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My boyfriend is a rock dove. I've known him since childhood. He's a kind and loving individual, even if he's not the most stand-out guy. He's frequently sick, but he works multiple jobs to pay for his mother's healthcare.
Hatoful Boyfriend is the world's first and only avian dating simulator. The original game was created by mangaka Hato Moa. Moa released the game online for free a few years ago, but this version has been remastered and improved by Mediatonic. The game remains mostly the same as the original release; outside of a new scenario and ending crafted by Moa, this is just Mediatonic and Devolver Digital bringing a polished experience to a wider audience.
You play a human girl who transfers to the St. PigeoNation's Institute, the prestigious school for birds. Yep, birds. Outside of yourself, every other student, faculty member, and ordinary citizen in this world are birds. Intelligent birds are the dominant lifeform on the planet and the game hints that this is due to some apocalypse that's not mentioned. It's about as weird as it sounds. (Every character has a human portrait when you first meet them, but they're still birds.)
Like any other dating simulator, the interactions here are primarily based around your choices. Where do you go? Who do you talk to? How do you answer their questions? There are even electives you can take part in that raise your wisdom, vitality, and charisma. These stats are used occasionally in the game, but I only found one major instance during my multiple playthroughs where my stats mattered.
My boyfriend is a fantail pigeon. He's descended from nobility, so he looks down on everyone else, calling us "commoners". He's constantly holding himself high, but there's obviously something he's hiding. Some yearning deep within.
Hatoful Boyfriend isn't on the hard side of dating simulators. Like any other dating sim, the idea is to end up with the boyfriend of your choice while teasing the full story from their separate paths. Your primary choices are shown to you in the very beginning of the game: childhood friend Ryouta, rich bird Sakuya, casanova Yuuya, silent library fixture Nageki, narcoleptic teacher Kazuaki, mad doctor Shuu, and crazy track-star Okosan. Ending up with a particular avian boyfriend isn't hard. It's actually rather straightforward.
My first playthrough of Hatoful Boyfriend was snooze-inducing. I knew where I was going and the game never presented any obstacles in my path. My first run just wasn't satisfying. I got to the end and asked myself, "Is that it?" as the short credits played. So I started over and picked a different path.
My boyfriend is the school's athletic marvel, but he's also the most confusing student. He's always running every which way, talking about nonsense like pudding. I think his eccentricities are why I'm drawn to him.
While some of the paths are standard visual novel fare, some of them are downright odd. The game wants you to play multiple paths - each path will probably only take 30-40 minutes of your time - to find out the full truth. What starts as dates, festivals, and gifts takes a wrong turn in some paths, leading to murder, espionage, apostles, and demonic trees. Hatoful Boyfriend using birds as the focus means when the situations get weird, you just shrug your shoulders and say "sure, why not?"
And you have to romance someone. I tried staying away from all suitors and it doesn't work. Choosing a neutral path leads to an early bad end for the player. If you're not here for romance, Hatoful Boyfriend doesn't want you.
My boyfriend is a mourning dove who spends all of his time in the library. He's very quiet and everyone ignores him, but he'll talk to me. We sometimes spend hours next to each other in the library; he seems to love it when I just tell him about my day.
Finishing all of the main paths unlocks the darker Hurtful Boyfriend path, which details the truth behind the apocalypse hinted at in the main story. It's here that Hatoful Boyfriend dives fully into the weirdness that's the game's overall strength. This second half is where the game starts to explore some heavy themes: what it means to be human and how far creatures will go to survive. The artwork and writing is fine in the earlier part of the game, but it takes a step up here. Hurtful Boyfriend is a dark tale that's almost worth the price of admission, but most people won't have the patience to get through the first part of the game.
Hatoful Boyfriend is hard to categorize. As a dating simulator it's painfully straightforward and boring at times, but the absurdity of dating birds can carry you through some of your early playthroughs. If you stick with it, you'll be rewarded with something truly interesting, partially because you've already bought into the absurdity. Hatoful Boyfriend isn't great - that early pacing messing things up - but it's above-average when everything is said and done. If you're predisposed to liking dating sims, are willing to grind for a bit, and have $10 to spare, you might find something magical in Hatoful Boyfriend.
VisualsUntil you get to the second half, you're mostly staring at pictures of real birds.
SoundThe soundtrack is pretty good. The main theme is calming.
InterfaceIt's a dating sim. Click here, click there, make your choices.
Lasting AppealYou'll have to play the game over and over again to get all the endings and unlock the full story.
ConclusionHatoful Boyfriend is a straightforward dating simulator where all of your suitors just happen to be birds. If you're not drawn to your potential boyfriends, the early game can be a bit of a drag. While the second half of the game is worth the price of admission, many players will have a problem getting there. Proceed with caution.