Like many dating sims, Hatoful Boyfriend casts you as a new student in a school ripe with young bachelors to woo and fall in love with. Only this school isn’t your typical AnimeBoy High; St. PigeoNation’s Institute is a school that has literally gone to the birds. Excluding you, every student at St. PigeoNation’s is a bird. It’s a really weird premise, but does love really care about something silly like species?
Hatoful Boyfriend does its best to ease the player into the idea of avian love. Aside from being able to enter your own first and last name, the game also gives you the option to display human avatars for each of the birds. So if your heart has a hard time fluttering at the idea of a cute rock pigeon, this option will give you some anime eye candy to fantasize about instead. Thankfully, this option only displays an anime boy during each bird’s introduction scene, so the rest of your time in the game is spent talking to suitors that are very clearly pigeons.
The game presents you with 7 boys to woo, most of which feature multiple endings depending on your decisions during their plot lines. And because the game wasn’t already risque enough, that mix of boys includes a couple teachers for your romancing enjoyment. Where you go in your free time, what you say to each of the birds, and the statistics you choose to raise during school hours all dictate what pigeon romance you’ll ultimately experience.
The story is divided into academic terms that span from early April to February of the next year. No matter the playthrough, the first term will be roughly the same experience for the player and focuses mostly on introducing the birdly beaus than any actual story progression. Thankfully, a fast forward button is provided to power through these repeat scenes. The fast forward stops any time a scene changes or a decision needs to be made, so usually you won’t accidentally skip through something important.
Even without skipping through most of the scenes, the game feels short the first time through. If not for the diversity and hilarity of each of the endings, this single-run shortness would be a detriment. Experiencing a single ending is only a fraction of the game because you absolutely have to play through it multiple times to experience the majesty that is Hatoful Boyfriend.
The premise of this game is entertainingly strange, but each of the endings find a way to somehow take that strangeness to the next level. I’m not about to spoil any of them because, as with any finely crafted story, the journey to the end is just as important as the ending itself, but know that even the seemingly dull endings find a way to either entertain or astonish. Thankfully, Steam achievements provide a simple log of which of the 14 endings you have and haven’t completed otherwise the sheer task of getting them all would seem somewhat daunting.
Getting every one of the endings legitimately can be somewhat of a chore too. For example, on my first playthrough I got Shuu’s normal ending. Looking at a guide later, I discovered I had been one decision away from getting his ‘good’ ending. Small decisions, like reaching a certain level in the game’s Wisdom, Vitality, or Charisma traits or choosing the correct gift during the pigeon holiday Legumentines could be the subtle difference between a happily ever after and an unexpected death. For that reason, after you’ve played through naturally once or twice, it becomes totally permissible to use some sort of guide to experience all Hatoful Boyfriend has to offer.
The narrative is the true golden experience of the game, but that’s not to say this release is perfect. Though you are able to have six save states, the files display only date last played. Having a space to at least display your character name would have made it easier to differentiate between saves and playthroughs. And while the fastforward feature I mentioned before is useful, it lacks a feature common in other dating sims. Games like Katawa Shoujo feature a somewhat intelligent fast forward where the skip will automatically pause if it approaches dialogue you haven’t seen across any playthrough. Yes, Hatoful‘s will pause if a scene changes or if a decision arises, but I still had to overcome the occasional panic attack when I saw some new text being skipped over.
There’s no getting around it; Hatoful Boyfriend is weird. Even if we were to ignore the fact that you’re pursuing romantic encounters with various kinds of birds, the story and endings still make Hatoful Boyfriend an unforgettable experience. Plus seeing typical dating sim tropes portrayed and parodied by pigeon characters is fun in itself. The game shines through as an excellent dating sim experience, but more than that it excels as an incredibly enjoyable narrative adventure.