Yes, it’s that one famous pigeon dating simulator.
You’re at a high school for birds, the only human there. You try to date pigeons. That is until either your cheeks, sides, or brain hurt. Or you reach the end of the game. Or you die.
Well, it’s a visual novel, so there’s nothing unexpected to be had here. You read a lot, and at certain points you can choose which conversation option, where to go, or what to buy. That sort of thing. The aim, of course, being to woo one of the pigeons (or else). There is a little bit extra where you can choose to attend maths, music or gym class on the side, but this has essentially no bearing on the overall story, except regarding unlocking two of the ‘true’ character ends.
Hatoful boyfriend is a beautiful game. Both in a humourous sense, and a quite genuine one. You have the option at the start whether or not you want to use the ‘powerful visualisation model’ to see the birds’ human forms when they are first introduced. I really enjoyed the artwork, both of the human drawings and the pigeon images. It’s a very clean, bright visual, and very cheery and relaxing to look at.
I would say there were two routes that were particularly amusing – Shuu’s and Okosan’s. I leave those particular pieces of fabulous for you to discover, spoiler-free. Outside of that, the humour is generally upfront, at the outset – you’re trying to date pigeons. I mean, really. There’s also a little side route that you can take in part of the game that will introduce you to a character called Azami, a radical biker who absolutely never breaks the speed limit. There’s actually a chance to hook up two characters who aren’t you + pigeon, which leads to an amusing pre-ending where your character protests that hey wait this is meant to be my story before you go back onto whatever route you were working on before.
At a first glance many of them seem quite stock – library quiet guy, arrogant jerk, best friend, so on. But on further discussion they do each come into their own, each with nice stories plus additional hints to add on to the overall arch about your situation. I would say some of the routes are a little weak in ‘normal’ mode, but it all works out in the end. You may find yourself with a lot of unexpected feelings of tenderness and sympathy, for instance for the library guy or the flirty Yuuya or even arrogant Sakuya, as you learn about them. To make a game that no one expects to take seriously unexpectedly serious in some areas works surprisingly well.
Plot (no spoilers)
So, after you go about playing a certain amount of character endings, you unlock a bonus game mode, a chance to ‘fulfil the promise’. This then becomes a whole different game, and without really giving anything away, you have a murder mystery on your hands. The different threads from characters you’ve got to know from before finally all tie in a rather fantastic (if a tad awesomely ridiculous) and rather emotional end. You learn about why you’re there, what the doctor has really been up to, the secret of the school, the library boy and even your favourite teacher. It’s greatly entertaining, and as a game you might only look at for the ‘ha, date pigeons’ element, it gives a surprisingly fulfilling level of depth.
If I had to rate this game, I’d give it a contented 7/10. Unexpectedly mad, funny variety in the characters and a surprisingly impactful end. Would recommend.