Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi – PlayStation Vita
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Idea Factory
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Genre: Action, Adventure
Reviewed by Arend Hart

Review Score: 1 of 5

For that select handful of fans who have been missing the mind-numbing button mashing of the once-prolific Dynasty Warriors series, have I got news for you: Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi is just what you have been waiting for. Following the story of, well…it was kind of confusing. It’s based on the Hakuoki graphic adventures, which take place in feudal japan I have researched only enough to figure out that they have more to do with romance than with martial arts. Apparently Warriors of the Shinsengumi is a departure for the series.

OK, so from I gathered, the good guys are the Hakuoki Warriors, members of a band of “sexy” Shogun police called the Shinsengumi. Yes, I just described them as “sexy” – but don’t kill the messenger, even the company’s own press release stated “Sexy Hakuoki Warriors are Ready for Action!” – but by sexy, I mean incredibly effeminate. And by effeminate, I mean that really creepy androgynous kind of sexy that seems to go over all too well in Japan. I literally had to check each character’s description for the word “He” or “She” to determine their sex. It was very odd.

Anyway, these Hakuoki determine that they need to band up to take on an invading army that happens to have arrived sporting modern-day western-style weaponry; guns, missiles, etc. The Hakuoki – armed with only their shogun swords – proceed to mow down hundreds of these enemy warriors in a game that would make any Dynasty Warriors fan (emphasis on the word “any” because are there any still around) smile.

The combat consists of three basic attacks – light, charged, and special. Gamers’ fingers will ache, as will the Vita’s two attack buttons, as gamers incessantly hammer out the constant hacking and slashing required to quell the never-ending waves of attackers that suddenly pop into view. Folks, take it from me – it doesn’t ever end. As long as you hang around they will keep advancing, you just need to cut bait and get to the next waypoint or you will find yourself stuck in a never-ending loop of enemies. To give a point of reference, on the very first level I finally gave up after felling 88 enemies, took out the boss with a single special move and the game instructed me to kill twenty more soldiers.

And if you are expecting to do any Ryu Hayabusa Ninja Gaiden type moves, you can pretty much forget it. Jumping only takes you up and down, and that’s it. You have two options, swing a sword or run away. Thankfully, no soldier takes more than two hits to eliminate – including the boss characters. I slogged through each level in just under 5 minutes and I don’t think my character died more than half-dozen times throughout the course of the entire game. The most difficult part of the game was staying awake – and I am not kidding.

As for presentation, the game has some very appealing menu screens and cutscenes but the in-game graphics are incredibly generic. And by generic, it would not be a far stretch to say that the original PlayStation era Tenchu Stealth Assassins would probably look better ported to the PS Vita than Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi does. The draw-in of the enemies is roughly ten virtual feet from the gamer’s character, and the backgrounds comprised primarily of 90 and 45-degree angle polygons. This is about as basic as it gets, folks. Again, the background music in the opening cutscenes and selection screens was top-shelf, but the in-game sounds were just recycled sound effects and character cries. I will say that the Japanese voice acting lent a definite authenticity to the game, but even that was most likely left simply to save money on the localization.

It seems when we get our hands on one of the mainland Japanese titles, we either get something really fantastic, or something really terrible. Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi is definitely not one of the fantastic ones. It is mired in the mindlessly repetitive hack-and-slash formula that Dynasty Warriors gave up on five years ago. It has some nice menus and cutscenes, but the in-game visuals and animations would fit better in 1998 much less on a PSP (its original home) or on this port to the Vita.

If you are one of the handful of gamers out there holding out for another Dynasty Warriors game, or a rabid fan of the Hakuoki franchise, then you just might just find some enjoyment in Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi. For the rest of us, there are plenty of other games out there that outshine this mess in every way – for instance, Ninja Gaiden Sigma.

Yes, get Ninja Gaiden Sigma – not this.