Title: Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi
Release Date: June 17, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Getting the chance to romance historical samurai isn’t new to the world of otome. The political undertones of the narrative manage to really sell the drama, but then you have the added dose of a possible romance, and things get a bit more interesting. Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi was initially released on the PlayStation 2 in 2004 and finally makes it to the west. This release serves as a somewhat cozy and mature otome that we don’t see too often in the genre today.
Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi introduces its voiceless and nameable female protagonist Suzuka Sakuraba, who grew up in a dojo owned by her father. However, with stars in his eyes, her dad leaves her and her mom for the joy of adventure, leaving them to fend for themselves. Suzuka’s mom remarries into the Aizu Clan, and we learn about how capable of a fighter Suzuka is. This is seen by a group of samurai, and she is then enlisted into the Mibu Roshigumi, where she’ll serve in Kyoto.
Suzuka is not your average lead character. Narrative moments do well to highlight the struggle of being a female samurai, and the supporting cast doesn’t always take it easy on her. It creates some interesting moments, but it does require the player to understand the choice mechanics, which aren’t fully explained in the beginning. I wish that she was voiced to show emotion during the more impactful moments, but the story provides her with an avatar on screen that displays her reactions.
The story itself has the pacing of a classic otome. It’s slow and full of exposition to describe each character in detail, maybe even more than necessary. While this has been perfected over the years, it’s clear that in these early years, the writing is much more aimed at fully establishing the relationships and taking the time needed for them to believable.
The entire story takes place across 20 or so chapters depending on which character you end up with. I will say that the first time through can be confusing as there’s quite a bit of interactivity that might leave you confused on how to choose best boy. It’s just not totally clear what reaction some of the boys will give at first.
There are ten routes available and a range of samurai boys to interact with, even one who prefers to cross-dress. The romance routes are decided based on which character you spend time with and your responses during dialogue. It’s not explicitly revealed whether you got it right or not, but I didn’t have an issue unlocking romance CGs from the boys I wanted.
Stand-out boys would have to be Isami Kondo and Soji Okita, but that’s only because I liked their charming attitudes. After the interacting phase, the narrative of the chapter will kick into place. The animations of the characters are great. They don’t have too many poses, but their mouths move, and there are even rain effects for some of the scenes. I wouldn’t say I liked how most of the game took place within the same environment, but it’s par for the course, considering the length of each route.
Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi features an updated auto-save feature that comes in handy when going for multiple routes. While the chapter narratives are the same for some routes, the character interaction scenes are unique but brief. It’s easy to know which choice is the less sassy of the three when interacting with the characters, but you’re free to have fun with these bonding scenes.
The narrative as a whole becomes politically charged with brief bouts of action, but it’s spread out over a relatively lengthy narrative. The developers seemed to understand the story’s complexity and included a highly detailed term dictionary that really explains anything you need to know. That said, the casual nature of the routes and not really knowing what you’re doing the first time through might leave some first playthrough feeling unfulfilling. Still, as I became more comfortable with the menus and systems, I found more enjoyment in the scenarios.
The illustrations have been updated along with the voiced audio, but this is essentially the same story. I really enjoyed the CGs and epilogue scenes that wrap up each interaction, but sadly, not every route is as compelling as I’d hope. It’s unnecessary to play every route to understand the entire story, although some routes skip chapters. Once you see all the important beats, repetition sinks in, and you’re left hoping the character interactions carry the story, and they don’t always. I feel like the cast should have been cut in half here, but that’s just because I didn’t like every boy; I’m looking at you, Heisuke.
Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi is an otome from the past that deserves to be experienced by modern fans of the genre. It’s like a time capsule that delivers on a maturely political and action-filled narrative along with some decent romance routes that we don’t see too often. The pacing and required replayability pad the runtime, but the full narrative is a compelling and almost nostalgic experience.
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