Mikoto is a normal girl who is about to start her first year at Kaibyaku High School. On the day of the opening ceremony, a boy on a motorcycle suddenly appears and declares himself to be the new principal. He announces that there's going to be a student exchange program with the elite Kaen Academy, and a somewhat reluctant Mikoto is chosen to participate.
Once at Kaen, Mikoto learns that she has the potential to become the Senki--a legendary maiden with the power to move heaven and earth. Her power can only be awoken if she partners with one of the Five Brights, the top students of Kaen. If Mikoto chooses the partner selected for her by fate, then everything will go smoothly, but if she makes the wrong decision, then disaster will strike...
Hana Awase: Karakurenai/Utsutsu Chapter
Age Rating: None given (However, I would say it's 15+)
Date of Release: August 19, 2015
Voice Cast: Fukuyama Jun, Terashima Takuma, Hino Satoshi, Tachibana Shinnosuke, Sugiyama Noriaki, Mizushima Takahiro, Kuroda Takaya, Toyonaga Toshiyuki, Yonaga Tsubasa, Igarashi Hiromi, Aoki Noriko, Eguchi Takuya, Hyousei, Ogihara Hideki, Tsuda Kenjirou, Gotou Yuuko
This game is a sequel to Mizuchi's and Himeutsugi's. As such, most of the vocabulary and characters are the same. While I don't think it really mattered what order you played the other two games in, I would strongly recommend against playing this game first. It explains things like how to play the mini-game so that you could start with it if you wanted, but it reveals Mizuchi and Himeutsugi's secrets and I think their games would be less fun if you already know what happens.
At the beginning of the game, Karakurenai brings Mikoto to Kaen as part of his student exchange program. Although the onifuda is missing, he performs his own ceremony and declares her to be part of his Oukagumi anyways. Unfortunately, something terrible happens to him one night, and Mikoto is told to choose a new partner.
Even with the student exchange program, Mikoto still spends a large amount of time at Kaibyaku, her original school from the other games. As in Mizuchi's game, all of the ending branches come from choices. However, unlike the other two games, your options for partner are presented in a linear order instead of all at once. If you decline one person's invitation, then you'll move on to the next person automatically. Running after Ime will result in a Bad End, and choosing Himeutsugi or Mizuchi will result in two Bad Ends for each route. Both Karakurenai and Utsutsu have Good Ends, and Iroha's route ends in somewhat of a cliffhanger. Additionally, Iroha's route starts from a unique point and is mostly told from his perspective. Utsutsu's route is locked until you complete Karakurenai's, and Iroha's route is locked until you complete Utsutsu's.
It's difficult for me to recommend a play order this time because it depends a little on your play style. In terms of battle difficulty, Utsutsu and Karakurenai have the easiest fights while Iroha has the hardest. Iroha's route also does not give you the option to practice in the rankings. If you prefer to keep story elements together and don't care about the battle difficulty, it's better to keep Utsutsu's route close to Iroha's and play Iroha's route last. Personally, I played the game in the order Karakurenai-->Himeutsugi-->Utsutsu-->Mizuchi-->Iroha.
Some of the subcharacters have been replaced with others, and most of the remaining cast has slightly different circumstances this time around. The “new” cast members are as follows:
Utsutsu (CV: Sugiyama Noriaki)
The Bright in charge of the elite Houougumi. After becoming a Bright, Utsutsu mysteriously vanished from Kaen. He loves Mikoto more than anything else and refers to her as his miko.
Ime (CV: Sugiyama Noriaki)
The real name of “Love Me (I♡ME)”, who appeared in the rankings of the first two games. Cheerful and friendly, he has a crush on Mikoto. For some reason, his face and Utsutsu's are identical.
Sword (CV: Gotou Yuuko)
Despite the fact that she should be loyal to Goto, she constantly aims for Mikoto's life. She's a strong fighter who's shrouded in mystery, and doesn't seem to display much emotion.
Izuru (CV: Tsuda Kenjirou)
A science teacher at Kaibyaku High School. While he's slightly airheaded and eccentric, he takes his work seriously. He's completely in love with his wife, “Mii-chan.”
For what I suspect are plot-related reasons, the game does not mark out days in a corner of the screen this time. The common route is also completely linear, and you don't get the option to explore like in the first two games. While the loss of this feature makes it much easier to be sure you've seen all of the scenes/CGs, I personally preferred having it.
Like in Himeutsugi's game, a fair number of the poems do not appear in the gallery, and you can jump to various points in the game if you continue with your stats after an ending. This feature has been improved so that in addition to the beginning of the game, you can also jump directly to ending branches and route splits. (It should be noted, however, that they will only appear in this menu once you've already seen them.)
The experience bar is still present and you still get the opportunity to level up your stats by asking questions. That said, the questions were kind of painful this time because they're all asked within the same 5-minute period (timed by Skip) and there are a total 25 things you can ask about. You do not get the choice to skip through the explanation of the battle stats like you did in Himeutsugi's game.
For the most part, the minigame is the same as it was in Himeutsugi's game. The most major change is that you can only get a Perfect Victory by having an actual perfect victory this time. (IE, you can't fool the game by full-healing yourself right before the battle ends.) There are new pictures for entering EX Mode.
At one of the common route practice points, Mizuchi's closing commentary also has a few variations, depending on how much you fought in the rankings.
As always, there are some CGs with awkward anatomy and posing. The CG count for the game is 161 (61 unique.)
In order to access the special scenes/CGs, you must lose to Himeutsugi and Mizuchi in the rankings, but beat all of the other characters. When fighting Rank 2, you can pick whatever partner you want--although the story makes the most sense if you pick Karakurenai. Fighting Rank 0 will earn you a CG and special scene this time.
The price for this game has been raised by about ￥1000 in comparison to the first two games, bringing it up to ￥2593 without tax. The routes felt longer, but from my other saves it looks like it took me about the same amount of time, so I'm not sure if it's a pacing thing or if they really were longer. The other major reason for the price hike is probably the fact that Utsutsu has a route this time.
Since I've always liked him, I can't really comment on how good Utsutsu's route is at making him a character the player is invested in. As far as voice acting goes though, I think Sugiyama did a really good job playing both Ime and Utsutsu.
The end of the game still leaves a few mysteries for Iroha Chapter, but it gives a lot of insight on things like where Utsutsu was for the last two games and what happened when everyone was younger. It was actually a little difficult to keep up with everything, and I feel like I need to replay at least this game, if not all of them.
Overall, Karakurenai/Utsutsu Chapter receives a 9.0. While most of my complaints are minor things, I really wish the reveals had been paced a little better. Like with the other two games, this one has some questionable content (especially in Mizuchi's route), and I don't think there were as many lighthearted or sweet scenes to balance out the heavy ones. If you're considering buying the game, you should take those things into consideration, but I don't have any problems recommending it even with the jump in price.