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The Dose: Hatoful Boyfriend is best pigeon dating sim ever

The Dose: Hatoful Boyfriend is best pigeon dating sim ever

The Dose: Hatoful Boyfriend is best pigeon dating sim ever
March 26
22:55 2015

Rhiannon Saegert / News Editor  

Hatoful Boyfriend is the perfect game for anyone looking to spend their weekend crying bitter tears over stock photos of pigeons.

Created by Hato Moa, Hatoful is a visual-novel style dating simulator, a choose-your-own-adventure type game where the player makes decisions at key points to try and make other characters fall in love with them. There are all kinds of different dating sims out there that let players woo all kinds of romantic prospects, but Hatoful Boyfriend is the first to allow players to romance human-sized, highly-intelligent birds. Finally.

Photo courtest of Hatoful Boyfriend creator Hato

Yuuya Sakazaki in his storyline. Screenshot courtesy of game creator Hato Moa

For the uninitiated, dating sims are a Japanese creation and most tend to contain the same anime-esque character types. The stock characters are all more or less present here: Childhood friend, shy bookish one, carefree playboy (playbird?) with hidden depths, stuck-up aristocrat who clashes with our heroine at first, and some joke characters that simply defy categorization. In that way, the game is fairly typical. Well, barring the obvious.

Nageki Fujishiro in the school library. Screenshot courtesy of game creator Hato Moa

Gameplay is straightforward: The heroine is a human girl attending St. Pigeonation’s Academy, a prestigious school for intelligent birds. Start the school year, meet all the different characters, decide who the heroine should fall in love with and then navigate dialogue options and key choices to make it happen. Some more infamous dating sims familiar to western audiences contain explicit content, but have no fear, there isn’t so much as a kiss in this game (probably because even the creator doesn’t know how that would work).  Some birds are kind, some are jerks, some are just insane, and half the fun is picking a favorite. There’s somebirdie for everybirdie. Almost every character is entertaining, but the award for Least Enjoyable Route goes to Dr. Shuu. He has his fans but he’s really nobirdie to lose your head over.

St. Pigeonation’s, the world’s greatest pigeon high school. Screenshot courtesy of game creator Hato Moa

The game is tongue-in-cheek to the point of parody, self-aware, silly and cute in a way that’s reminiscent of the anime Ouran High School Host Club. It delights in poking fun at slice-of-life anime and dating sim clichés while embracing them and taking them even further. Rest assured, plenty of jokes work beyond the “… except with pigeons!” gag. Considering this game was created by one person at home in her spare time, it’s more engaging and better-written than one might expect and that must be acknowledged.

One of the possible 16 endings. Screenshot courtesy of game creator Hato Moa

Players might be too busy laughing at the sheer absurdity of the premise to catch the tiny breadcrumbs of a larger story each route drops. At one point, the heroine goes for a jog, passes abandoned, crumbling skyscrapers, and fails to find this surprising or noteworthy at all. Nearly everybirdie points out she is the only human attending the school, but as the game goes on it becomes clear she’s the only human character we’ll see. Two routes mention students missing from the school, and the heroine can be killed while investigating the disappearances. The biggest red flag comes if a player does not successfully complete a romantic route by the end of the game, earning an abrupt “bad” ending that throws everything about the other storylines into question.

These hints culminate when, after earning the right endings, players are given the option to either continue the game as normal or “Fulfill the promise.” Choosing the second option unlocks the hidden BBL or Hurtful Boyfriend route, revealing the school’s bloody history, character backstories that are either tragic, horrifying, or both, and finally an answer to the question you’ve probably been asking yourself since the title screen: Why am I dating pigeons instead of people?

The “story that starts cute and innocent but then takes a horrifyingly dark and gritty turn” formula is a tried and true way to gain short-lived Internet infamy, but when Hatoful Boyfriend’s candy-coated exterior melts away and everything goes egg-shaped, the two stories dovetail surprisingly well.

Having to successfully woo most of the main cast to unlock the “real” story works brilliantly. This creates a connection to these characters, or at the very least some investment in the story. In either case, by the time the true story is available, players have willingly drunk enough of the coo-laid to ensure this hidden route holds weight for them. The result, against all odds, is genuine emotional investment in picking the right dialogue option to advance the story and, as previously stated, bitter tears over stock photos of pigeons.

Obviously, this game is not for everyone. For fans of anime and manga, romcoms, visual novels or really bizarre things discovered late at night on the weird side of Youtube, Hatoful Boyfriend is worth checking out. The original game is available for free at http://clione.halfmoon.jp/hatoful-boyfriend/english.html.  An updated version of the game with spiffier backgrounds and a brand new romantic route is available for $9.99 on Steam.

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