What is Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds?
Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a remake of Hakuoki, a visual novel - kind of like a "choose your own adventure" book in digital form - which has previously been released on the PS2, PSP and 3DS. Kyoto Winds is the first part of a two part remake, which covers the story of the Shinsengumi up until they leave for Edo, about five chapters in, with the remainder coming next year in the form of Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms. Specifically, Hakuoki is what's known as an otome - a romantic visual novel that's aimed at women. New for Kyoto Winds is a range of extra content, including six new romancable characters. Set in 1860s Kyoto, the protagonist Chizuru Yukimura is looking for her missing father, when she witnesses a murder she wasn't supposed to see - and as such, ends up being taken prisoner by the samurai of the Shinsengumi, an organisation tasked with keeping the peace in chaotic Kyoto, in order to ensure her silence. Before long, the Shinsengumi actually end up helping her search for her dad, as you delve head first into a world on the cusp of change - political unrest, brewing conflicts and the deep, dark secrets of the Shinsengumi all come into play in a gripping tale of samurais, demons and betrayal. And Chizuru soon finds herself falling in love too...
How do you play Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds?
As a visual novel, there's little in the way of traditional "gameplay" in Hakuoki. Instead, this is a digital take on a choose-your-own-adventure book, as you sit back and enjoy the story that unfolds. With periodic conversational options and actions to choose from, which help steer the tale in various directions, you have control over the path your character takes in the world, and how your story ends.
With a heavy emphasis on romance, there are a dozen different bachelors to choose from here, with the conversational options you pick determining the character you'll eventually end up romancing. Each character has their own unique story, personality and path to play through, many of which reveal extra information about the Shinsengumi, Japan's current political climate or the protagonist's childhood, so it's well worth replaying to get different guys.
How easy is Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds to pick up and play?
In terms of accessibility, Hakuoki is relatively easy to pick up and play, as there's certainly no requirement for reflexes or button mashing skills here. However, it's a game that challenges in different ways. This is a complex, challenging story that plays heavily on Japanese history, politics and lore. While there is a handy in-game Encyclopedia that will give you definitions of important words, characters and events, even with that, it can be a little hard-going at times when it wanders into the more political.
Given Hakuoki's extremely text-heavy nature, a good reading ability really is a must here - voices are solely in Japanese with English subtitles, so you'll need to be a capable and willing reader to fully enjoy this game. It really is not the kind of game you can fumble your way through, simply skipping over the story scenes, as the story scenes are the entire game.
- "As you know, the Tennen-Rishin style of training with the Shinsengumi is always meant to simulate what real battles are like."
- "Just where do you think you're going? If you didn't do anything suspicious, there's no need for you to run."
- "A geigi in a beautiful kimono stepped through to greet us with a smile that was both dazzling and demure."
Despite being a game with little else to do besides read, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a surprisingly bloodthirsty, violent and foul-mouthed story.
Violence and gore
Centred around a group of samurais, there's sword fights a plenty, with characters frequently depicted with bloody clothes and faces, accompanied by blood splashes and splatters across the screen. Scenes are often accompanied by fairly grisly descriptions too, such as "I felt the metal of its blade burn into the flesh of my arm", "Dark, crimson blood was dripping from his sword, and next to his feet was a right arm holding a sword." and "His bullet shot through both of my hands. In the palms of my hands, crimson dripped through new holes that formed like a red spider lily." During the story, some characters die, whilst others take a mysterious potion that transforms them into bloodthirsty demon-like killing-machines, who enjoy hacking their enemies into unrecognisable pieces.
With regards to bad language, the guys of the Shinsengumi use pretty much every expletive in the book with gay abandon - a*s, b*tch, b*stard, f*ck, sh*t, prick, pussy, crap, p*ss and damn were just a smattering of the ones we noticed.
As this is a romantic visual novel where the aim is to fall in love with one of the guys along the way, there is the odd line that alludes to sex and the occasional innuendo, however it's all relatively tame, teen drama style stuff - kisses, the protagonist accidentally falling on top of a man, and guys talking about visiting a red-light district, alluding to their escapades with the ladies and drinking habits in the process. One scene vaguely implies the protagonist has sex with one of the guys, transitioning from a still picture of a commander lying above the protagonist, before zooming in on their entwined hands, accompanied by wishy-washy descriptions - "no matter how wrong a union between… might be", "I heard the cord of my pants loosen" and "as our bodies became one".