Sunday, April 14, 2013

Games for Everyone: Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi

Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsensgumi Review

                When Hakuoki ~Demon of the Fleeting Blossom~ came out last year, for many it made for an excellent introduction to the otome game genre and for me it was an excellent VN all around (as you can see from this review). The characters were all likable and interesting, the artwork was great, and the stories for each route were good reads. So when I heard that another Hakuoki game had been licensed for English release, naturally I was excited as it promised gameplay in the style of Dynasty Warriors and two different story modes: one a retelling of the original game’s story and the other a completely new one with two new characters. After its release date of February 14, 2013, I began playing my copy and…it’s been a long time since I’ve been so disappointed by a spin off to a game I enjoyed.

Pros:  Uses scenes from the anime in the main story mode well, Chizuru is voiced

Cons:  Only “Shinsensgumi Memorial” can be considered a real story mode, in Memorial only Hijikata’s story is handled well, gameplay is monotonous, audio lags at points, the camera while adjustable is still an annoyance.

WTF?!: I got through this crappy game I preordered and all I got from it was this stupid bandana…

                This would be where I would give you guys a summary of the game’s story, but in this case there’s really no point to it. While it boasts having two story modes, Warriors of the Shinsengumi has about the same story as the first game regardless of which story mode you pick: Shinsengumi Memorial, which is basically an abridged collection of the routes from the first game except now you play as whichever hero you choose, or Shinsengumi Chronicle, which is supposed to be (that being the key phrase) an entirely new story for each hero set in an alternate universe where you can apparently change things from the original story. This arrangement sounds good at first, in fact it was what got me excited for this game as sounded like I’d get to see new stories for the characters I’d grown attached in the original game and this time play as them. The problem is for the most part Warriors of the Shinsengumi fails to deliver in both modes.
                Since it was the story mode I was most looking forward to, let’s start with Shinsengumi Chronicle. Despite how it’s advertised, the story doesn’t differ all that much from the original; you can’t change the outcome of the revolution that produces the Meiji era (at least not visibly unless you know Japanese history really well) and to be honest this story mode is just plain confusing because it barely is a story mode.  The scenes that occur at the beginning of each chapter/level are incredibly short with the only context to why they’re occurring being a short summary of events just beforehand that doesn’t change regardless of who you play as. There are a couple scenes in between the start and end of the chapter/level, but the lines of dialogue in those you could literally count on your fingers. These short scenes really hurt this mode’s story in two ways, first it makes whatever new story additions that there are ineffective to just plain unnoticeable, and second it makes the story confusing.  For a good example for both, this mode introduces two new villain characters to essentially be stage bosses, Takamori Saigo (who wields a heavy machine gun) and Kogoro Katsura (who wields a sword). These two are actually significant historical figures in Japanese history, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing that and assuming they were just two characters made up for this game because there isn’t even an attempt to give these two any character depth as they have maybe twenty lines of spoken dialogue in the entire game and no explanation of who they are or why they’re important because that nifty little glossary from the original game that helped to give players context to the historical side of the story is now gone. Even as throwaway villains these two are badly written in as there were several points where I assumed these characters were dead after a boss fight with them, considering the brief dialogue, but later they appear again alive and well for another boss fight with no explanation whatsoever as to why. Another example for how confusing this story mode is would be how Chizuru is barely in this (which is odd considering who the final boss is); I even thought the alternate universe aspect was she didn’t exist in this continuity until in Hijikata’s story she popped up near the end for a couple seconds and then just disappeared never to be mentioned again and in Heisuke’s story she’s hinted at and never even mentioned by name.
                As for the Shinsengumi Memorial story mode, that one actually is more like a story mode with longer scenes and the story is actually coherent. Now while it’s supposed to be an abridged take on each route, only Hijikata’s route is handled well in that aspect (which I admit makes sense since the anime follows his route). Sadly the other routes feel chopped up rather than properly condensed like Hijikata’s. For example, Saito’s completely ignores his motivation for becoming a swordsman, Sanosuke’s edits out the parting of ways between him and Shinpachi, and Kazama’s alliance with Chizuru and Heisuke and subsequently the subplot concerning him and Sen is also not there. This sadly reduces the other stories in this mode to almost a chore to complete and really has you wondering why you’re not just playing the original game instead.
                Concerning the gameplay, I have to say Warriors of the Shinsengumi fails on this front too, falling into the pit of monotony. Combat is basically button mashing of the square and triangle buttons, occasionally using a charge attack, and unleashing a special attack which you can unleash after your sakura meter charges enough, all while either moving to the next goal/boss or fulfilling the “kill x number of enemies” goal.  Part of what makes this so boring is how easy this is (I actually recommend playing normal or hard since I’m pretty sure you could beat easy mode with your feet at the controls), but the  real killer is how you don’t feel much difference between playing each character (with one exception) as they’re almost all swordsmen whose weapons look about the same. Sure they each swing their sword differently and there are differences in their special attacks, but since you spend most of the time button mashing, it largely feels the same. The only time I felt like I was having fun was when I  played as Sanosuke since he uses a spear, and in that case I’m sure it’s only because it felt like a breath of fresh air after playing as swordsmen several times in a row. Another problem is the camera during the gameplay can be annoying, especially during a boss fight since it can make incoming enemies hard to see. It can be adjusted, but since you practically have to stop and do it to get the right angle so you can see your enemies, it really interrupts the flow of the gameplay. I will admit the item fusion where the items you pick up can be fused into stat boosting equipment in between chapters is interesting, but it’s sadly underused as the equipment doesn’t appear on your characters in battle nor can you create any unique weapons for your character to use in battle.
                In the area of presentation, this is where Warriors of the Shinsengumi scores some points in its favor. It takes advantage of using the designs from the anime series to actually integrate short scenes from it into the Memorial story mode at certain points and it’s done really well, especially in the beginning where it’s used to make a good summary of the original game’s beginning. The only problem with this is I think that the original game’s character designs looked better than the anime’s, but that’s only a minor one. In the area of sound, the voice acting’s good, in fact Chizuru is voiced now and her VA turns in a good performance. Sadly, the music is forgettable and the game is plagued by the sound lagging at certain points, be it the sound skipping (BGM or voice acting) from time to time or the voice acting not starting for a while when a character is supposed to speak.


In Conclusion:

                Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi is a weak follow up to its predecessor, failing to deliver a good new narrative for the series and even at properly abridging most of the routes and also failing to deliver on the gameplay front. I would not recommend this game to anyone, not for fans of the original game unless they’re really desperate for more Hakuoki related material (might want to just buy the anime if you haven’t already) and certainly not for anyone wanting to give this series a shot because the better version is already out. If you want to support the release of future otome games in English (and have already bought the original Hakuoki), I recommend just saving your money for the upcoming Sweet Fuse: At Your Side.


Final Score: 3/10 Terrible

Author Recommendation: Avoid It

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