Is there anything more beautiful in our cold, sinful world than the love between a woman and her pigeon? I don’t believe there is, yet so many romantic stories tend to revolve around silly human-to-human relationships. Fortunately, there are games like Hatoful Boyfriend to remind us that the best kind of relationship is a feathery one.
This semi-infamous dating sim was produced by the Japanese indie developer PigeoNation Inc. headed by Hato Mao. It has since been remade and rereleased on countless systems, with the current, English release being published by Devolver Digital. The premise is that this is a completely normal dating sim, but all the hot, hulky boys have been replaced by various birds. Hatoful Boyfriend has all the tropes and stereotypes that you’d expect from a dating sim, except you’re trying to seduce a quail or a rock dove, depending on your tastes.
You’d be surprised how much mileage the game gets out of this one joke. Its story is filled with hilarious events that detail the intricate lore of this world where birds have overtaken humanity as the dominant species, or what day-to-day life in such a world is like. The tone of the comedy is beyond tongue-in-cheek; it’s a non-stop barrage of absurd jokes, bird puns, and parodies from start to finish. And throughout all of it, every character in the story is represented by photo cut-outs of actual, real birds. Have fun with your sappy, romantic dialogue while looking at a picture of a fatass partridge.
It’s stupid, but in an enjoyable way. The characters are feathered alternatives to familiar tropes, like the childhood friend Ryouta, the pompous nobleman Sakuya, or the quiet nerd Nageki. Each run through the game sees you entering a romance with one of these characters, with each path taking only about an hour to complete. It’s a short game that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it’s also very replayable one because each path is unique and can branch out depending on your choices; leading to wholly different events and outcomes.
Whereas usually I take long breaks between replays of other dating sims, I actually found myself diving back into Hatoful Boyfriend right away. Each storyline sprinkles in hints of what other characters may be up to; small mysteries that enticed me to keep reading more to get a more complete picture of the full story.
So yes, while Hatoful Boyfriend is nothing ground-breaking and can be completed in under an hour, it does have a lot to it. The hilarious writing alone can make the game worth a playthrough if you pick it up on a sale, but if you’re willing to delve into the full experience and try out multiple (or all) different endings, then it’s worth getting even at full price.
However, do keep in mind that the game has some technical shortcomings. You can’t scroll back through text or see a history of all the spoken dialogue, you can’t make saves when presented with a choice, and the game has some glaring bugs in it. Most notably, the game can fail to load the actual dialogue when loading a save, meaning you can’t read anything or progress. When this happens, simply exit the game, restart it, begin a new game, and load the save file from there. This should fix the issue temporarily.
It’s nothing game-breaking, but it’s disappointing to see a game this simple fail to include such basic functionalities. Especially considering it’s a fairly recent remake.