Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds (PS VITA)

When I first began playing "Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds" something seemed oddly familiar about it. I knew I had seen the plot, and the characters before somewhere. It's at that time of recollection that I realized I had actually reviewed Aksys Games' version of the same game on the PS3 several years back. In comparison to that version of the game this version of the Hakuoki story seems to be more streamlined in delivery, but actually half of the game that "Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi" was. In fact the press release for 'Kyoto Winds' states that this is the first half of a two part tale. Why IFI chose to divide it up is beyond me, but I suppose memory space does have something to do with it. Regardless of that, this trip down memory lane, and the realization that I'm once again playing through the same game I still found intact the admiration I found the first time around. In my first review I had actually discussed how the game was geared more towards a feminine crowd, and how it was a nice change for those less inclined to buy the more gender specific types of games. Yes, back in the day I was spouting nonsense about gender bias in the gaming industry. Perhaps I'm the one who got that ball of dung rolling (I hope not though) ... For those of you who missed out on that oldschool Inferno nugget feel free to read up on it here (Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi) as it will mostly mirror what I've got to say about IFI's rendition of Hakuoki ...

To start things off properly let's first talk about "Otome". Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds, and games like it are what you'd call an "Otome". Otome are in essence visual novel style games geared towards the female audience. They usually contain a female protagonist, and a host of male, or sometimes female characters with which the main character can choose to get romantically involved. The English translation for "Otome" basically being "Maiden Games". When it comes to Hakuoki the premise is very much inline with an Otome visual novel narrative, but in a pseudo-historical fashion. It mixes real world feudal Japan terminology, and historical facts with an almost supernatural fiction. In the first half of the story known as, "Kyoto Winds" you play as a very insightful young lady named 'Chiziru Yukimaru' who finds herself on a quest to locate her father's whereabouts in Kyoto. All she knows is that he's on a sort of medical mission for the Shogunate, and that he has not sent any letters to her as he had promised for a full month's time.

On her journey through the violent streets of Kyoto, Chiziru finds herself in an unfortunate fight for her life. At first she tries desperately to escape from some rogue Ronin looking to rob her, then from some inhuman samurai looking to kill her, and finally the mysterious  Shinsengumi who inadvertently save her life. After being spared, and brought to the Shinsengumi headquarters for questioning about the event that transpired Chiziru eventually finds some common ground with the twelve men there, and embarks on a journey with them to find her missing father. The story therein takes many different turns as Chiziru grows in maturity as a young lady, and finds romantic interest in the mysterious men who have taken her under their wing. There's love, loss, action, and much more in the way of drama for those willing to follow Chiziru on her adventure. As with any visual novel style game you'll have plenty of choices to make along the way. Choices regarding character relationships, and plot decisions. The answers you give will sometimes lead to a 'Game Over', and other times to a more branching direction. For those of you looking for a heroine to be proud of, action in the form of bloody samurai sword fights, and some romance on the side you might actually find this game to be that something new that you didn't know you wanted.

As far as gameplay goes you'll be reading through a lot of first-person, and character related dialogue as you watch Chiziru, and her bonds with the Shinsengumi grow through animated panel art, movies, and text. The plot progression is somewhat chapter based in delivery. It is divided by events, and further into chapters that are labeled by the month in the year 1864, and beyond. At any given point in your playthrough you can take a breather by pressing 'TRIANGLE', and selecting the "Save Game" option within that pop-up menu. You can also return to the title screen from the same menu. In the way of replay value you'll find that different romances lead to different story outcomes. There are 12 samurai bachelors in total, and some other individuals which will come into focus to influence the tale being told. For those of you wondering if you can reflect on your events through in-game collections the 'Gallery' is in place just for that. By selecting "Gallery" at the main menu you can watch the cinematic movies, watch the events that you witnessed unfold through the usual art/text combo, and even listen to the music in the game's soundtrack. All of which must be earned through a playthrough. It goes without saying there's also trophies available for you PSN trophy hunters out there. There's that, and an 'Encyclopedia' which references the pop-up terminology that is shown in the dialogue focused encounters. This includes words highlighted in purple that give some outside information on characters, historical terms, and places of interest found within the Hakuoki tale.

The Verdict ...

Though it's half the game 'Stories of the Shinsengumi' was, 'Kyoto Winds' does bring the experience to a new audience in a new way via the PS Vita. The story feels more streamlined on the PS Vita with the pop-up terminology references being assigned to down on the DPad. It allows for quick in, and out background access, and doesn't hinder story progression at all. Navigating the menus in general is more easily done, and for some reason keeps the experience from seeming like it's dragging on for all eternity. Things within the game like the thematic music, the authentic Japanese voice-overs, and the art make the story at hand all the more appealing. As I said earlier on this is a game geared more towards a female audience though. With having been said IFI did include an option to turn off the romance. In doing so I think even a dude could enjoy the underlying tale of Chiziru, and the Shinsengumi. Simply think of it as April 'O Neil meets the TMNT, or Bella in Twilight (NOPE! Scratch that!). It's definitely more like April 'O Neil meeting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ... Anyways, it once again gets the Inferno's seal of approval! The game is slated for release on May 16th!

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