“Good morning, everybirdie!” – Hatoful Boyfriend
Visual Novels are a very interesting genre. They can span the gamut anywhere from detective and attorney games to the darker side of Japan’s psyche, the hentai game. Falling somewhere inbetween is Hatoful Boyfriend an infamous game, originally released in Japan in July of 2011. The game has a bizarrely voracious cult following ever since it was announced that has spawned comic books, websites, and even a card battle game.
You begin Hatoful Boyfriend on a school day, your best friend a rock dove named Kawara Ryouta is waiting outside for you to arrive. Your school is Japan’s home for gifted avian animals St. Pigeonation. Their motto is “The most splendid and greatest academy of the pigeon, by the pigeon and for the pigeon.” It might be important to note that the player character is not a bird you play as a human female who has somehow gotten herself into the school. Your teacher for the year is a quail named Nanaki Kazuaki who teaches math and physics, he also seems to be prone to a bit of narcolepsy.
There is a very snooty and snobby fantail bird by the name of Shirogane Le Bel Sakuya and it is made very clear from the start that this is going to end up being a rival to your character (Or as we called him Harvey Birdman, in honor of a certain well-known attorney). Sakuya’s brother Yuuya Sakazaki is trying very hard to talk to his own brother but Sakuya is having none of it, calling him a ‘half-breed’ and storming off down the hall. Yuuya is an upperclassman who is an infamous womanizer in the academy.
In the Library you meet a mourning dove Fujishiro Nageki a member of the school’s library staff. You managed to keep a hold of some books from the library for the entire summer and Nageki is very interested in getting them back.
Your friend goes missing and you go to seek him out in the school doctor’s office. The office is inhabited by a creepy bird named Shuu Iwamine who seems rather interested in experimenting on you.
Story-wise, things start to get deeper and darker; you appear to be a survivor of a mass extinction event and spend your nights living in a cave feasting on something called Calorie—M. For being a hunter-gatherer this girl doesn’t seem to do much hunting or gathering and it seems that in this world the birds now rule.
Hatoful Boyfriend plays much like any other visual novel, you use the mouse or the keyboard to move the text forward selecting from various choices as you go. Those branching storyline choices drive you to one of a few different possible endings.
The graphics are what you would expect to come from a visual novel game, simple but effective drawings that set the scene for the story to be told. The photographs of the birds are nicely done and well integrated into Hatoful Boyfriend.
As with a lot of visual novels, translations and grammar can be spotty at best. You have to wonder why a game based on dialog would choose not to find themselves a good proofreader. The game does however make a cleaver take on pronouns using avian replacements for the human portions of the words.
Audio can be quite strange, one song in particular harkens back to a somewhat complicated song by Avril Lavingne. Musically, things are very much in-tune with most visual novels – cheaply made but often catchy MIDI fare. There is even some classical music thrown in for good measure, probably due to public domain allowances and budget constraints. It can be a bit jarring to face off with a giant ninja doctor bird while The Nutcracker Suite is playing in the background.
Hatoful Boyfriend is just like any other game of its genre but with a really weird twist. It features simple controls, nice hand-dawn graphics and a compelling, if not bizarre, story that makes good use of your choices. At some points it will have you wondering what the hell you got yourself into and other times it will have you laughing so hard you might need to remember to breathe. If you are a big fan of birds, or if you’ve always wanted to see what would happen if Planet of the Apes were played by benevolent avians , you could do worse than stick your beak in here.
Hatoful Boyfriend is available on Steam.