Hakuoki was an interesting specimen, considering the PSP market and its content. It debuted at the end of a life cycle for a handheld that didn’t see too many users anymore, and on top of that, it was an otome game, aimed specifically at women. It was surprisingly endearing for this oft-untouched niche audience, and last year’s Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom was one of the best visual novels we could have hoped for.
Unfortunately, Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi is another story entirely. In fact, it’s really not a story at all – it’s a strange amalgam of hack-and-slash action and visual novel that feels considerably less polished and entertaining as its predecessor. There’s a bizarre identity crisis going on here, and as a result it obscures what could have otherwise been an excellent and powerful adventure.
Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom flourished and reveled in its visual novel elements. It was a romantic, accessible narrative that anyone could easily become wrapped up in without having had prior knowledge of Japanese culture or mythology. Warriors of the Shinsengumi focuses little on story or character development, instead spotlighting hack-and-slash elements that aren’t half as exciting as the dating aspects from the original game.
There are six warriors to choose from, with a seventh unlockable one to play with, as well as two different story modes to complete. Unfortunately, it’s extremely repetitive. You only slice through oncoming enemies with all the finesse of a budget game. What combos are available feel little more than tacked on, with items and collectibles that can be used in battle feeling lackluster and boring. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and despite a mediocre crafting system and leveling mechanics, it still feels woefully samey.
Whether valiantly cutting through the oncoming hordes or annihilating bosses, there’s nothing that actually stands out on its own. There’s not much of a grind to speak of and each character arc only ends up taking about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Considering the price of the game and the extensive replay value of the other Hakuoki, that’s certainly a negative. When you stop and think about what little you’ve accomplished during that time, the game suddenly becomes a less sound investment.
Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi is disappointing in how easily it squanders its potential. It could have been an engaging entry in the exciting import franchise, but instead fell victim to the same pitfalls so many bargain bin titles do. If you love these characters, check into the anime series instead.