I’m going to level with you: I’m not exactly the dating simulator’s target demographic. I’m a 20-something man in college, in a committed relationship, with a PC and too much time on my hands – oh my God I am the target demographic, aren’t I?
Hatoful Boyfriend is one of the latest titles released belonging to this proud, illustrious genre. It’s also cringey, groan-inducing, and unpleasant to play (like many dating sims!). It is, to use the parlance from the game, not going to be (ugh) everybirdie’s cup of seed. Are you laughing at my clever bastardization of a classic idiom? Laughing so hard that you’re starting to see spots and people on the subway are asking you if you’re alright? If so, stop right there and buy this game immediately. If not, welcome! I will be your sanity Sherpa, guiding you safely down from the mountains of madness. If you can see past the singular, selling point gimmick of Hatoful Boyfriend you’ll find yourself staring at an unimpressive, run-of-the-mill visual novel.
You are a human in a world dominated by intelligent birds that range from pigeons to parakeets (it is weirdly derivative of Rise of the Planet of the Apes). You are attending the prestigious St. Pigeonation’s Institute, the first and only human to do so. Despite claims of a multitude of curricula there appears to be three regular classes – math, gym, and music – likely because every other classroom is filled with bird shit.
Also attending the school are several suitors, all male pigeons. That is the premise. How zany and quirky! There’s one obsessed with pudding (how strange and charming!), one that’s an aristocrat (I bet I can change him!), a childhood friend (but we’re just friends… aren’t we Ryouta san?), and so much more! Plenty of options for you and many branching paths, though you will find yourself seeing the same conversations over and over again. Level up your stats by attending classes, and depending on where you choose to go and how you spend your time you’ll see and interact with different characters (i.e., superimposed bird pictures against static art backgrounds with dialogue bubbles). Some story paths are downright strange and out of left field – which is a feat considering the game is essentially the definition of left field.
But is it good? Is it fun to play? Not for me. Think The Walking Dead Season 2 or Long Live the Queen with even less interactivity. Lame bird puns? Yes, flocks of them. Tedious to slog through every conversation? Yes, especially after your second and third flythrough (you can fast forward, thankfully). It’s a visual novel and thus has lots of reading, which is fine. But the periods between your brief choices and talks are long and tend to be… just not all that engaging. What about lazy mistakes? Yes, Hatoful has it all! Plenty of them – typos, mislabeled dialogue, and music randomly cutting in and out.
Hatoful originally came out in 2012 but this HD release feels like an attempt to catch some of that Goat Simulator, one-note-funny fever. I laughed… once. A guffaw at my character’s dwelling. That was it. The rest of this just left me bewildered. The story is nonsensical. Strange for strange’s sake isn’t funny; it’s just arbitrary. It’s a chore to replay this multiple times just to see the many different, unfunny outcomes. “Ah, if I had chosen to get a job so-and-so would have liked me more and thus I would have gotten a different, jarring ending.” There is an element of psychological horror you’ll uncover through subsequent playthroughs but it does little to save the game. It will likely be defended as “satire” and “deeper than first, second, and third glance,” but after the sixth glance I felt little compulsion to return to St. Pigeonation’s.
Hatoful Boyfriend tries too hard. It’s that friend we all have, the one who jabs you after telling a terrible joke, smiling open-mouthed and staring unblinkingly into your eyes until you awkwardly laugh or else he will kill your entire family. It feels cheep (good, I met my bird pun quota and can die happy), like something you could download for free at any number of sites. Some people will like Hatoful Boyfriend, find it charming – but if you’re having any doubts, heed them. If you like dating sims, visual novels, and beating-a-dead-horse concepts, give it a shot. If not… fly, you fool.