Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods? A question once posited to the world, left forever unanswered…until now. As luck would have it, the good men appear to have all congregated in Edo, pushed by destinies not of their own choosing. As for the gods, well, their existence can only be inferred from the presence of their opposites: Demons. Creatures who live amongst humanity, some with a desire to keep to themselves and others with a craving for human blood. Of course, situations become a touch more complex when some carry the burden of all three classifications, mixed with that oldest and truest of emotions: Love. Also, politics…
Having previously found herself tangled in the various webs woven by the Shinsengumi (via Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds), Chizuru Yukimura is still on the hunt for any clues pertaining to the whereabouts of her father…possibly. As with the previous game, and despite her best intentions, Chizuru is ever at the behest of those around her, as both enemies and friends draw her ever deeper into their personal tales. For that reason, one could consider the initial menu of Edo Blossoms a stroke of genius, if said one were feeling generous. Instead of simply beginning a story and allowing it to take you where it may, the game forces you to immediately choose the guy you wish to focus on. Through this choice, you are presented with a narrow slice of a much larger story, realistically learning only what information crosses your particular path. Some characters are not even mentioned, let alone seen, in some stories, whilst others pop up left and right. The most noticeable example of how plot tends to happen at Chizuru occurs during her personal story path. Opting to not follow any of the Shinsengumi in particular, the Yukimura route is one of bad news and sedentation. At its best, said story sees Chizuru venture out to seek news of her friends, only to find more stories and a less than happy ending. Which goes to show you, the only way to be truly happy in ancient Japan is to bag yourself a hot samurai boy…right?
Though a deviation from Kyoto Winds more connected story, which saw you branch off into each character’s arc through choice, being able to focus from the get go is a decidedly nice change. As is the case in these types of game, there are just those characters who you really don’t care about talking to, let alone accidentally breaking off into their tales of woe and redemption. For that reason, the more focused approach takes some weight off when it comes to dialogue choices, no matter how sporadic they may be, and can lead to a more calmingly enjoyable story…of political corruption and demonic coups. On the flip side, being boxed into following one particular Shinsengumi member does feel as if you are witnessing a saga with blinders on. Whilst it is obviously impossible for a character to be everywhere at once, the influx of crucial plot elements that are simply let to offhand exposition is astounding. It also doesn’t help matters that every third dialogue box is littered with historical terminology and factual dates. Yes, it is helpful that you can bring up an additional encyclopaedia entry to give you the finer details, but it is still a lot of information to parse when all you really want to do is hang out with Heisuke.
Taken to its logical extreme, the tunnel vision plotlines also serve rob even the most basic elements from a tale we’re already one game deep in. The most important example I can think of being the resolution of Chizuru’s search for her father. In one path I chose, his name came up a grand total of thrice, before Chizuru was swept up in yet another story far more important than she and another simply announced he was dead or something, sorry for the bad news. Though rendered an unwilling side story back in Kyoto Winds, the unceremonious handling of this element in either regard is a little upsetting. Not that this is an uplifting game, mind you, as each Shinsegumi member carries a decidedly dark edge and is prone to more than their fair share of melancholic monologues. Still, if you are wise enough to choose the right thing to say (or Rewind/Quick Load until you do), that familiar butterfly may flit across the screen and bring you closer to the boy of your Edo dreams.
Most likely due to the aforementioned divergent nature of Edo Blossom’s storylines, however, choices feel like a much rarer occurrence this time around. I believe one route even presented me with as few as three moments with which to answer Option A or Option B, which does not for an immersive visual novel make. Combined with the onslaught of historic information almost necessitous to understanding what is going on at any given moment, the game can feel like a study aid most of the time, although with slightly more erotic subtext. Granted, choosing a less than optimal branch results in a less than optimal story, the notion that a majority of Edo Blossoms is wrong choices leaves a decidedly bitter taste in my mouth. I’m not saying every option should lead to happiness, but maybe a few more that don’t lead to sadness and/or death by a couple hundred hectic flourishes of a kodachi. That…that was not a fun one to sit through.
Unsurprisingly, as with the game that leads into it, Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms is either in your wheelhouse, or it isn’t. If the idea of an ancient Japanese tale wherein you learn to love the fractured soul of a Shinsengumi member isn’t your speed, I would recommend bowing out of this race. However, if the notion of samurai who would reign in their killer instincts to relax and enjoy some tea you made appeals to you, then dust off that PS Vita and do your thing. The story could definitely ease up on the facts and devote a little more time to characterisation, but the ever spiralling nature of ancient Japan does lead to an interesting backdrop for a pained tale of romance, in a melodramatic sort of way at least. Still, when one accepts that love can bloom on a battlefield, they must also come to terms with the pain that inevitably surrounds it…also demons.