Publisher: Idea Factory
Developer: Idea Factory
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
As I’ve probably written before, I don’t understand why so many visual novels seem to go out of their ways to ensure that every single character is as obnoxious (if not outright repulsive) as possible. Even otome games go this route, and those are all about female characters trying to decide between eligible suitors. You’d think that such scenarios would provide the perfect excuse for those games to let loose a little and explore the possibility of including likeable characters, but there are a surprising number of counterexamples that would suggest otherwise.
By this measure, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds seems like something of a revelation. The characters aren’t entirely awful. They have understandable motivations, they aren’t too needlessly rude, and you don’t feel bad about steering the main character towards most of them. When some of the possible suitors seem brusque, it seems like legitimate character development with some basis in historical reality, rather than being a case the game’s writers working through their own weird misogynistic issues. You get to make decisions based on “Which story do I want to see unfold?” rather than “Which of these storylines will I have the least trouble stomaching?”, which makes for a much more pleasant experience.
On top of that, the story is actually interesting. In general terms, of course, the game is focused on the main character, Chizuru, romancing the various Shinsengumi samurai, but there’s a clear plot beyond that: she’s traveled to Kyoto to find her missing father. After she stumbles into a bad situation almost immediately upon her arrival (in which the Shinsengumi play a prominent role), everything that happens in the game is set in motion. It’s appropriately mysterious, which makes this game much closer to an actual novel than most of its other genre brethren.
Admittedly, though Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds gets full marks for having a compelling plot, it loses a few points for only featuring the first half of the story. The game may sell itself as the “remastered telling of the beloved, visual novel Hakuoki series”, but the reality is that it ends before any of these storylines reach their full conclusions. At present they haven’t announced when that second half is being localized, which means that if you want resolution, you may end up being disappointed.
On top of that, I’ll point out that there are a lot of characters you’ll need to mentally balance here. Chizuru has her pick of a dozen samurai to romance, to say nothing of all the other characters who exist to further the plot and round out the game’s world. That’s a lot to keep track of, and even if the game does an admirable job of making them seem distinct…it’s still a lot to keep track of.
But just as you wouldn’t criticize an actual novel for including too many characters (or, at least, you wouldn’t criticize a well-written novel for featuring too many characters), writing off Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds for that reason would be foolish. There’s a lot to digest here, but it’s interesting enough that, if you give it a chance, you shouldn’t mind that too much.