Sato-san presents Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi, Limited Edition, for PS3!
This review will be spoiler-free, and features the items that came with the limited edition, as well as some of the technical changes in gameplay and content from previous games. You’ll be seeing some comparisons between this and the handheld versions on PSP and 3DS. However, I can tell you right now that the PS3 release is by far the definitive version of Hakuoki.
The outer box art is very pretty, featuring Hijikata and his cleverly designed reflection on the front, and the game’s overview on the back.
When I first held this in my hands, I thought it was huge! It’s like one of those over sized game boxes that retailers set out for in-store advertising. I’ve actually wanted one of those silly things so this was kind of cool, haha. It measures 10.75″ x 8.5″ x 1.75″.
Slip off the outer sleeve and we have a lacquer-inspired box with a fairly traditional design. It looks pretty nice, and is made of glossy paper and material like thick, sturdy cardstock. Unfortunately, the paper isn’t very durable and most copies have torn corners. The fact that you can see the white core of the paper kind of ruins the effect of imitating lacquer. It’s just kind of sad to see something arrive that makes you think “damaged”. It’s not too egregious though so I guess I can just live with it, but I’m a tad worried it’ll get worse over time. I wanted to actually use this box, but I guess it’s just pretty packaging.
Still you have to take note of the fact that the box art lines up on the sides where the two halves meet. This is quite the extra step when it comes to manufacturing something, since it’s easier and cheaper to just let it be mis-matched. It seriously matches up exactly, very good indeed!
Take off the top lid and you’ll see this:
The limited edition includes a hairpin, comb, amulet, and of course, the game itself. Aksys chose to go with a very traditional theme with this LE and it does give a lovely atmosphere befitting the game. The items fit their slots well, and are easy to take in and out of the box. Let’s take a closer look at these goodies.
We’ll start with the comb. It’s made of a polished wood, and is rather thick. I fiddled with it a bit and gave it something of a stress-test. I didn’t want to be too hard on it, but it’s a tough cookie. I love quality material, even if it looks simple. The etching on one side has the American style Hakuoki logo and some cute sakura flowers. I like it!
The hairpin was a bit disappointing. It’s very cute, but I can’t imagine using it. The stick is smooth and the decoration on the end is crisp. It’s made out of a squishy rubbery plastic that’s fun to feel and bend. It was hard to see what it looked like in the promotional image, but I was expecting it to be made out of a harder plastic (like ABS). I wish it was, because this feels too much like a rubber keychain, not something I want to wear. The decoration features sakura blossoms and the game’s logo. The kanji in the square is the same as the amulet.
The amulet, called an omamori/お守り, is fun replica of charms that have been available at Japanese shrines and temples for, let’s say, a really long time. They can be used to bring good fortune in anywhere from general luck to family blessings to passing entrance exams. Starting from the top right and reading down are three kanji reading
新選組 “Shinsengumi”. The next line reads 奇譚 “Kitan”, so basically it’s the title of the game.
The other side has a different design. I like this side a lot better. x3
I looked up the kanji and it made me laugh. It says 恋愛成就 Ren’ai Jōju, “Love Fulfillment”. It’s a love charm! Omamori are meant to be carried with you or on your backpack, so maybe if you do you’ll get a little luck in love! I’d rather just get lucky with the boys in Hakuoki though lol
Overall I like the limited edition, but it’s not for everyone. I was a bit let down with the box, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amulet. I will likely use the items for photography, unless I find shelf space to set up all my traditional stuff (I didn’t even realize how much I had until now, an unintentional collection!) I collect a lot of Hakuoki merchandise and toys, so I do appreciate that these items are unique compared to what I’ve seen on the Japanese market. Having something with the English Hakuoki logo is pretty special. Thanks Aksys!
Now let’s move on to the actual game. : )
I have so much to say about it I can hardly begin. How about something like OMG OMG MY FAVORITE BOYS ARE ON TV AND IT’S GLORIOUS.
Yeah that sounds about right.
Seriously this PS3 game gives me a whole new appreciation for Kazuki Yone’s exceptional artwork. This is a far cry from small screens of the handheld versions, nor is it a lazy port. This is truly a revamped game that makes use of the source materials, and they display very nicely in HD. The backgrounds are marvelous too. In fact, thanks to the higher resolution I can now see details that were negligible before. You can now see the textured filter that is over the image, which makes it feel nostalgic. You can also see items that I completely missed before, like a vase in the main character’s room, or some training headgear in the common room. Just the background art alone has had enhanced my immersion into this fictional world.
The handhelds didn’t do locations such as this justice, its truly stunning on the PS3. I loved the scene of Hamaguri Gate too. ❤
Also, since we’ve seen some of this story before, Idea Factory decided to make the game more interesting or immersive, with the new AAS feature. Let me jump back a bit here- See, Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi is the localized version of Junsouroku. It’s a compilation of two games on one disc, the first being Shinsengumi Kitan, the second being Zuisouroku. In English we already have Kitan titled as Demon of the Fleeting Blossom PSP, and the port Memories of the Shinsengumi 3DS. But this is the first time we get to see the second game of the series, which is kind of like a mid-quel rather than a sequel, and it’s the game often referred to as the “fandisc”. Sorry if that was a bit confusing, but since Hakuoki is so incredibly popular in Japan (compared to other otome visual novels), it got a LOT of games and re-releases on various systems. Add in the English titles and its just a mess haha
Okay, back to the AAS, which stands for Action-Animation-System. In short it allows the characters on screen to blink, lip-sync while they are talking, and they even breathe! To be honest I was a bit apprehensive to try this out. I was worried it would look really strange! The characters are indeed animated… but not quite in the traditional method. Yone-sensei’s original artwork was never designed to be animated, so they had to get a bit creative when working with it, while still maintaining its stunning quality.
Okita’s lookin’ good with his well-drawn everything. Seriously, Hakuoki characters drawn by Yone-sensei are where it’s at.
The AAS really is divided into three parts- blinking, lip-syncing, and breathing. Each feature can be turned off independently of the other in the settings menu. (I really love the settings menu since you can access it at any time during the game and the changes load instantly.) So you can have them only doing one of those actions, or completely turned off, or just blinking and breathing, or any combination you desire. I was pleasantly surprised by the all the settings you can customize in this game.
From the title menu I hit “Begin” and started up the game (erm, the first game/Fleeting Blossom/Kitan, let’s just call it the “main game” for the rest of this post) with the AAS fully turned on by default. I decided to bite the bullet of strange newfangled animation! and vowed that I would play through part of a chapter before fiddling with the settings (I love fiddling just for fun), so that I could get an uninterrupted feel for the new game. I recommend playing with the AAS turned on until at least the first time you get to make a story choice in the game. You might love the AAS right away, or you might think it’s odd, so give it a chance for a bit. By the time I hit the first choice I had gotten used to the AAS and even after trying the different settings, I tend to leave the AAS fully turned on and I’ve continued to get used to it to the point that I think it’s a bit bland without it.
1) The blinking function is flawless. It’s also the easiest to animate, but they made it look really smooth and the new animation frames for the eyes closing blend in really well with the original art. The game looks good with only the blinking function turned on.
2) The lip-syncing is both very impressive and a bit odd. Unfortunately the first person that speaks to you is probably one of the worst examples of it. Just ignore him and move on lol. The speaking animation really does match up with the spoken dialogue in terms of both timing, and the voice’s volume. Sometimes when a character speaks, they may start off sounding loud, but then trail off to a softer tone. The distance the mouth opens and closes varies to match that. Pretty cool!
A few characters do not have any lip-sync animation, but they are minor characters that are not seen for very long. So far I’ve noticed two characters that sometimes have lip-sync, and sometimes they don’t. It’s actually not as strange as it sounds, and they usually just don’t animate when they are grinning (which is a good thing trust me).
As for why the lip-sync is odd, well, most of the time it looks fine. It’s smooth and the inner mouth is colored correctly and shows teeth when the expression calls for it. The first problem is when the character has a big, full grin. When they aren’t talking and the expression is a grin, it looks silly when they start talking. You get an unnatural flapping of teeth, kind of like the animated skits in Monty Python or some other comedic animation of a portrait.
It’s better quality than those examples, but it’s still silly in those few instances. I think that you see it most with Kondou, so I just look at the dialogue box when he’s grinning.
The lip-sync probably looks best with Hijikata and Saito so far (they look great!) Since those two often talk calmly, they have more muted mouth animations. On the other hand, I still love watching my lively and adorable Heisuke!!
Speaking of Heisuke talking, it’s with him that I had one other problem with the lip-sync. Just one expression in particular, although its a sign of something bigger. It animates just fine, but it’s when his mouth is closed that it looks silly. It’s the moments when he would normally show his signature smile!
My favorite expression from my favorite character is basically gone in this version of the game. It makes sense as to why, since they decided to animate mouth flaps. Naturally when someone is done talking their mouth is closed. So for about 2 or 3 expressions in the game, the still image has been changed slightly so that by default they have their mouth closed. When they speak it shows the open mouth that was there by default in previous games. So to see Heisuke’s glorious excited smile I have to leave lip-sync on even if I don’t feel like it.
3) The last function of the AAS is the breathing. This is where animation gets creative. In most media, animated characters are drawn and colored with that simple “cell-shaded” style, since the more detailed a drawing is, the more time you have to spend drawing that detail in each and every frame of animation. Kazuki Yone’s artwork was originally designed to be still, and not only does it have a lot of detail, but the expressions and poses are chosen to imply the sort of motion they are making at the time. The work it would take to animate them in the traditional sense while still maintaining use of the original art would be monumental.
So to animate the characters they basically stretched the artwork, to make them breathe or seem alive (since people don’t actually stand perfectly still as stone in real life.) I was shocked at how good it looked. In fact, it’s very subtle. If you stare at it awhile you can definitely see what’s going on, but as you play the game and focus on the text and all the sights and sounds, the fact that they are moving in such a creative way blends in rather well.
Saying the art is just stretching is over-simplifying it though. They actually cut them into layers, mostly on the head, so that some parts move a bit separate from others. Like long hair or ties behind the character will barely move while the shoulders heave up and down slightly. The face (eyes, nose, mouth) also appears to be its own layer, and kind of moves just bit while the head shifts making the characters seem to turn their heads! Sometimes it looks like they raise or lower they heads a bit, but its subtle and pretty natural, and I think that in combination with the impeccable artwork’s implied depth, they almost feel like 3D models in a way. I love it!
Wow. I had a lot to say about the AAS. The other technical aspects of the game shouldn’t take nearly as long to review, lol. Let’s take a short intermission:
ok, break’s over!
On to the more minor technical comparisons to the handheld versions!
The PS3 game resembles the PSP more than the 3DS version, mostly because of the screen ratio and the 3DS had a few unique gimmicks that rely on that particular system. The text appears on the screen with the same finesse as the PSP game, and the characters have their artwork placed properly on the screen (unlike the issues I had with the 3DS). In fact, now that we’ve moved to the PS3, and presumably an adequate TV, there’s a lot more breathing room for the characters now. The handheld has a small screen so the characters were blown up as big as possible, but now they are a bit smaller compared to the background. They fit the frame better and it is balanced correctly.
There’s a vibrate function in the game. I’ve only felt it vibrate once or twice so far though, so it’s definitely not overused.
The love animation that shows up when a character likes you is the same cherry blossoms as before in the main game. It looks kind of strange though since it’s so clear now xD. I have played so many times though, that I ususally just turn it off. But then I realized I need to leave it on for the other half of this game, (more on that later) and its a pain trying to remember if its on or off. So I guess I’ll leave it on. The cursor when you make gameplay selections is so cute. It’s still just a petal but it looks so smooth~ if only I could touch it, lol. So far I’m thinking bigger is better with this game.
A new mechanic is when you learn a new word for the encyclopedia, you can hit “down” on the d-pad to make that word’s entry pop up real quick mid-game. And then click it closed quickly too. It’s a lot more handy than before, since it was a chore to take time and read the entries and notes at some point. The encyclopedia is… as fun as ever. ~_~
An easy-to-miss mechanic is when a special CG appears. You can hit the circle button to hide the dialogue box and then use other buttons to pan and zoom the CG, since the full drawing extends past the height of the screen. Basically works the same as it does when viewing CG’s in the gallery. There’s at least one exception to this, but that was a particularly special CG with some overlays.
Something else they changed that made me VERY happy was when you are playing, and you hit circle to hide the dialogue box, the spoken audio continues to play. On the handhelds the dialogue would just cut short, so you weren’t able to listen to them talk with the box hidden.
At a few points in the game there’s a large fire in the background, and they have an animated overlay that looks pretty nifty. This was also on the 3DS, but I wasn’t expecting it on the PS3 to be honest (in Japan, the 3DS game came a year AFTER the PS3 one, so it stands to reason some effects won’t be present.)
Lastly, as far as content in the main game, the text has proved to be a verbatim copy of the text in the handhelds. I even pulled them up side-by-side for text I didn’t remember. Yes, I have in fact played Hakuoki that much… but hey, give credit to the English script writer for making the text so memorable! I did hear someone say they read new text in the Kazama route, but I have yet to confirm if this is true. Edit: It’s not. I’ve played through 4 characters now and the text hasn’t been changed at all.
So after trying out the main game for awhile, I went back to the title screen, and hit “Stories”. This is the brand new content I’ve been so excited to see. Seriously, Zuisouroku/fandisc was what I wanted to see most as far as the Hakuoki series goes. Also, if you don’t want to play the main game, you can skip it altogether and play the stories mode right away.
When you start up the stories mode you get a brief tutorial on how to play. It’s different than a normal visual novel, because it’s a series of events you access in a chronological chart. That’s because the events take place during the timeline of the main game. In fact, it’s for this very reason that Zuisouroku doesn’t market itself as a stand-alone game, and the outdated PSP aside, it would have been a tough sell because of it. I’m sure that’s one reason why Aksys chose to release the game as it appears in the combined collection that the PS3 game features. It can bring in new players and current fans too.
The chart looks a lot like the “Record of Service” from the main game, since it’s got summaries of the events in the main game. This helps to tell you exactly when the new events happen. When you start an event there’s also a quick summary from the protagonist’s point of view of things that happened recently. I think it’s adequate, but if you haven’t played the main game in awhile there could easily be some things you’ve forgotten. It really doesn’t have too much bearing on the first events at least, since they are pretty much stand-alone things that happen.
I really liked what I’ve seen in stories mode so far. Some of it is romantic, in fact some say it’s the extra romance that seemed to be missing from the main game. Other aspects of the events really expand the world and its minor characters too. Finally, I can see some more information about what daily life was like for the protagonist. It always seemed like the historical events of the main game progressed too quickly, and it was hard to grasp the passage of time since several months would just fly by between chapters. Everything seems to match up too, as far as there are no plot-holes, nor anyone acting out of character. Some moments can get a little silly though, at least compared to how serious the main game is, but it’s well within reason so far.
There’s new background art too, and some reworked versions of ones we’ve seen before (changes in time or weather). The CG’s of course look great as well, having been drawn by the same artist.
When you start stories mode there is just one event available to play. The ones titled “Adventures, etc” play kind of like how the so-called “common route” of the main game does. You have several choices to make, and these choices changes where you go and what you do. After the event, you should end up unlocking another event, one that is character specific. And it just kind of goes on like that.
Unlike the main game, you don’t need to make a save file that holds your place mid-story (you can if you want though). After an event has been played through, you just need to save the system data and it will remember what events you’ve done. (It will save automatically, or if you turned off the autosave, the prompt to do so will appear). There isn’t a love meter like the main game, but rather, if you make good choices, you get points to unlock bonuses in the Ephemera mode (on the title screen). I haven’t unlocked anything yet; that will be covered in the follow-up review. To know if you’ve gotten a point you’ll need to leave the “love animation” turn on in the settings. It’s a whirlwind of cherry blossoms. There’s really no way to check otherwise since the ephemera tree is kind of vague.
What I like about stories mode is the fact that you can jump between that and the main game pretty easily. I’ve chosen to play the main game, and then switch to stories mode at the right time so I can see both games’ events all in chronological order. I just have one save for the main game, and anything I do in stories mode is saved in the system data. I’ve already seen everything in the main game, so it’s not much of a spoiler to read the chapter summaries in stories mode to find out the right order. There’s also the month/year listed on each event to tell you when they took place. If you are a whole brand new player to the series it could be troublesome, if you want to avoid spoilers.
So far I’m incredibly pleased with Hakuoki: Stories of Shinsengumi. There’s more I didn’t talk about, such as unlockable bonuses, the Sweet School Life minigame (which is HILIAROUS. It’s basically a short comic), and DLC (some of it is free! The paid DLC is good too.) Thanks for reading, and I hope this review was helpful!