Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Sep 192014
First term screen for Hatoful Boyfriend

When I promised to review Hatoful Boyfriend back in August, I meant it as a half-joking indication of why I might be out of touch with games the majority of people buy. A pigeon dating sim promised to be a wacky experience, well away from the mainstream. I pre-ordered it in July as soon as I read GameInformer’s announcement that it would be localized. It sounded insane, commenters who had played its original release assured the rest of us it was even weirder than we’d expect, and I just couldn’t pass it up.

It was weirder than I expected, and much, much better. Far from being a joke game, it drew me into its story until I was returning to it because I was actually interested.

The title is actually a quadruple pun, by the way. At first glance “Hatoful” might look like either nonsense or just a reference to the writer, but “hato” is Japanese for “pigeon” or “dove,” and it is also a play on the pronunciation of “hātofuru,” which means either “heartful” or “hurtful.” Make of that what you will.

You play the only human student accepted to St. PigeoNation’s Institute for birds. It is your sophomore year, and you must join a club, attend classes, and participate in a variety of scenarios to build your relationships and find your special somebirdie. Since it’s a dating sim, it’s worth mentioning that the player character is female and the romance options are all male. They’re also all birds, so really, don’t let the lack of gender options turn you away.

At the start of the game, you’re given the option to see a human portrait for the birds. These portraits are shown when the birds are introduced. The rest the time, you’ll see them as birds. They are birds.

Kazuaki Nanaki intro in Hatoful Boyfriend
Sakuya Le Bel Shirogane intro in Hatoful Boyfriend

Hatoful Boyfriend has enough potential for humor based on its premise alone, but it doesn’t stop there. From the player character insisting that if Sakuya breaks the rules by not introducing himself to the class, “the system will collapse and we’ll all turn into kulaks and dissenters,” to breaking up a fight by roaring about her hunter-gatherer instincts demanding blood, the game is filled with bizarre conversations and situations.

Everybirdie in this game is a little weird–and that includes the protagonist.

Along the course of your journey, you might be inflicted with vice presidency (of the student council), wish to rule the world from the shadows, or become involved in a mad scientist’s schemes. Whether you focus on math, music, or gym class, you’ll eventually pick out beans to give to your special somebirdie on Legumentine’s Day.

And of course, what would a game like this be without the occasional reference?

"Wing Attack" in Hatoful Boyfriend

My first playthrough took me about an hour. Subsequent playthroughs were much shorter, about 20-30 minutes long, thanks to the ability to fast-forward through dialogue. However, the game doesn’t recognize when you hit a scene you haven’t encountered before, so be cautious as you fast-forward to avoid missing parts of the story.

The game got to me during my first ending. Near the end, a little incident made me realize there was more to the plot than just dating birds and attending class. Then, the story took a turn for the emotional.

Yes, even though Hatoful Boyfriend includes elements like the saga of the traffic-law-abiding motorcycle gang or the quest for the ultimate pudding and Lord Pudi, other parts are not nearly as goofy.

Whatever emotion you want, there’s an ending for you. Funny? Check. Happy? Check. Heartwarming? Check. Bittersweet? Check. Sad? Check. Disturbing bordering on Nightmare Fuel? Check. Everything ending is different and has its own peculiar sort of weirdness.

"Samurai duel" reaction in Hatoful Boyfriend Nageki's ending

Each romance path/ending is its own self-contained story, but most contain little hints as to the larger story. They kept me interested and made me want to get even more endings to learn more. As you progress through the endings, two more paths will eventually open up for you. One is a new romance option accessible partway through the game, which brings its own dose of insane awesomeness.

The other, the BBL Ending, is much longer, more of a visual novel than a dating sim, and is considered to be Hatoful Boyfriend’s “true” ending.

I won’t spoil for you what happens, but this plot will mock your expectations and catapult you into a story of unexpected depth and darkness. It’s worth playing for the BBL story alone.

It turns out that the writer loves the Ace Attorney games, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that this game had a good story. But still, involved storytelling isn’t what you expect from a bird dating sim. She “wanted to create something that seems ridiculous and crazy at first glance, but that once you look into the world, you would fall into the depth.”

She definitely succeeded.

I’ll leave you with just a few more screenshots. For more, and for the true plot of Hatoful Boyfriend, you’ll have to play it yourself. Anybirdie who loves visual novels, dating sims, and birds should check out this gem, and the rest of you should consider it as well.

Apparently Hatoful Boyfriend has companion guidebooks, a webcomic, a series of drama CDs, a web radio show, an alternate universe webseries, and a sequel. The sequel is said to be more of a visual novel and even darker than anything in the first game.

Perhaps someday you’ll see a review here…
(Update: Read my review of Holiday Star!)

Buy Hatoful Boyfriend from Steam

If you want posts like this delivered straight to your inbox, enter your email in the box below to subscribe!

  One Response to “Hatoful Boyfriend: An Unexpected Delight”

  1. […] was described as being inspired by Hatoful Boyfriend, a favorite of mine, and I got it as part of a bundle, so why […]

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>