|Dev: Idea Factory|
|Pub: Aksys Games|
|Release: February 14, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence|
Hakuoki's graphics are mostly limited to still images that illustrate the story. They're quite lovely, however, fitting well with the setting and emphasizing the personalities of the various characters. The Shinsengumi are quite attractively designed and all the characters are easy to tell apart, which is important in a game with such a complex tapestry of historical figures. The game could have used a few more background images for the less-important scenes, during which the reader sees the same small set of Japanese rooms and outdoor vistas over and over.
The music is entirely unmemorable but provides a pleasant background to the story. Much of the dialogue is voiced in Japanese, (English dubbing would no doubt have been financially difficult for a project like this) and the voice actors are generally pleasing to the ear while providing a diverse array of voices. The only wrong note is Haisuke Todo's voice actor, who is too shrill and fails to impart Todo's increasing maturity as his character develops through the story.
Hakuoki is far from a usual gaming experience here in the West, but it was an excellent choice for Aksys to make in introducing us to both visual novels and otome games. Although an attraction to men is helpful for enjoying the character artwork and the romantic subplots in the game, there are plenty of themes and scenes that will appeal to all gamers. That said, it's refreshing to see a game that is designed for women without descending into pink chiffon and shopping. Hakuoki takes us seriously as readers and gamers, and I would love to see more games do so in the future.
Thanks to an addictive, well-written story and six completely different possibilities for the second half of the game, Hakuoki is a compelling interactive fiction experience. It's certainly not a typical game, but it shows us why we should make room for visual novels in our gaming landscape. Gamers should take a chance on this one, either for themselves or to share with a non-gaming friend or lover who would enjoy this kind of story. They might be surprised to find that Hakuoki has the power to draw people into its world and make them care about Chizuru and her Shinsengumi friends.
Date: February 15, 2012