Over the past year and a half, America has seen a surge in visual novel releases from Japan. From the cult hit “Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors” to the download only PSP horror gem “Corpse Party” visual novel, these games are finding their niche here in the US. The most recent example is “Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom” by Aksys Games for the PSP.
At the end of Edo period , Chizuru Yukimura, heads to Kyoto dressed as a boy to find her missing father. When she gets there she gets attacked by crazed white-haired men in a back alley and is saved by the Shinsengumi-who ironically take her prisoner. They do eventually warm up to her to the point where she lives with them as their page while looking for her father at the same time.
The story may at first seem like your typical anime fare, but it does develop nicely. The characters are well thought out, the writing is strong and there are plenty of twists and turns that will keep you invested from beginning to end. The game boasts that it has romance, but there is none of that until you one of the endings. It’s more historical drama than romance.
What will surprise some American gamers is that there is no gameplay whatsoever. This is a visual novel in the strictest sense. No exploration like in “Corpse Party” and no puzzles to solve like in “999.” The only interaction is when the game gives you an option as to what you want Chizuru to do next in the story. These options change the story somewhat and will affect which ending you get with which male character just like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Some gamers will be put off by this lack of gameplay and will skip this game altogether.
Graphically the game is not much to look at. The character models are nicely drawn, especially the villains, but that’s it. The backgrounds are bland and uninteresting and you’ll be spending more time reading than looking at the backgrounds. In fact, you won’t even notice the backgrounds at all. They’re that dull.
Aksys Games also kept the original Japanese voices in the US release. This will please some purists annoy others. There is an option to turn the voices off. You can also turn the music which is good because the songs are bland and play the same loop over and over again. Shutting off both will give the impression of reading a read book which will seem weird for some.
A smart move on Aksys Games is the ability to play each chapter again to choose a different route to see what you missed. There’s an encyclopedia that keeps track of character names, real life names, real life locations and events that the characters will spout throughout the game. This is helpful for those who are unfamiliar with Japanese history and will make the story easier to follow.
“Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom” is the first true visual novel to hit American shores and it may cause some gamers to skip it. If you can treat it like a picture book with voice acting and music you’ll be treated to a compelling story that takes place during one of Japan’s darkest times. Just imagine your PSP is a mini Kindle and you’ll enjoy yourself.