth route I was ready to finish the VN and move on to playing something else.
Edo Blossoms’ story isn’t uninteresting per se, it just has a lot going on which makes it overwhelming at times. The hiccups in the narrative aren’t present in the visuals, and the art is definitely an improvement over the previous installment. I’m relieved that I played Hakuoki again, since now my opinion on it is mostly positive, however while it is an otome game I would recommend, it’s definitely not among my favorites. This second part of the remake does complete the Kyoto Winds experience, so make sure to try it out if you liked its prequel.
Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms delivers everything its prequel promised: dramatic revelations and romantic epilogues alike can be found among its content, which makes it highly worth playing for any fans of the series. Although Hakuoki isn't a bad visual novel per se, each route does follow a basic angst formula that grows tiring as you progress. All of the endings were bittersweet and predictable, which took away from how satisfactory the experience as a whole could be. The game's resources were mostly the same as the ones used in Kyoto Winds, but the illustrations showed notable improvements and the characters’ designs were updated.