Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star


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Complete Review & Description

“You like udon, right? Let me take you out sometime,” Ryouta said to me. Considering my love of udon, this isn’t exactly the strangest thing I might expect to hear. Except for the fact that I’m a human… and Ryouta is a bird. I’m Hiyoko Tosaka, the only human student at PigeoNation Academy, Japan’s most prestigious school for birds.

That’s the premise of Hatoful Boyfriend; a bizarre, wacky dating sim / visual novel created by Hato Moa. Originating as an April Fool’s Day joke, Hatoful Boyfriend is more of a parody of dating sims than anything else, but beneath the satire and quirky humour is a surprising solid story of love, friendship, and intrigue.

Hatoful Boyfriend follows the same format as most other visual novels – a story unfolds through text and static images, and every now and then, you get to make a choice about how to proceed. What after-school club do you join? Who do you hang out with during your breaks? Should you get a summer job? Over the course of these choices, you’ll meet your outlandish classmates, teachers, and faculty staff, hopefully finding your true love in the process.

The fact that she’s looking for love among a different species doesn’t seem to phase Hiyoko, and by extension, the writing is such that the avian nature of her companions doesn’t really factor in. Aside from fun little pronouns like “nobirdie” and “everybirdie”, and the occasional plot point that riffs off the birds’ unique biology, it’s easy to forget that you’re talking to birds at all.

The birds themselves mostly stick to dating sim tropes – there’s the shy guy, the best friend, the lady’s man, the snooty rich guy, and the unobtainable, but oh-so-dreamy teacher. A few more unique characters are thrown into the mix, though, like an eccentric fantail pigeon who’s obsessed with pudding.

The companions might be cliche, but quality writing means that each route is captivating, even if it’s not particularly surprising. Depending on who you’re chasing, the storylines range from heartfelt and earnest, like Ryouta’s struggles with caring for his terminally ill mother, to wacky and hilarious, like the aforementioned pudding-obsessed fantail’s search for the True Pudding.

Humour abounds in Hatoful Boyfriend, and like the premise of the game itself, it’s wacky and surreal. There are a few references to other games (I had one bird use WING ATTACK on me, while another let me save my “CalorieM–e” for a “survival situation”) but most of the humour just comes from outlandish scenarios and weird, wonderful dialogue. Have you ever seen a “gangsta pigeon”, heard stories about toilet-trained kakapo, or looked at the “muscle-chested pigeons in this month’s ‘Pecks Magazine’”? I didn’t think so.

The only real problem is that each route is very short – around an hour or so, and less if you’re skipping dialogue – which makes the story feel rushed, and the characters not quite as fleshed out as they could be. This becomes less of an issue as you go through multiple routes; different events let you see more of each character and get to know them better (particularly Hiyoko herself), and the world itself starts to come together in a way that single playthroughs don’t really allow.

Indeed, Hatoful Boyfriend is definitely a game designed around you playing through a lot of different routes, something best exemplified by the Bad Boys Love story. Once you’ve obtained a certain set of endings, this plotline opens up – and without going into too much detail, because I don’t want to spoil anything – it turns the whole game on its head.

Prior to Bad Boys Love, Hatoful Boyfriend is a funny, charming, but not particularly memorable dating sim, but the “true ending” turns into something far more compelling that I won’t soon forget. It also manages to take all the game’s quirkiness – like the human / avian relationships, and the bizarre plotlines of some routes – and ground them into something a lot more meaningful.

The PlayStation version of Hatoful Boyfriend is based on Mediatonic’s remake, which came out for PC last year, and is almost identical to that release. One extra route has been added, and while it adds some interesting background to Dr. Iwamane, it’s largely unremarkable and feels crammed in.

If you’re looking for a dating sim on Vita or PS4, you’re not exactly spoiled for choice, making Hatoful Boyfriend a no-brainer. But even if you’re not really into the genre, this could be worth taking a look at – just make sure you stick around for Bad Boys Love.



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