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Hatoful Boyfriend Review
Release Date: Out now
ESRB: N/A (G-rated)
You never know what to expect when it comes to the kinds of video games being made nowadays, especially stuff from Japan. Visual novels and dating sims are in a league of their own, but even those accustomed to the genres may take a second glance when they come across Hatoful Boyfriend. A visual novel where you date pigeons sounds like some kind of April Fool’s joke, but I assure you, it’s definitely a full-fledged game. Despite how silly and ridiculous it DOES sound, is this a game everybirdie will want to give a shot?
Okay, we definitely already know Hatoful Boyfriend (which is a pun on the words "heartful" in English and "hato" (pigeon/dove) in Japanese) is a game where you form relationships with pigeons – and other birds, too! It’s something wacky and different that is bound to catch your attention. What’s it really about, though? You’re the only human in a school called St. PigeoNation’s Institute, which is the absolute best place for a bird to get their education in the world. There is a whole flock of fowls for you to choose from, and while this whole premise may seem weird at first, you soon forget that you are human and feel like you are one of them. Even the protagonist herself, whose default name is Hiyoko Tosaka, pretty much acts just like a bird.
There isn’t much else to say about Hatoful Boyfriend without delving in too much of each bird’s character and route (which I’m sure you want to discover for yourself). The most important thing that we all want to know, anyway, is if it’s worth playing through. Your first playthrough may throw you off for a loop as you’ll probably find it very short (about 30 minutes or 1 hour) – and you may even receive the default bad ending on top of that. Don’t give up on this quirky little game just because of that, though! It shows its worth in the countless playthroughs you will be making after that first encounter. There are an exceedingly large amount of routes and endings to go through and achieve. Some of those routes take a lot of experimenting with dialogue choices to get to, too.
I did say I wouldn’t probe much into the individual birds of the game – and I promise I won’t! The little feathered creatures of Hatoful Boyfriend in general, though, are all such unique characters that you’ll definitely come to love quickly enough. It also helps that there is a wide variety of species to represent all of the characters in this game, from pigeons to finches to partridges to cockatiels. It’s also without doubt a great asset in learning about birds you may have not known about before, like the bizarre-yet-elegant-looking Luzon Bleeding-heart dove. The game also incorporates real-world elements such as Brian the Pigeon’s blog and a bird cafe that actually exists in Japan.
The art style of Hatoful Boyfriend is not its strong point, of course. It’s meant to be comical with its use of real photos of birds for the character portraits. The game does use hand-drawn backgrounds and anime-styled human character portraits for when you first meet a bird, however. The latter helps somewhat to strengthen each bird’s personality. Although I did make a point that the graphical style of the game was meant to be silly, I still would have loved to see some special CG scenes for the boys and other birds of Hatoful Boyfriend.
Unfortunately, the negative aspects of the game do have to be touched upon despite the amount of fun I did have playing it. One of the biggest things that drags this game down a lot is that this English release of the game didn’t bother to translate the top menu bar and right-click menu options (would it have been so hard to do so?). So, unless you’re well-versed in Japanese, it’s going to take a LOT of trial-and-error in order to figure out what’s text speed, how to save, and so on. One more nitpicky thing is that I do very much wish I could learn more about the characters of this game or for it to have more of a story. The writing isn’t the absolute best thing since Shakespeare either. But Hatoful Boyfriend simply won’t go that deep because it is something meant to be light-hearted and humorous.
While it is not meant to be the most serious visual novel out there, Hatoful Boyfriend is still something different and would certainly be enjoyable to those interested in the genre. It’s simple to figure out what options will lead you through a specific bird’s route, for the most part. There’s also no adult content whatsoever, so it’s perfect for those who may not touch most visual novels because of that aspect which is frequent in them. Since it is short and easy to dive into, it’s a great starting point for those wanting to get into the visual novel/dating sim genre – especially women.
All things considered, Hatoful Boyfriend -Hatoful complete edition- (this edition has new scenes and artwork not present in the original) is absolutely worth the mere $5 you would have to spend. Newcomers and veterans alike of the visual novel and dating sim genres will enjoy this unique little gem despite some issues. Just don’t expect the next greatest masterpiece, even though I’m sure you weren’t in the first place.
+ Quirky concept and funny, interesting characters make for a distinctive and great game
+ Even though each playthrough is short, replay value is very high due to the bulky amount of routes and endings
- Menu bar and right-click menu options have been left untranslated, thus making it frustrating to change your settings and so forth
- Doesn't go very deep into story or characters
Overall: 7.5 (out of 10)
Although you may at first turn away from the odd concept of dating pigeons, Hatoful Boyfriend is a bushel of whimsical fun that will entertain anyone interested in the visual novel/dating sim genre.
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