(Please note that this interview may contain spoilers if you have not played/finished Hakuoki.)
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Hakuoki? Since its initial release in 2008, it is one of those games that, if you are an otome fan, you need to play at least once. The English release for the PSP in 2012 sparked the fire that would eventually cause otome to grow in popularity in the West. Over the years, it has produced anime, stage plays, and many MANY versions of the game from a prequel to a school Alternative Universe. With its mix of historical fantasy and period drama, it’s no wonder, almost 10 years later, it is still as popular as ever.
Next spring, the International community will see the second part of the remake of the original game, Edo Blossoms. Tweleve love interests, heart-pounding action, history, and tragedy, Hakuoki has a lot to offer. But what was it like creating the game from the beginning? How much did keeping the game as historically accurate as possible play? What about the new six routes made them the ones to make the cut?
In an exclusive interview with Otome Obsessed, the Hakuoki Series Director, Mr. Fujisawa, will answer all these questions and more! Learn about the challenges that comes from making a game of this magnitude. And, in another exclusive, find out Otomate’s plans for next year where Hakuoki will have its 10th Anniversary.
Please enjoy this interview!
At the time of the original release, vampires were popular due to books like Let the Right One In and Twilight being released as movies. When coming up with the original pitch for the game, were vampires always part of the concept? Are there any ideas that were pitched in order to make the concept more unique that you can share?
When we had first started working on Hakuoki’s narrative, vampires were already an integral part of it. Hakuoki’s original backstory involved a protagonist within the Shinsengumi who had become a vampire and had sought out the blood of humans in order to satiate his thirst. As we fleshed out Hakuoki’s story further, we discovered that vampires actually worked well conceptually because it allowed us to explore the idea of resurrecting historical figures, which added more intrigue into the Shinsengumi’s secrecy.
Historical accuracy can be important when dealing with people that existed in real life. When writing the men and their interactions, how much research was done to make sure when you were writing was as true to the time as possible? Did you stick with personalities that were known, if the person was written about, or did you feel free to write the characters personalities as you wanted?
We approached Hakuoki’s story with the intention of depicting all of the historical events accurately, making sure to consider the “who,” “what,” and “when” very closely. Thus, we heavily researched many of the events and incidents that were later included in the game to ensure they were represented with some token of authenticity. As for the characters’ personalities, some of them may be similar to what we learned about them in the historical texts, but others are completely different. We gave ourselves some creative license when we wrote the characters.
When it was decided to release the massive upgrade that is Kyoto Winds, what was the process in deciding which new characters to add to the game? Who was close to making the cut, but didn’t in the end?
In order to identify which new bachelors we’d wanted to add into the mix, we researched other members of the original Shinsengumi. Kazue Souma was one of the Shinsengumi’s sole surviving members in its last days, so our hearts were set on including him from the beginning. Other intriguing characters, like Kanryusai Takeda and Saburo Miki, were also considered, but since historically they became enemies of Hijikata’s, it was more of a challenge to work them in as romantic interests. Our other plan was to find historical figures who weren’t necessarily members of the Shinsengumi, but were affiliated with it in some capacity. With this in mind, we had chosen to include Hachiro Iba, who was a master of the Shingoyoto-Ryu style of swordsmanship and a close friend of the Shinsengumi’s, and Ryouma Sakamoto, a ronin of the Tosa Domain who had interacted with the Shinsengumi.
Thinking back to the original six and new six characters, whose route did you find was the hardest to write for? Was there someone who was the most enjoyable?
The most difficult bachelor to portray in a new romantic route was Susumu Yamazaki. Originally, he was a secondary character who had passed away during the Shinsengumi’s departure from Kyoto to Edo. Unlike many of the other bachelors, it was difficult to find historical sources on his personality or likeness. On the other hand, I enjoyed writing Ryouma Sakamoto’s storyline the most. It was refreshing to see a perspective from someone opposed to the Shinsengumi.
How would you describe the writing process and outlining for a character’s storyline? Were there any challenges you’ve found are unique to Hakuoki?
The most challenging part of developing these characters was working the romantic aspect of their storylines into each of their respective journeys. Another challenge was writing these characters, as I envisioned them, within the template of their historical counterpart. This overlaps somewhat with what I mentioned in Question #2, but I put a lot of effort into fitting these historical figures within Hakuoki’s canon. It was especially tricky to balance our vision and their real-life personality. Souji Okita, Sanosuke Harada, and Shinpachi Nagakura are the characters who are most unlike their historical counterpart in both looks and personality.
How long was the game in development for? What were some challenges that were faced and overcome during the development process?
The original Hakuoki had taken a year and a half to develop, and the fandisc took an additional year. In comparison, the remastered version, Hakuoki Shinkai (localized to: Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds and Edo Blossoms), had taken us two years to develop. Our biggest obstacle was interweaving the fandisc stories into the original storylines, in addition to adding six entire character storylines. The difficulty comes from wanting to make the new routes feel like an extension of the universe created by the existing routes, rather than awkwardly adding them without establishing a connection to the original plot.
The addition of the new six characters and the extended/added scenes made this new Hakuoki release massive. At what point was it decided that the game needed to be split into two parts? What was the reasoning behind this?
There is a stark difference in the tone of the Shinsengumi’s journey between their times spent in Kyoto and Edo. When they were in Kyoto, the Shinsengumi often dealt with battles and skirmishes as a tight unit. There’s a sense of cohesion in Kyoto, one in which the Shinsengumi learn to survive and process these incidents together, which influenced our decision to portray the story in a more linear fashion for the player. After they arrive in Edo, however, the group splinters, and so too does our perspective of how each bachelor’s unique experience played out over the course of the war. Thus, we intended to organize the “Edo Era” as a series of individual routes, which worked better if we separate the game into a two-part series.
So many games with the Hakuoki characters have been released since 2008 from the fan favorite Sweet School Life, to the now extended Kyoto Winds. At what point, during it’s original release, did you realize that the game was very popular?
After Hakuoki’s original release in 2008, we had created a spin-off, Hakuoki Reimeiroku. From there, we saw how explosive the demand was from fans for new stories, games, and directions for our characters. Since then, we have developed spin-offs, mini-games, and other Hakuoki-related products like the anime and manga series.
The franchise has already done so much in the time it’s been active, what can we expect in the series future that you can share with us?
Since next year is the 10th anniversary of Hakuoki in Japan, we have many plans in store to celebrate. One of them is organizing events in many of the nature-oriented sites that were featured in Hakuoki, which we hope reflects the softer, tender side of the game. If you have the chance to visit Japan next year, I highly encourage you to visit the announced locations, as it will give you a chance to see areas closely associated with the Shinsengumi to deepen the connection you may have with the story of Hakuoki.
(Note: Mr. Fujisawa just announced Otomate’s 10th anniversary plans for Hakuoki ahead of any promotions. It’s quite an exclusive!)
Hakuoki has been one of many otome games that has inspired so many people to create their own otome games. What advice you have for aspiring otome game developers?
As for myself, I have always loved studying history and the lore of vampires, so this game was a chance for me to combine two of my favorite things into one world. My advice to aspiring otome game developers is finding what you are most familiar with, and incorporating them into your story for an authentic experience.
Mr. Fujisawa’s Message to Fans
Thank you so much for your support of Hakuoki! Nearly ten years have passed since we introduced Hakuoki to the world. I have been working closely with the game for the entirety of this past decade, so I hold this game very dearly in my heart. I hope, of course, that the players feel the same way! It’s because of your strong, loyal dedication that we are able to create an abundance of Hakuoki-related content, so on behalf of the Hakuoki team, I extend to you our deepest gratitude. We are planning to develop more Hakuoki titles in new media formats, so please look forward to more from us in the future! Thank you again!
And thank you again to Mr. Fujisawa and Ari Advincula, Idea Factory International’s PR & Marketing Coordinator, for presenting me with this amazing opportunity!
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