Japan – home of the RPG and land of the pigeon dating simulator set in a post-apocalyptic future.
Yes, that’s right; a pigeon dating simulator set in a post-apocalyptic future. If such a combination of words is strange to you, then you’ve probably not heard of Hatoful Boyfriend. Brace yourself then, because we’re going to attempt to explain it, and it’s going to get weird. Very weird.
First, a history lesson. The genre of dating simulators (or visual novels, as many sims like Hatoful branch out into) in gaming has been around for many years. They can be traced back to early text adventures, games where you explored in-game worlds mostly by typing in instructions such as: go north, look at sky, wipe bird poop from your eye.
These games were basically interactive novels and their popularity extended into Japan, where they became more visual in their evolution. Static images, often invoking a Manga style, would accompany the story. Here’s one of the earliest visual novel games, The Portopia Serial Murder Case, from back in 1983:
There’s often some dispute about what is a dating sim and what is a visual novel. Suffice to say, Hatoful Boyfriend falls into both camps. The core structure of it is a dating sim, as you attempt to gain experience points in certain areas that appeal to particular suitors.
Over the course of time in the game, your choices will then help lead you towards one of multiple endings depending on which boyfriend you find. Unlike most dating sims though, Hatoful has a many-layered, insane story underneath its wings. And your task is to peel each layer of this demented onion.
The basic premise of Hatoful is fairly standard: You play as a teenage human girl in a school full of talking birds and you must date one of them. Which is all normal, ordinary gaming stuff so far.
You might even say it’s too clichéd, bur never-mind. There are eight different birds to pursue in the game, but that’s just the start of the madness. As you progress down these different paths, a whole plethora of weirdness is revealed. Let’s examine some of the bonkers characters involved:
Yuuya is a fantail pigeon who works for a political bird party called the Doves. The Doves are opposed to the Hawk party who want all humans dead. Down one path in the game, you end up accidentally eating Yuuya at Christmas dinner without realizing it. Yuuya was killed by…
A chukar partridge who is also the school’s doctor and member of the Hawk party. Shuu is a crazed, murderous bird who takes perverse pleasure in mutilating other birds in the name of “science”.
Take a path with Shuu and you end up being compliant in his evil actions until, eventually, Shuu murders you and then falls in love with your disembodied brain. Prior to that, Shuu also kills…
A luzon bleeding-heart dove, Anghel is also the reincarnation of the Crimson Fallen Angel of Judecca. If you follow Anghel’s path (and he doesn’t die) you end up helping him to fight a demonic tree-bird called Himnesia and Shuu himself.
Except Shuu is now possessed by an evil sorcerer called Wallenstein. By using a Holy Spear called Saekro’m, you can defeat Wallenstein and remember your past life as an angel.
And then there’s Okosan. A pigeon who likes pudding. His quest is to find the Ultimate Pudding. He is later revealed to be Lord Pudi, God of Pudding whose destiny is to cover the entire planet in pudding.
And the above is only a brief glimpse into the un-hinged birdy world of Hatoful Boyfriend. If, for example, you unlock every possible ending in the game, you get a whole new story: Hurtful Boyfriend.
Here, you play as the main character until you end up murdered. You then play as one of the male pigeons, Ryouta, who investigates the crime and uncovers a sinister conspiracy at the heart of the school. One which involves scarecrows and planet-killing viruses. Obviously.
The oddest thing about Hatoful Boyfriend though, is that it’s not all that odd. Yes, it’s an utterly bizarre game, but it actually plays out in a fairly well-written, calm manner. It eases you along the madness with every line of dialogue.
Most importantly, Hatoful plays it strictly for laughs. It knows how ridiculous it is, and that level of self-knowing works in its favour; you’re laughing with the game, instead of at it. Well, sometimes at it too.
Hatoful Boyfriend developed an inevitable cult following since its release in 2011, and the Hatoful universe has grown with spin-off novels and sequels. Of course it’s not a game for everybirdie, but those that do coo-se it will for-feather remember it.