A young girl named Mikoto wakes up in the hospital to find an unfamiliar boy at her side. He leaves after explaining the details of her accident to her, and a short time later she discovers a beautiful card with an oni on it. Thinking that it must be something the boy accidentally left behind, she goes to visit his school, the elite Kaen Academy--a place where five boys, known as the Brights, partner with girls (Minamo) in Hana Awase, a card game that can cost the participants their lives. Once she arrives, Mikoto discovers that she's actually been chosen by the card as someone with the potential to become a Senki--a legendary maiden with the power to move heaven and earth. She accepts the opportunity to transfer into the school, and works towards the goal of awakening her powers while fighting the minions of the mysterious Goto, who desires Mikoto and her Senki powers for himself.
Hana Awase: Mizuchi Chapter
Age Rating: None given (However, I would say it's 15+)
Date of Release: December 5, 2012
Voice Cast: Fukuyama Jun, Terashima Takuma, Hino Satoshi, Tachibana Shinnosuke
Since this is Mizuchi's game, he's the Bright that Mikoto is initially partnered with. She stays with him throughout the common route and grows closer to him, and on Day 21 of the game, she gains the option of choosing who she wants to partner with. Failure to choose a partner within three days will result in a Dead End, and if you go to someone's room on the first day and then refuse to be their partner, you will be unable to choose them for the rest of the route. The difficulty and number of battles changes depending on whose route you're on, and Mikoto remains in love with Mizuchi no matter who your partner is. Since she's fated to be with Mizuchi, choosing another partner will result in 1-3 Bad Ends, and all of the routes end around the one-month mark.
Mizuchi (CV: Fukuyama Jun)
A serious and polite person, who values rules above all else. He treats his Minamo with respect, and they have a near-fanatical amount of loyalty and admiration towards him. He has little experience with girls.
Himeutsugi (CV: Tachibana Shinnosuke)
A friendly and gentle "princess" who is kind to everyone. He's good friends with Mizuchi, and on occasion he enjoys teasing Mikoto. His Minamo are considerate and helpful, and often prepare elaborate lunches for him.
Iroha (CV: Terashima Takuma)
The boy that Mikoto met at the hospital. He's extremely popular among the students, and the strongest member of the Brights. He has a reputation for being perfect, and normally shows very little emotion. He enjoys eating sweets.
Karakurenai (CV: Hino Satoshi)
A genius when it comes to Hana Awase, with a blunt personality and little respect for convention. Although he treats his Minamo as his possessions and can often be found playing around with them, they all look at him with adoration.
The last of the Brights, Utsutsu, mysteriously vanished before Mikoto transferred in, and is only mentioned once in this game.
At different points in the story, the characters recite classical poems (waka), which can later be found collected in the [EXTRA] section of the game, and the names of the characters all come from poems as well (Ex. Karakurenai's is 『ちはやぶる 神代もきかず龍田川 からくれなゐに水くゝるとは』, by Ariwara no Narihira). I found the poetry to be a nice touch to the game, even though I'm mostly unfamiliar with the source material and how to interpret it.
The voice acting for the game was very good as well, even for the minor characters such as Aoi (CV: Fujita Saki) and Momotose (CV: Mizushima Takahiro). In particular, I enjoyed Tachibana Shinnosuke's work, and I thought that his acting did a great job at reflecting the subtle changes in Himeutsugi's character throughout the route and the way he feels for Mikoto.
If you work hard at leveling up, you could probably take the routes in any order you wanted. Although it's not the order that I played the game in myself, I think I would probably recommend Mizuchi-->Himeutsugi-->Karakurenai-->Iroha, because that way you have the story battles ranked by increasing difficulty. Mizuchi's route also offers the most explanation of events, and has ten story battles and five opportunities to train in the Katou tournament--so you'll have leveled up a lot by the time you finish his route, and be more ready for the other routes. (Mikoto has the option of keeping her stats when you "reincarnate"/finish one route and start the next.) Hana Awase's minigame is fun in small doses, but once you're forced to grind in the tournament to beat the story bosses, it gets old fast.
During the game's common route, you have the opportunity to advance the story by performing up to three actions a day, represented by roses in the upper left portion of the screen. Locations with the Onifuda next to them are places that have an event, which will either allow you to see a special scene or give you the opportunity to level up your stats.
The interface is very clean-looking and easy to navigate, and the game runs smoothly on my four-year-old laptop. While the menu layout isn't the most beautiful in the world, I thought it was a cute touch that instead of text, there's an exit sign for exiting the game.
For the most part, the background music in the game didn't make too much of an impression on me. Other than a few songs, I thought it was rather average, and some of the tracks sound similar to each other. However, it does a good job of fitting the mood of the scenes, and the opening theme and character songs were all very enjoyable.
An important part of Hana Awase is the mini-game, which is based off of the card games played with Hanafuda decks. As you progress through the game and defeat opponents either in the story section of the game or in the Katou tournament, Mikoto gains experience points, which can then be used to increase various stats and help her in battle.
Hana Awase is fairly straightforward and easy to learn, and the game offers tutorials at the beginning, which can be replayed by visiting the office where you play Katou. There's also a good tutorial video made by Lore.
Essentially, the point of the game is to get a certain combination of cards (yaku), which can then be used to do damage against your opponent. The higher your offense is, the more damage you'll do, and when you have multiple yakus in your hand, you can choose to Koi Koi, which allows you to stack damage (with a maximum of five yaku). Using the special skills Mikoto gains can also help you to win by increasing your stats or critical rate for a turn, forcing your opponent to discard a random card and draw a new one, or allowing you to see what cards will be next in your deck.
When your partner is someone who has a sprite, you also gain the ability to use EX Mode to fight. The bar next to your HP labeled "Ex" increases with the more cards you draw, and when it fills up, a button labeled "PUSH" appears. By pushing the button, you unlock EX Mode, and your stats receive a dramatic increase for a few turns. If you're partnered with a Bright, then the background also changes, and the music switches to their character song.
Once you level up high enough in the Katou rankings to be able to fight the Brights, you gain the opportunity to unlock fanservice-filled special scenes. Although you have to lose to the first three Brights, obtaining Iroha's CG/scene requires you to win against him and become the #1 ranked person in the tournament. It's a pretty cute scene, and despite all the dark stuff that happens in the rest of the game, finishing with that and Mizuchi's Good End made me feel all fluffy inside.
When I first saw the magazine articles for the series, one thing that I noticed was that they had a lot of different CGs that they were showcasing. Because of this and the short length of the game, one of my concerns with buying Hana Awase was that I thought they might have showed us most of the CGs already. However, while the percentage is lower than in most other games (E.G. 76% for Black Wolves Saga: Bloody Nightmare, excluding the pieces of CGs), out of the majority of the 60 CGs (51 unique) available in the gallery, 57% (29/51) were ones that I hadn't seen from either magazines or the PVs on the site. Additionally, the fact that there were this many CGs for a game with essentially one route was something that I thought was impressive in and of itself.
For most of the CGs, I thought the art was pretty consistent, both between CGs, and between CGs and sprites. My main problem with the art was with Mikoto herself--for a few CGs she looked more mature than everywhere else, and she looks a little strange in CGs where she's facing away from the viewer.
I also disliked the way the game handled the gallery CGs. While I don't mind the gradient around the edges of the game while I'm playing, I wish that the Gallery section had clean versions of the CGs without the gradient, because it makes it hard to get a nice picture of the CG for my personal collection without cutting something major off or having weird lines in the picture.9.0Considering that it's cheaper than the average drama CD (￥1470 as opposed to ￥2100) on its own, and less expensive than most PC games when you combine the price for all three disks (蛟編、姫空木編、and 唐紅／うつつ編), I'm surprised at how nicely this game turned out. I was worried that it might be one of those things where the cast is meant to lure you into buying a terrible game, but the point that I took off from this game's score is really just for a bunch of small complaints, such as the lack of a Memorial section. The only time I was really unhappy with it was when I encountered a bug at the end, as it basically forced me to spend an entire day trying to figure out how to unlock the Brights as opponents. I'm not entirely certain that it wasn't just a coincidence, since nothing happened until I repeated an ending again, but if anyone else is planning on playing the game, it doesn't hurt to install the patch (It won't mess with your save data) or play Mizuchi's route early on.
All of the aspects of the game are of decent or good quality, and even though it's a short game, I thought the length of the individual routes and the story pacing were very good. The characters are charming, whether it's in their own route or encountering them at other points, and I can honestly say that I loved all of them by the end of the game. I wish that WoGa would have given me a bit more on Utsutsu, since he's my favorite of the Brights, and honestly, if there's ever a Goto route, I'll probably be the first one to go for that too. Since this is the first game in the series, there are still several mysteries remaining at the end, and I look forward to seeing them answered in the upcoming games.
(Special thanks go to Rin for helping me figure out a good way to translate 編 into English)