Games are weird. Japanese games can be among the strangest, but unconventional and unexpected releases can come from any region. Games can also go out of their way to cater to audiences, employing various methods of fanservice to delight people playing. Bakumatsu Rock: Ultra Soul is one of those odd titles that is both filled with fanservice and incredibly weird. Fortunately, it manages to be over the top without being offensive or unpleasant.
Okay, so bear with me. Things are going to get weird. Bakumatsu Rock: Ultra Soul is set in the 19th century during the Tokugawa shogunate’s rule in the Bakumatsu era. The Shinsengumi are involved. Except in this alternate reality game, the Shinsengumi aren’t warriors; they are singers. Ieyasu Tokugawa used Heaven’s Song, a cursed melody that brainwashes and subdues the populace so the Tokugawa family can continue their rule. This means versions of people you may recognize from the Hakuoki series, Toshizo Hijikata, Isami Kondo and Souji Okita, appear.
So the government has strict control over Japan’s music. Think of Bakumatsu Rock: Ultra Soul as a sinister, historically inaccurate take on Footloose. Heaven’s Song is the only music allowed in this world, and the shogunate occasionally allows people who have gotten permission from an approved idol to audition and become an official singer. So people aren’t typically allowed to sing.
Enter Ryoma Sakamoto. He’s an ordinary person who wants to sing his own songs and become a star. However, he’s currently only a clerk at a pizzeria called Albergo di Terada. Yes, this is Bakumatsu era Japan. Yes, Ryoma is basically a pizza delivery boy. Trust me, it gets better. In further Bakumatsu Rock: Ultra Soul anachronisms, he is known for his singing abilities and electric guitar prowess. He joins up with Takasugi Shinsaku and Kogoro Katsura, two other pupils of his former master, Shoin Yoshida, to form a band and “fight” against the Shinsengumi in rock battles.
This means the Bakumatsu Rock: Ultra Soul campaign is a rhythm and visual novel hybrid. Between opportunities to play some songs that are, frankly, often awesome, you travel around Japan proving yourself, making Ryoma and his friends more famous and collecting Peace Souls. This means there are plenty of humorous and serious situations where your responses determine the level of fame the guys achieve. It is well broken up, and trying to please the masses is a pleasant change from the many Vita visual novels that have you attempting to please one specific person.
Now, in that last paragraph you may have noticed I mention Peace Souls. The final key to the Bakumatsu Rock: Ultra Soul puzzle is magic. You may have guessed some supernatural things are happening here, what with the whole cursed song leaving Japan’s citizens submissive. There exist five Peace Souls in this timeline. When someone awakens it, it gives them an incredible amount of power. It also makes their clothes explode off of their bodies. (Take that, Senran Kagura!) Our heroes, as well as Souji and Toshizo, all hold Peace Souls. When all are gathered and used, the Ultra Soul appears and causes monumental changes in the world.
Let’s review. Bakumatsu Rock: Ultra Soul is an alternate history rhythm game with visual novel elements. It is set in the 19th century, but everyone has electric guitars and other modern instruments. The government is controlling its citizens with a magical song being sung by the Shinsengumi, people who in actual reality were warriors. A rock band, led by a pizza delivery boy, gain special souls that amplify their musical abilities and rip their clothes to shreds when they perform. Yet, as cheesy as it is, the game actually has some pretty great tracks and a story that is above average, so long as you don’t think about how nothing makes sense. Yes, that is certainly a game import-loving Vita owners might want to play!