Review: Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms
Note: As a direct sequel to Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds, there will be some spoilers for that game within this article.
Last Minute Split
Just last week I opened up our review of Trails of Cold Steel II by talking about developers and publishers splitting games into two parts. Whether for the cynical cash grab or a legitimate reason, this is the kind of decision that’s usually made at some point during a game’s development. However, with today’s game, I’ve now come across something I didn’t expect to: a game split in half after its original release.
Last year we looked at the otome visual novel Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds, a remake of the first entry in the Hakuoki series to hit western shores, then subtitled Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. It’s a game I ended up enjoying quite a bit, much to my surprise. At the time of review, though, there was one thing I didn’t realize about that game.
Kyoto Winds was a remake of only the first half of Demon of the Fleeting Blossom.
Thus, when I was offered the chance to play the game’s follow-up, I assumed that it would be a remake of a later game in the series. When I fired it up and found a direct continuation of Kyoto Winds‘ story, though, I looked into these remakes a bit more and discovered that this was a two-part remake of a single game. It’s a bit of an unusual decision if you ask me, but was breaking up the game worth it?
Developed by Otomate and published in the west by Idea Factory International, Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms was released on March 13th, 2018, for Vita and PC via Steam. The Vita version was played for this review.
Change or Die
As I mentioned, Edo Blossoms picks up directly after the end of Kyoto Winds. After suffering a major defeat in a battle against the Imperial Army, the Shinsengumi are forced to abandon their home in Kyoto and retreat to the city of Edo. Times are changing in Japan, and with the country opening up to western influence, the Shinsengumi are struggling to uphold their ideals and the power of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Of course, the Shinsengumi have something else they need to keep under control: the vampire-like Furies. With random murders on the rise around Edo, it seems they may be losing control of this as well. For a group of warriors so entrenched in their old ways, will they be able to rebuild around the changes happening in Japan, or will they resist?
Much like Kyoto Winds, while Edo Blossoms markets itself heavily as a romance game for women, the reality is that the tale here is more of a historical drama with supernatural elements…with a bit of romance here and there. Despite my experience with the last game, though, I managed to fall for the marketing with this one. As I said, I expected this to be a remake of a different series entry, and the game opens up with you choosing which of the Shinsengumi men you wish to pursue, so I was fully expecting Edo Blossoms to be much more focused on romance.
Of course, being the second half of an overarching story, it turned out to be nothing of the sort. What we do get here, though, are the supernatural elements of the series coming much more to the forefront of the story. While Kyoto Winds follows its historical plot pretty closely, with a few dashes of vampires and demons, Edo Blossoms goes full bore with crazy battles between enhanced soldiers and people becoming Furies left and right.
While the supernatural elements are entertaining, I still find the historical story behind the game to be more interesting. Easily my favorite part of the story here is seeing how the Shinsengumi deal with Japan becoming more and more influenced by western powers. These noble sword-fighting samurai now have to deal with enemies wielding firearms, slaughtering their soldiers en masse. Some groups begin to adopt western military strategies, the Shinsengumi begin donning western clothing so they don’t stand out as much in contested areas, and some new characters seem to just fully adopt western culture. This time period was a major turning point in Japanese history, and seeing the changes presented here though the eyes of the soldiers on the ground is incredibly intriguing.
Having the supernatural story more at the forefront does help fix one of my complaints from the previous game: the lack of influence player character Chizuru actually has on the story. With her personal story directly tying into the game’s fantastical elements, she naturally becomes a more important player in the plot of Edo Blossoms. Even better, she actually develops a bit in this story, starting to stand up for herself and relying less on all the beautiful samurai boys around her.
While the romance elements do take a backseat to the actual drama here, they are somewhat more prominent than in Kyoto Winds. Being the ending to the story presented there, it’s only natural that the relationships that begin in the previous game come to their climax in Edo Blossoms, and I feel that they are interwoven into the story pretty damn well. The conclusions to the romances with the various characters feel like natural extensions of the relationships built so far, rather than tacked on like in many romance-focused visual novels I played in the past.
If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed whatsoever from Kyoto Winds to Edo Blossoms, its the game’s presentation. Everything from the art design to the menu layout is the same as last year’s release, which is to be expected, as this is the second half of a single overarching game. The only real new thing here are some new sprites for the Shinsengumi dressed in western garb.
As such, the comments from last year’s Kyoto Winds review apply here as well. The game still has a wonderful color palette, making heavy use of faded colors. The CG art stills still look great outside of some facial expressions. The voice acting remains excellent, and is especially highlighted in the climaxes of each story route. Music remains fitting, although unremarkable.
An Essential Finale
This is a much shorter review than I’m used to writing, but that’s really because, outside of the story, Edo Blossoms is the same game as last year’s Kyoto Winds. It took some time for me to get reinvested in the story, as it’s been nearly a year since I jumped into this world. Once I was back in, though, it was like I never left, and seeing the various plot points finally come to a climax was great closure.
While the heavier focus on Hakuoki’s supernatural elements wasn’t my cup of tea, the presentation of the changing status quo in Japan as well as better development of Chizuru helped balance it out. I truly have no idea why Idea Factory decided to split this remake into two releases, and I would have greatly preferred having this full story contained in a single release. Regardless, if you enjoyed the story of Kyoto Winds, Edo Blossoms is pretty much essential playing. As such, I believe this game deserves the same score as the previous one.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Idea Factory International for Vita. Screenshots taken by reviewer.