Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is the latest game in the Hakuoki series, and is billed by developer Idea Factory as a “remastered telling of the beloved 2008 series”. Set in historic Japan, the game follows the protagonist as she's taken in by a group of samurai while looking for her father who has gone missing. Being an otome game (literally translated as “maiden game”), the protagonist is, naturally, surrounded by attractive men - twelve of whom she is able to embark on romantic storylines with.
The game offers nothing for those looking for a challenge. Otome games, by design, are visual novels - so they're not the most interactive of genres. Large portions of your time will be spent reading dialogue, with some dialogue choices peppered in between. Needless to say, those looking for a faster paced experience would be better off looking elsewhere - but having said that, the storyline is very engaging, and doesn't simply focus on building relationships. Instead, it poses a larger mystery and threat to the heroine for you to unravel. With each route played, more threads are woven into the story, and the more complex and interesting it becomes.
Though initially seeming like overkill, each of the twelve men offer their own storylines depending on whether you can unlock their narrative by a certain point. This is done after chapter five, and if you’ve managed to get a high enough relationship level with a character, you'll proceed with their tale. The game offers no explanation on how you can track your progress, but it’s at least easy to figure out. When you've built affinity with a character, an animation of a flower appears over them, and an in-game ‘Warrior Record’ shows a log of each of the twelve love interests. Ratings of their affection towards you range from ‘Closed’ to ‘Budding’, and then there are percentage increments until maximum affection is reached.
With twelve storylines to interact with, there’s a lot of reason to replay the game and squeeze every last bit of content out of the experience. While there’s an overarching plot which links everyone together, each man has his own distinct personality and unique narrative, so it’s well worth playing through to see what's on offer. Once dialogue has been read, the game allows you to skip through and will automatically stop you when it comes to a choice option or dialogue that you haven't seen before, so you can speed through the game in a matter of minutes if they want to open new routes quickly.
The storyline itself starts off quite tropey; as mentioned, the protagonist is, for whatever reason, separated from her father and sets off to find him. It’s a common plot that appears through countless otome games - Code: Realize immediately springs to mind. Where Kyoto Winds differs from its many counterparts is that the group of men you end up with (because you always end up with a group of men) honestly couldn’t care less about you. They'll repeatedly threaten to kill you, and there are points throughout the game where you even wonder if you’re on the right side by associating with them.
Characters and referenced events throughout the game are based on real-life figures and events in Japanese history which, to an extent, feels like you’re expected to have some prior knowledge of. Admittedly, there is an in-game encyclopedia that explains some key terms as they appear, but the explanations are so brief that they don’t offer much in the way of clarity. This in no way impacts the larger story of the game, but those wanting a fuller picture of what's going on and how the characters fit into real world history might need to do some background research into the references.
The world itself is beautiful, and exactly what you'd expect of historic Japan. Sakura blossom peacefully falls from trees in the background, and the intricate design of character clothes feels very authentic. What's more, everything fits together with a melodic soundtrack that gives a really immersive experience.
Fans of the otome genre will find a lot to like within Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds. It offers a rich storyline as well as presenting likeable characters within its well-built world. With personalities based on real-life historical figures, the game offers a charming, albeit brief look at an interesting area of Japanese history, as well as the chance to romance some grade-A anime boys.