I own a lot of games. A LOT of games. I’m playing a lot of them right now. The Last Story just arrived, so I’m cracking that open this weekend. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is fun and pretty good. I’ve got two worlds left in Rayman: Origins, and that is an incredibly good game and I want to write about it once I’m done. But what game am I constantly coming back up? Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom.
I picked this up from Amazon after reading some of Angie Gallant’s dating game Let’s Plays on Broken Forum and Quarter To Three. I figured I’d write an LP for this, have some laughs, and then move on. It’s a game aimed at girls, full of Beautiful Men and some intrigue and mystery along the way. And blooming flowers to indicate when one of them likes me more.
Dirty secret: I’m really enjoying this game. Unironically.
There is very little animation in Hakuoki, and I think that’s typical of the genre. The closest I’ve had to anything being animated is a few static images wobbling a bit. 99 times out of 100, I’m looking at static pictures and character drawings fading in and out. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t mind at all. The pictures they are showing me are really well done, with painted backgrounds, hand-drawn character models, and multiple images like these terrifying fellows with poor table manners.
With no animation, any tension and pacing is going to come from the writing, and there I’m happy, and surprised, to say that Hakuoki features some very good writing. Dialogue is so far excellent, with each of the seven or eight characters I’ve met in four or five hours standing out from their peers. There is no English voice acting, so it’s down to the original Japanese VAs and the quality of the English writing to bring these characters to life, and they are doing a stellar job.
Of course, you can’t have a story be nothing but dialogue, no matter how hard I personally try in my own white-room work. Hakuoki fills in the gaps between spoken words with descriptions of the actions happening around these static images, and while that’s not normally quality game-writing, it reminds me of the late nineties’ Infinity Engine RPGs, where you’d see little bits of detail from clicking on parts of the world or the written actions in the dialogue options you got when interacting with NPCs, like catching thieves in the Hive in Planescape: Torment.
Hakuoki reminds me a bit of Torment, which is not to say that this story is on par with that game’s; rather, in how it places such important on the written word. Planescape: Torment remains the best book I’ve ever played, and I don’t say that disparagingly. My favorite memories of Torment are not in how I defeated Trias in combat, or my trip through the Modron Cube maze, or the Carceri stampede against the devil hordes. My favorite memories of Torment are from the memory sphere in the upper hives, in navigating the maze of conversation options with Ravel Puzzlewell, in the final verbal confrontation with The Nameless One. Hakuoki does not pretend to have gameplay; I am occasionally selecting options, and then watching a scene play out in front of me. It’s far less interactive than Torment, and has much more in common with Choose Your Own Adventure books than it does any other game I have played.
But tonight, after I’ve finished my workout and taken care of dinner, I’m not going to load up Amalur or The Last Story or Rayman just yet. I’m going to settle in with a good book on my PSP and see what further adventures await Hakuchi Yukimura in Kyoto, and see how much further down this rabbit hole of mysterious samurai I can go.
If I meet a talking skull, though, I’m outta here.