Hakuouki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom Review

Title: Hakuouki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom
Original title: 薄桜鬼 新選組奇譚
Alias: Hakuouki ~Shinsengumi Kitan~
Release date: 2008-09-18
English release date: 2012-02-14 (both as a Standard and a Limited edition)
Developer: IDEA FACTORY & Otomate
English publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PSP

I can’t claim that I have played many otome games, because that simply wouldn’t be true. Up to now I have only read “The Second Reproduction” and I liked it quite a bit. It stands to reason that I would then try “Hakuouki” – probably the most famous otome game released in the West. Not that there are much hardships to become the most famous, when there are only two games of this ilk released commercially for the gaijin audience (the other one being “Yo-Jin-Bo”, of course).

“Hakuouki” chooses a very unusual setting for a female oriented game - a late Bakumatsu period and the subsequent Meiji Restoration. This is one of the most exciting ages in late Japanese history when Imperial forces, Shogunate loyalists, demons and vampires clashed in an all consuming Civil War… Wait, what?!

OK, let’s put demons and vampires on the back burner for a moment and let me express an honest surprise at the structure of the game, for, while being an otome game, it’s firstly a political thriller, secondly an adventure story, thirdly a supernatural thriller and only then it’s a romance game. That makes it a perfect game for males as well as females, as romance really doesn’t play such a prominent role as might be expected.

The game centers on the Shinsengumi – a real life Shogunate funded police force acting in Kyouto area from approximately 1863 to their fall in 1869 in Hokkaido. What might surprise many of you and it certainly did surprise me, is that the game is incredibly faithful to real historical events and follows an almost six year period detailing the fall of Tokugawa.

They say that to fool your enemy, you must first fool your allies.
-Chizuru Yukimura
A valiant hero... err, heroine.
January, 1864. A lone girl dressed as a man arrives to Kyoto in search of her father, with whom she recently lost contact. Of course it doesn’t take long for our Polly Oliver to find herself in trouble and she is apprehended and arrested by Shinsengumi. Her disguise understandably cannot stand close scrutiny, but the members of the organization decide to humour her and let her dress as a man. It is also revealed, that they have been searching for Chizuru’s (for Chizuru Yukimura is our protagonist’s name) father for some time in relation to some scientific experiments he conducted on behalf of the Shogunate.

All members of the Shinsengumi are obviously invariably young bishounen, which is actually not far from the truth as actual historical leaders of the organization ranged from 20 to 29 in 1864. Also Hijikata is reported to have been a really handsome man, Saitou on the other hand… Our protagonist’s age is never mentioned, but one can guess that she is a minor at the time of her arrival to Kyouto and we can follow her maturation over the period of six years.

I think today's gonna be the day you die.
-Souji Okita
The cavalry.
What follows is a somewhat lackluster and overlong common route of the novel. I felt annoyed by the disjointed vignette style of the storytelling. In order to fit six years of events into the game, the authors chose to represent key events in the career of Shinsengumi, joined by Chizuru’s narration. The problem is that the common route never manages to achieve a cohesive narrative and felt like a collection of short stories. It doesn’t help that four years of events had to be fit into about ten hours, encompassing three chapters, while still giving a substantial focus to our protagonist and her relationship with the pretty boys. The result is that the storytelling being very uneven: exciting historical battles followed by lackluster slice-of-life scenes.

A lot of details are devoted to major incidents like Ikedaiya Affair, Hamaguri Gate Rebellion and Aburano Koji incident. To a certain extent the common route can be read like a Japanese History school textbook, especially because it doesn’t deviate from real events. That makes the story overly dry and technical sometimes. On the other hand, replaying the common route while trying to win a different boyfriend (man, I feel weird saying that) will give you so many new scenes, that you will feel rewarded. It’s substantially different from other visual novels, where on a replay you can just hold the skip button until the very end of the common route.

It’s the character routes that become somewhat lax in historical accuracy, but maybe it’s for the better as it is where the game shines. All character routes start with a bang with a Battle of Toba-Fushimi (exactly four years after Chizuru’s arrival to Kyoto) and veer in completely different directions from there.

The choices in the game are somewhat counterintuitive and it might be hard to get the good ending with your chosen one, plus there are only 12 save slots, but the game contains a roll-back function that allows you to rewind to a previous scene that is not too far gone, thus allowing you to experiment. Additionally, there is an option (turned on by default) for a game to reveal when you trip affection flags. I personally do not have much time for experimentation so I just used a walkthrough.

If you lose sight of something, the only person who can find it again is you.
-Toshizo Hijikata
What's cherry trees got to do with it?
I don’t really know why I chose Hijikata Toshizou as my first guy to go after, but imagine my surprise when it turned out that it’s a True Route of the novel (actually, this is also the only route where the title of the game is explained). Lucky me, that it wasn’t locked. Hijikata’s is the longest path that encompasses the longest time frame up to and including the rise and fall of the Republic of Ezo.

After playing all the routes, I can say that every one of them has a certain theme. Hijikata’s is Political Thriller. Supernatural elements are really subdued and the overwhelming attention is given to real historical events and battles. That is really the main drawback of the path too, as at times it’s too dry. On the other hand Hijikata is a likable protagonist that appears to be a cold and calculating commander, but it is shown that he really cares about the men under his command and eventually he starts to care for one more person – Chizuru. While Hijikata is not a bad fellow to follow, I felt that there was too much filler material here and the narration suffers from the same disjointed story telling as the common route. My biggest gripe though is that the resolution to Yukimura’s father search is the most unsatisfying if she goes after Hijikata.

Whatever you think about him that doesn’t change the fact that he is basically robbing the cradle with Chizuru. As the oldest of the romancable Shinsengumi leaders, he is 33 when his route starts :-)

If I was forced to choose between being a sword that's lost its master, and a warrior without a sword, then I would choose to be a warrior without his sword.
-Hajime Saito
Saitou knows the most effective way to shut up a girl.
Saitou Hajime is the second beau I tried to seduce and the job was a bit harder as he is a soldier through and through. He is a really introverted and mysterious person who is devoted to his duties and the way of bushido. It’s your job to make him realize that there is as much honour in defending one person as there is in defending a nation. Hajime himself is really likable, especially after you get him out of his shell, but his route itself was not really memorable. I already feel the events therein evaporating from my mind, which doesn’t bode well for the writing. I also find it hard to assign a theme to this route, so I will leave it blank.

P.S. It’s also very funny to compare Saitou’s real life photograph with his representation in the game… :-D

We're killers first and friends second.
The Shinsengumi isn't a social club.
-Souji Okita
That's some interesting physical properties there.
Finally we come to the meat and bones of the game and that is Okita Souji -  a sickly member of the company that is also one of its best swordsmen. He is a laid back guy that is constantly threatening to kill Chizuru, to the point that his threats stop affecting her.

The theme of his game is Personal Drama and really, the war, the fighting and the bloodshed here give way for a most personal journey where both Okita and Chizuru try to deal with their demons (both inner and outer ones). This is the chapter that delves most deeply into our protagonist’s past and family ties and the only one that resolves the Kaoru arc that promptly disappeared in all the other routes with no explanation. Souji and Chizuru display a great chemistry and the ending is simply unforgettable. It’s really funny that I initially didn’t like Okita, but in the end his path became my favourite.

The only negative thing i can think of is his creepy fixation with Kondou, but nobody is perfect and that arc is eventually resolved in a pretty well thought out manner.

Kiss is the only way I know how to calm a crying woman.
-Sanosuke Harada
Our resident playboy.
Harada Sanosuke is a red haired samurai that uses a spear instead of a sword in battle and in his youth tried to commit a seppuku (all facts historically accurate). He is also the only romancable guy that is a badass normal and could go toe to toe with an oni without any supernatural aid. Natheless, in spite of how badass he is, his theme is a very unusual one – a Love Story. Indeed, this is the most romantic and the least action laden of the paths. Fret not though, for the romance is incredibly well done.

While Yukimura and Harada have many personal problems they have to overcome and many times it appears that one or the other will make a very stupid decision, in the end they manage to talk it out just in time. This is really refreshing change from many bishoujo games where a donkan protagonist will invariably do something moronic while pursuing his love interest. In contrast, Harada’s path is very intelligently written while being really realistic and showing us that you have to sacrifice some things that you want in order to achieve happiness.

It’s also really nice to see that Chizuru doesn’t bend even under pressure and preserves her morals against those that would want to use her. In the end this is another great route worth our attention.
P.S. This is also the only route where Chizuru is described as having sex with her chosen guy ;-)

I don't care that I'm a monster if I can use my life for your sake.
-Heisuke Toudou
No, I am.
Finally we reached Toudou Heisuke and… oh, my!.. This is a bona fide Supernatural Horror Thriller. Heisuke’s path is the most steeped in fantasy and actually presents many parallels with Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. A team of brave hunters assault a vampire lord’s castle up in the mountains. Wait, what?!

Heisuke is the youngest of the company and initially the least serious one, always being a butt monkey of his friends’ jokes. He also tries to constantly cheer our protagonist and is a fun person to be around. That all changes when he becomes a vampire (an inevitable spoiler). Toudou absolutely loathes what he became and considers himself an unnatural abomination. Moreover, he is now always gloomy and sad. It is your job to show him that monster is not something that we become by accident, but something that we choose to be.

This was also a lovely path and it finally finished the Sen-hime arc that was started in the common route and disappeared from all the others.

War is just an excuse for large scale theft.
It's nothing but a scramble for money and power.
-Chikage Kazama
Not so evil after all.
In the end, some words about Kazama Chikage. He is an oni. That is not a spoiler, that is a fact and he is a semi secret obtainable hero. He starts as an anti-villain of the story and it is not initially apparent that you can obtain him and actually that is not easy to do without a walkthrough or an incredible memory. Simply put, you have to gain an equal number of affection points with every member of the Shinsengumi by the time the fourth chapter comes.

Kazama is not a likable person in the other routes, but he shows a considerably different side of his personality in his own one. That would be all and good, but his path is the shortest and suffers from both character underdevelopment and tell-not-show storytelling. This is really disappointing as there was immense potential for a complex and thought provoking story.

With so many guys and so many different storylines, there is something to find for any player and I personally think that "Hakuouki" is a game that gets better and better with every playthrough. All of the mentioned characters have one ending each plus a normal ending if you failed to get any one of them, but there are lots of bad ends peppered along the way. However, they are not worth trying to get, because they have no story. A few short lines and you are dead. Hell, most of the time you won’t even get a CG. 

Have you ever heard of a war where the guy who started it runs away as soon as people start fighting?
-Shinpachi Nagahura
It's a good thing I'm not a female, for that might overload my brain.
Of course, those I mentioned are not the only characters present. There are Kondou Isami, Sanan Keisuke, Nagahura Shinpachi, Shimada Kai, Yamazaki Susumu and others that play very prominent roles, but there is simply no place to talk about them all. Nonetheless, I praise the author’s ability to breathe life into her/his creations and what’s more, make everyone look like they really are friends and comrades.

Only now, after talking about all those bishies I remember that I haven’t even talked about a protagonist. Let’s rectify that oversight. First of all, I call her Chizuru, but while that is her default name, you can actually change it. Subsequently, her name is never spoken aloud, but only mentioned in text. That is something I don’t approve of, and while it didn’t detract from the game much, I would have preferred to have heard her name from the lips of her chosen one.

Chizuru is a very likable protagonist. Here, I said it. She doesn’t display the major flaws that are so prevalent in the bishoujo game male protagonists. She is smart, loyal and while she might be a bit naïve, Chizuru knows her limitations. She is fully aware that she might be a burden on the Shinsengumi and that they have to do the fighting on her behalf, but that is even more of a reason for her to try to help them in any way she can. Chizuru can also accept even unpleasant facts with an open mind and doesn’t sink into denial as one might expect her to do. Also, what's most important of all, she's not a doormat - something that is known to plague many otome games. Seriously, she is a dream girl of any guy.

Of course any game of such conflicting events must have a villain to further the conflict and oppose the protagonist. Right? Right?..

The greatest service a warrior can render is to see that his skills are never called upon.
-Kyuju Amagiri
Jonas Brothers.
Well, yes and no. The game drops a metric fuckton of villains and antagonists onto your head, but neither of them can be considered a Big Bad, or rather every route has its own main antagonist. The large number of villains makes it hard for one of them to present a singular threat and it’s quite laughable, how most of the time a villain would enter a scene, exchange a few blows with the heroes, proclaim “We’ll meet again” and then leave the scene. I’m pretty sure that breaks at least a dozen rules from “Peter’s Evil Overlord List”. Alas, in the end it’s not that any of them are the real antagonist of the story. As Kazama ruminates, the real evil is human greed, ambition and thirst for power with “Hakuouki” ultimately being a story of the death of old Japan and the birth of the new one.

I gather that it’s finally time to get that elephant from under the bed – I have mentioned vampires only a few paragraphs back. Actually, I was lying, there are no vampires in this VN (*shock*), though in one route they are implied to exist. What does exist are called rasetsu (furies in the translation). Rasetsu is a Japanization of a Hindu mythological being Rakshasa, but there are no Rakshasa in the game either. The entities in “Hakuouki” are not supernatural beings, but a military experiment gone wrong. Apparently Tokugawa Shogunate intended to create an invincible super soldier (they obviously haven’t read Justin Cronin’s “The Passage”) and got something that can heal almost any injury, is stronger and more agile, but has a maddening desire to drink blood. Yeah, as the great horror writer William Shakespeare said: “That which we call a vampire by any other name would suck as hard”.

The other magical bit of lore exists in the shape of oni, that unlike more traditional portrayals are not so much unlike humans. They are a preternatural race of super-humans that have existed for a long time hidden from plain view and they are very displeased by being pulled into the affairs of humans. I personally despise the “Aksys Games” localization of oni as demons. First of all, I only accept the word demon in a Judeo-Christian context and secondly – there is nothing demonic about them (unless you count being aloof bastards in regards to humanity as being evil). Both of those preternatural forces are part of the conflict, even if they do not shape it, thus “Hakuouki” is a historical fantasy novel that does a great job not to overwhelm real world events with fantastic ones and manages to portray the futility and despair of war without excessive violence.

I sympathize with your awful luck.
May you rest in peace.
-Sanosuke Harada
Saving damsels in distress is a daily job for samurai.
In addition to the usual technical features of a visual novel, “Hakuouki” has a built-in “Encyclopedia” where the terms you might not know are explained. The thing is that it’s useless at best and harmful at worst. Most of the time the “Encyclopedia” explains terms that are familiar to a brain dead zombie, e.g. it explains that a patriot is a man that loves his country (thank you Captain Obvious). Other times it spoils the events that are yet to come or that will only appear in a different route. The most egregious example of that is this:
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

Graphically the game looks very nice with very well drawn character sprites (though I missed the variety of backgrounds). However, the CGs appear to be of lower internal resolution then all the other graphics of the game as stretching the game screen to the width of my monitor (using an emulator) made them appear a bit blurry and pixellated – something that wasn’t so apparent on backgrounds and paper-dolls. The voice acting is of very professional quality with all the characters brought alive by their seiyuu. Moreover, even the most insignificant characters without paper-dolls are fully voiced (the only one who doesn’t speak is Chizuru herself). My favourite voice of all is obviously Kazama’s. Seriously, Kenjiro Tsuda who voices him must be a god. He apparently also voices Kazama in the anime, which I’m fully intending to see some time in the near future. Sadly, the BGM doesn’t fare so well in my eyes. It’s comprised of only a handful tracks, though I can't proclaim that they don't sound good. That puts into question why “Aksys Games” decided to add a soundtrack CD as a bonus to the Limited Edition of “Hakuouki”.

I'd heard you were talented, for peasants, but after this sorry display it looks like those rumors were just that.
-Chikage Kazama
Modern vs old.
The translation of the game from its original Japanese appears to be handled quite well. I have spotted spelling mistakes here and there, but they didn’t detract me from my experience. On the other hand, as a game set during the twilight of the feudal Japan it is sorely missing one important feature – honorifics. If there is one game that would have greatly benefited from their retainment, it’s “Hakuouki”. Now, without honorifics, you will probably not realize that, for example, Chizuru is called Yukimura-kun by the Shinsengumi, which is usually a way to address a boy.

While the absence of honorifics was missed, it wasn’t distracting. On the other hand, an inconsistent Romanization of long vowels was. I still cannot understand, why sometimes the translator writes two vowels and sometimes only one in those instances. Why one of your beaus is Toudou, but another one is Saito, when Wikipedia clearly states that he should be Saitou? Why Isami’s surname is Kondou, but your father is named Kodo? And why the hell the name of the game itself was romanized as “Hakuoki”? Other long vowels fare no better. Oh, well, let’s just write it off as a quirk of the localization.

In the end, I must say that "Hakuouki" is a very solid historical fantasy romance game that will surely provide interesting themes both for female and male players (as long as they can get over a prejudice of playing a game primarily aimed at girls). 

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Original Japanese site
Official English site
Buy the physical Limited Edition on:,
Buy the physical Standard Edition on:,
Read my guide on how to run Hakuouki on a PC
Hakuouki walkthrough by: Awesome Curry or Vivian Lam.

Final Verdict: 73%

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5/5/13 18:15

    please give a url to download for pc..... ._.