Hakuoki! The game was released originally for Playstation 2 back in 2008 and has since seen ports to all sorts of platforms: PSP, DS, 3DS, PS3, PS Vita, iOS, and Android (in the USA, it’s available on 3DS, PS3, Vita, iOS, and Android). Some people insist that the games have already run their course–to just let the series rest–but I only delved into the first installment on my PS Vita earlier this year, so to me it is new!

Mix the history of the Shinsengumi with a vampire twist, and you get Hakuoki.

In the game, you play the progatonist (default name, Chizuru) as she dresses up as a boy and leaves for Kyoto to find her missing father. After arriving in Kyoto, you accidentally encounter the (bishounen-ified) members of the historical Shinsengumi as they slaughter a few of their…shadier members. Because they can’t let you run free, and at the same time they can’t simply kill an innocent bystander, you are taken into their custody for the time being. As they discuss what to do with you, they find out that you are the daughter of the doctor who created the Water of Life (Ochimizu), and so they decide to keep you around because they are indebted to that man.

Hakuoki is based on the Shogunate time period in historical Japan. In particular, it’s based on the end of the period and covers the lives of the Shinsengumi members under Kondo Isami’s lead. Therefore, certain characters are fated to die and/or become diagnosed with a terminal illness based on their real life counterparts. I personally wasn’t well-acquainted with the history, and that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game.

The vampire twist comes from an elixir that was developed to give humans superior fighting abilities, which comes with a change to appearance that makes the user’s hair turn white and eyes turn red. However, that same elixir develops a thirst for blood, and so the fighting abilities give the user an ability to drink the blood of their victims *coughprotagonistcough*. Of course, this part is all fictional, and it adds another part to the plot of the game :).

The “Water of Life” that turns people into “Rasetsu” (vampires).

Per the usual with otome dating sims, your decisions affect what route you take. In this game, your initial decisions determine which character’s route you get, and then you make decisions in that route to get a good or bad ending. I prefer this sort of pairing system, since it feels like you develop a relationship with a character more naturally! In comparison to other otome games I have played, Hakuoki is actually relatively easy, primarily because there is a flower petal animation when you gain affection with a character versus no animation when you make the bad choice.

General gameplay tips for those who don’t want to know anything about the game:

  1. Chapter 4 is the beginning of a character route. After that, get as many flower petal animations as you can to get a good ending!
  2. If your guy asks, let him drink blood (unless you want a bad ending).

Again, I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum below. There are a total of six routes in game.

Toshizo Hijikata, vice commander of the Shinsengumi

Toshizo Hijikata:

Voice actor: Shinichiro Miki (known from…everything? Kojiro from Pokemon, Lockon Stratos from Gundam 00, and Roy Mustang from Full Metal Alchemist, just to list a few)

Gameplay goals: High affection, low corruption

Hijikata is the vice commander of the Shinsengumi and thus spends most of his time ordering his friends around. However, he also has a gentle and sympathetic side to him, and he is shown to be burdened by his responsibilities as a commander of his men’s lives :). He has long, black hair and purple eyes, and he typically wears purple or black under his light blue Shinsengumi uniform.

Hijikata002In terms of romance, Hijikata is definitely under the slow development category. For the first half of the game, he sort of just treats you as one of his responsibilities. He doesn’t really spend a lot of time to get to know you, and it’s clear that his role as vice captain is most important to him. Usually, your interactions with him include giving you tasks to accomplish for the benefit of the group. He seems to resist giving in to his feelings for you in the second half of the game, even after he drinks the Water of Life and becomes a vampire, so it’s not really until the very end that you start to act like a couple with him. Most of his plot focuses on the story of the Shinsengumi as a whole, and Chikage is one of the primary antagonists of his story.

Hijikata’s route was actually the last one I played. It is probably the most wholesome story, probably the most canon, and the game is named after him. I’m sure there are people who liked his route, but I was not a huge fan. I like his character, but I am less interested in his route as a love interest.

Souji Okita, captain of the first division

Souji Okita:

Voice actor: Shotaro Morikubo (Yosuke from Persona 4 <3, Shikamaru from Naruto, Ginji from Get Backers)

Gameplay goals: High affection, low corruption

Souji is the captain of the first division of the Shinsengumi and probably the most ruthless. He is part of the group that initially encounters you (along with Hijikata and Saito) and pretty straightforwardly recommends just killing you to silence you. Luckily, Hijikata and Saito disagree with him! He has brown hair and green eyes and tends to compliment his looks with reddish-brown attire.

Souji002I have mixed feelings about Souji. A lot of his interactions with you are borderline…verbal abuse? He threatens to kill you quite frequently (Heero Yuy?), yet at the same time dotes on you quite unlike anyone else. It’s not quite tsundere, and he’s a little manipulative (although mostly just to make you admit your feelings for him). Also, he’s not super open with his feelings until the very end of the game, which shocked me in a good way. Seriously, if his ending wasn’t what it was I would have thought he was just a manipulative jerk.

As is common with his other fictional incarnations, Souji Okita contracts tuberculosis and ends up going through a story of tragedy as his body slowly gets worse. Because Souji ends up sick, you end up staying behind with him as the rest of the Shinsengumi leave to fight. Therefore, you get a ton of one-on-one time with him as soon as a third of the way through the game ^_^. Also, the way he teases you is quite playful and warm. His story primarily focuses on your meeting with your long-lost brother, Kaoru.

Hajime Saito, captain of the third division of the Shinsengumi

Hajime Saito:

Voice actor: Kosuke Toriumi (Kiba from Naruto, Sengoku from Prince of Tennis, Junpei from Persona 3)

Gameplay goals: High affection, low corruption

AKU SOKU ZAN. Just kidding ;). This Saito is the leader of the third division and the resident kuudere ^_^. He initially comes off as cold, uncaring, and quiet, but your first few encounters with him show that he is an extremely loyal person who has a lot of respect for others. He strongly believes in Hijikata, unlike a lot of the other members of the Shinsengumi, and is pretty much willing to do whatever it takes to protect the group.

He somehow makes the blood sucking super cute.
He somehow makes the blood sucking super cute.

In his story line, you end up clashing with Chikage again, but for different reasons. You follow Saito as he devotes himself to the Shinsengumi, breaking off only when Hijikata gives him direct orders to protect you with his life. Saito then begins to show off his deredere side, blushing in embarrassment regarding anything about you ^_^.

Saito and Souji are the two most popular characters in Hakuoki. While Souji has more of the teasing personality, Saito is more of the quiet, gentle type. Saito was the first route I played through, and he ended up being my favorite route ultimately. He is super adorable and incredibly sweet.

Heisuke Todo, captain of the eigth division

Heisuke Todo:

Voice actor: Hiroyuki Yoshino (Allelujah from Gundam 00, Kimblee from Full Metal Alchemist)

Gameplay goals: High affection, low corruption

Heisuke is the youngest captain and the leader of the eighth division of the Shinsengumi. He is the same age as the protagonist and fills the otome role of the shotacon character. Thus, he is the quickest to warm up to you and is generally an active, talkative character from the beginning.

Heisuke002I like his story because he sort of goes from being your friend to becoming your lover. Your relationship with him develops very naturally from frequent conversation and friendliness–gasp, like a real relationship! Sannan ends up being the primary antagonist of this route, and Chikage actually turns out to be a bit of an ally.

In my opinion, Heisuke was the bachelor I was never expecting to like as much as I did. He treats the protagonist well, is pretty honest with his feelings, and he’s sort of surprisingly the most aggressive kisser xD. Hakuoki somewhat follows the story of his historical counterpart, dealing a fatal blow to Heisuke at the Aburakoji Affair, but in the game he survives thanks to the Water of Life…

Sanosuke Harada, captain of the tenth division of the Shinsengumi

Sanosuke Harada:

Voice actor: Koji Yusa (Gin from Bleach, Shadow from Sonic)

Gameplay goals: High affection

The tenth division captain and a spear user, Sanosuke is known for his lightning-fast skills in combat and for his rivalry with Shinpachi over muscular bodies. Sanosuke is very kind and sweet to the protagonist, since he is a believer that women should be treated well. Along with Heisuke and Shinpachi, he’s one of the characters who warms up to you pretty quickly right from the start.

No blood sucking since he never turns into a Rasetsu. Here, have a fun picture instead :).
No blood sucking since he never turns into a Rasetsu. Here, have a fun picture instead :).

Unfortunately, Sanosuke rubs me in the wrong way right from the very beginning. Maybe every other line is about how women shouldn’t be expected to do hard work, or how women should be spoiled, or women this or women that. The other lines are about being manly. He’s also very close with his bro, Shinpachi, and probably the primary conflict is whether he will be loyal to his bro or to you. In this route, the protagonist ends up mostly just serving a domestic role (e.g., bringing tea, getting married), and there’s little conflict in comparison to the other routes. I guess, if you like your men strong and commanding, Sanosuke is the guy for you. It’s not quite my cup of tea.

Sanosuke’s route ends up being the least tragic of the options, and you get to live out a good life with him. It’s a nice change from the other routes, but I felt less invested in the characters here. I also couldn’t quite get over Sanosuke’s semi-discreet opinion on women’s roles in society. Granted, I’m sure it was more historically accurate.

Chikage Kazama, the big bad oni

Chikage Kazama:

Voice actor: Kenjiro Tsuda (Spanner from Katekyo Hitman Reborn, Bacchus from Fairy Tail)

Gameplay goals: High affection, avoid all the other guys’ routes

Chikage is the secret route that you get if you manage to avoid building any affection whatsoever with the other guys. The guy who is usually the antagonist ends up succeeding in taking you away (where he would usually fail) because you willingly go with him after realizing that the Shinsengumi don’t care about you ^_^;.

Chikage002Chikage is an oni who isn’t personally invested in the Shinsengumi conflicts, but he loves displays of power and is proud of his demonic heritage. Because the oni have to exist in the same world as humans, he had been cooperating with the emperor’s forces for money, but he could care less who lives and who dies. He cares so little that it almost sounds like he’s sighing of boredom every time he talks (lol).

In contrast to his personality in the other routes of the game, Chikage is actually pretty good to you in his route. He gives you space when you need it and provides you with a safe place to live until the war passes. He kills everyone who would threaten your life, too, since he’s kind of the big guy among the demons living in Kyoto. It’s an extremely short route, but I found his character quite enjoyable.

General thoughts:

Hakuoki is an excellent otome game for players who are new to the genre. The difficulty bar is fairly low, the quality of writing is quite high, and the voice acting and cg art are both top notch. I enjoy that a lot of the story is based on a really interesting period of history, but if that’s not quite your thing you may not enjoy it as much. There’s a TON of reading and not as many options as you would find in other visual novels, but that also limits the number of times you can screw up :P.

My recommendation? I’d certainly recommend Hakuoki to any fans of otome games. It is a staple of the genre for a reason, and it’s available on pretty much any platform. I think it’s especially good for beginners because of its forgiving nature. Again, I really like that you end up being assigned to a path based on your earlier choices in the game, allowing for a more natural building of relationships with characters.

In terms of which routes I liked most, my order would be: Sanosuke < Hijikata < Chikage = Souji < Heisuke < Saito. If Chikage’s route were longer, I would probably place him higher than Souji, but his route is super short >_<. There’s definitely many different archetypes in this game, so you’ll probably find someone you’re looking for out of the six different candidates. I also really liked Shinpachi, although he isn’t a candidate in this game. He’s just such a goofball, and it’s hilarious to see how much he irritates his comrades when he shows of his muscles.

Other useful links:

Official Hakuoki Site
Hakuoki on GameFAQs: If you’re looking for a guide, look here.