Visual Novel Spotlight: Hatoful Boyfriend

They say love knows no bounds and it certainly doesn’t in pigeon dating sim Hatoful Boyfriend. Created by Hato Moa, Hatoful Boyfriend follows the love life of a young high school girl surrounded by handsome, single birds. Through the course of the school year, she falls in love with somebirdie and explores the mystery and charm of their particular story.

 

Hiyoko Tosaka (nameable) is a student at St. PigeoNation Institute, a regal school in Japan that teaches gifted birds from around the world. Due to the H5N1 virus wiping out about 70% of the human race, Hiyoko has little choice but to attend the school. Once there, she reunites with her childhood friend and meets a pair of aristocrat fantail pigeons, a shy mourning dove, an energetic fantail pigeon, a scary partridge, a sleepy quail, a mysterious bleeding-heart dove, and a cast of other birds.

 

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To take Hatoful Boyfriend seriously would be to miss most of the point of the game. Though if you reach certain conditions, there are a few routes where things get dark and serious. While the art, music and backgrounds are mostly Creative Commons assets, it has a lot of charm and is like a love letter to dating sims with its own comedic tone and sudden dramatic twists. For those who enjoy otome games (VNs and dating sims targeted towards girls), Hatoful Boyfriend is well worth trying.

 

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There is a certain novelty in playing a game where the love interests are birds, but I think it can stand enough on its own merits. After playing for a while, you can change from being amused at a fantail pigeon flirting with you, to smirking at a sudden RPG battle, to wondering what on earth is going on. There’s a lot to be said about how intertwined the game’s serious content is.

 

Characters have common trope personalities, with enough variety to satisfy most players. The demo reveals the main twist of each character’s route but still manages to pull some surprises in the full version, particularly when it has exclusive longer routes. Some routes leave little suspense but can still be fun. Others are rather complicated and can be a sudden change in the game’s general light-hearted tone.

 

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When it comes to gameplay, Hatoful Boyfriend takes the usual romantic stalker method: spend as much time with the bird of your choice to see their story. Each route branches into something of a different genre be it supernatural, spy action or the semi-hidden mystery thriller Hurtful Boyfriend.

 

The stat building aspect of the game doesn’t require much attention – it appears to be there to show a preference towards certain routes, but hardly impacts on anything other than exams. In fact, it’s a little broken. There are three stats (athletics already heavily built up) and levelling up gives you more points than shown. There is actually nothing strategic about stat building, though it does have an effect on an event in one route.

 

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The text reads awkwardly at times as Hiyoko’s vocabulary doesn’t match her intelligence and phrases like “hunter–gatherer” are a little stiff, even if valid. At the same time, there are frequent pop culture references like “everybirdie” and “Nepotism, ho!” that might be liberal translations but give an extra bit of personality. Whether contemplating the sanity of the school’s doctor or deciding on which bird to romance, the game’s brand of humor and personality always shines through.

 

Hatoful Boyfriend is a short yet humorous game that is sure to be a favourite of any otome game player. While there are no real surprises when it comes to some characters and routes, other routes can have a sudden switch in tone. There’s something for players wanting comedy as well as those who want something almost ridiculously serious. The text is infrequently stiff and gameplay is simple; however, it’s worth the small price and a few hours of your time.

 

Hatoful Boyfriend is available for both Windows and Mac on DLsite for 3.15 / $4.27. Its sequel, Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star is also available on the same site. If you’re still undecided, Angie Gallant’s Let’s Play of the full game has swayed many opinions.

 

Title image courtesy of PhantomMarbles (here).

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