Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hatoful Boyfriend: Pigeon Dating Sim

Hatoful Boyfriend start menu
Which one's the bird of your dream?
Earlier today a ridiculous picture crossed my Tumblr dash of a dating sim where you try to romance pigeons. I thought this was pretty hilarious and other people seemed to enjoy it so I hunted it down and downloaded it (It's probably going to be the best $5 you'll spend in a while) and got to playing, about 7 hours later I finally had to call it quits, not because I wanted to, but because I would have just kept playing it all night!

First, let's set something clear! When you search around for places talking about it you get a lot of places featuring it because it's so weird (and don't get me wrong, it is totally weird) and it's usually followed by "WTF Japan?", but let's get serious for a second here in this conversation about pigeon dating, this isn't some sort of weird perverse game that was created to target some very specific fetish or something like that, it's a game that started as an April Fools joke a couple years ago that took on a life of it's own. It's not so much a dating sim as it is a parody of one that ends up very entertaining and even touching. There's no pixelated bird parts, and despite playing through 4 different routes, the closest I got to a pigeon falling in love with me was (Highlight the black bar for the spoiler) helping one realize his true form of Lord Pudi. This isn't some rule 34 game, made only to fill some completely weird niche you never wanted to know existed, it's a surreal parody that ends up being more than just an extended gag.

BTW, I live in a cave.
Cave sweet cave!
The very basic back story behind Hatoful Boyfriend is that classic harem situation of a school full of datable anime characters, except instead of being the only girl in a school full of boys, or vice versa, you're the only human in a school for ultra intelligent pigeons. Welcome to Saint PigeoNation's Institute! Monkey jokes are frequently made at your expense, and you apparently live in a dank cave that the birds clearly find very uncivilized. However, you're bigger than the birds (although you somewhat frequently end up last place in both races and fights with some of the birds),capable of moving heavy objects, and are relatively spry enough to come in second place during a 3 legged race with a pigeon, so the birds find your presence to be pretty useful, and somehow not weird at all.

For those who need to be eased into the idea of a pigeon dating sim, there's actually an option at the beginning of the game to enable gijinka portraits for each of the characters (except Okosan, who is based on the creator's own pigeon, in his case you just get a cartoon version of a pigeon in a suit), so you can sort of imagine them as anime boys throughout the game. But don't think this is some way to totally avoid the fact you're trying to date pigeons and make the game something that it's not (you know, a human dating game), because these portraits only pop up the very first time you meet a datable character, and the game repeatedly reminds you that you are, in fact, at a school for actual pigeons.

Why exactly are you the only human at a school for pigeons? The game apparently manages to explain this very unusual schooling situation later in the plot, and you're given hints, as well as unlockable files, about the real reason you're there throughout the game. This game promises more than just wacky bird humor and surprisingly manages to deliver!

Okosan really loves pudding.
Don't let this screenshot fool you, Okosan is the only one that speaks in bird.
In my experience, with the exception of one epic pudding adventures, the routes in this game tend to range from heartbreaking to pitch black, if you can believe it. In the 7 hour pigeon romance whirlwind I experienced, I managed to clear 4 of the 8 romance routes: 2 were touchingly sad, 1 was pudding filled, and in the final one I was serial killed by the pigeon I was trying to woo.

The first time through this game, after flirting around with different birds, I decided to attempt to romance my Math teacher, primarily because I just couldn't decide and he was the first bird to offer to walk me home.
Nanaki Kazuaki-Math teacher, pigeon
Ah, my first love!
During the first play through, despite the fact that the individual play throughs are rather straight forward and give you little chance to get to know the other pigeons in your school, I noticed a lot of things happening that seemed to indicate a larger storyline, and quite possibly something sinister going on at St. PigeoNation's Institute. I had fully planned to maybe spend an hour or so going through a single romance and calling it quits, but I was honestly really intrigued by what was going on at the school!

I had read a few reviews before playing that insisted that you really enjoy the characters, despite the fact that they're depicted as photos of various birds. I was totally suspicious of this claim, but I honestly found it to be true. Sure, these are just pictures of birds, but the game really sucks you in and you learn to look past their feathery visage.

Despite the fondness that I was feeling for the character, and how interesting these mysterious school events were, I found the my first bird-romance to be a rather short quest, and bittersweet. But I definitely wasn't ready to put the game down now, if anything, the quickness it took to get to the end of the particular romance just made me determined to go another round and see if different play throughs would give me more clues as to what exactly was happening at the school, I was also determined to find a bird that would love me back!

Ryouta offers me udon. And his love?
Not only is he a good cook, but he also enjoys crossdressing. Could he be any more tropey? I guess maybe if he wasn't a pigeon.
In my second play through I chose to woo Ryouta, the classic sickly childhood friend character. He's described as the most "normal" of your school mates, and despite the fact that he happens to be a photo of a bird, the story is a pretty classic anime romance. He's a nice bird who's been your friend for a long time, but he's chronically sick and mysteriously sad. Again, despite what looks like is going on on your screen, his story manages to be incredibly heartfelt and just downright depressing.

Pretty much totally bummed out at this point by my adventures in trying to date birds (will it ever be meant to be?!) , I was told by some other Hatoful Boyfriend fans, who were very excited to welcome a new fan into their ranks, to try Okosan's romance, because it has a happy ending.

I was a bit suspicious of this, because up until this point I had only known Okosan as the spazzy pigeon hanging out at the track yelling about pudding all the time, not exactly dateable material, even if he wasn't a bird. At this point I was getting more serious in my attempts to woo these pigeons, so I had a wiki up with tips on how to woo them. To romance Okosan and get the good ending, I was instructed to forgo studying and just hang out at the track all the time. Sounds good to me!

Lord Pudi
Most conversations with Okosan went like this. I also spent a lot of time breaking up the fights he constantly got into.
Besides being one of the more hilarious routes in the game, I also found Okosan's romance to be a testament to how well this game really gets you all emotionally wrapped up in these bird's lives. I didn't think I would really care about how this particular romance went, just because this bird is seriously weird, but towards the end of his route, when he all the sudden turned on me and told me how much he hated me and felt betrayed by me, because I had given him some bad advice on where to find pudding, I felt my heart sink. I was determined to make this stupid bird happy! Luckily he changed his mind and decided to devote himself to me after I gave him some of his favorite kinds of beans, like I said, he sort of is a really stupid bird. Not that I really want to spoil anything, but, yeah, we dropped out of pigeon school together to go on the search for ultimate pudding. It was totally worth it and a much needed break from the, well, heartbreak of the other two romances I got myself mixed up in.

My final play through of the evening is apparently a fan favorite, Shuu- the terrifyingly creepy doctor quail who works in the infirmary and had spent the last three play throughs making creepy comments and mysterious threats towards me and the rest of the students.
I will make you love me, Shuu! No matter how much it hurts!
This is how I felt about pretty much everybirdie in the game.
Shuu's play through, and this was absolutely no surprise, was pretty much pitch black. I spent about 90% of his play through being ignored, rejected, and emotionally abused by this fat little quail. However, I also got to learn about one of the bigger mysteries at St. PigeoNation's in his play through, namely what has been happening to the missing students. I also sort of accidentally helped him commit a few crimes too, oops. The ending was definitely the darkest in the game and very much an homage to the guro and psychological horror genre. The extended ending was particularly grisly, but touching in an incredibly creepy way.

The game also has some reoccurring, non-dateable, characters that pop up in various story lines that are absolutely fantastic characters. Kenzaburou, the gentlemanly parakeet who runs a cafe you can potentially decide to work at, is not only a totally charming character, but the particular bird that's used as his picture is just totally adorable.
Kenzaburou, the gentlemanly parakeet
Those eyes! They're so sparkly!
Parakeets are sort of like the puppy dogs of birds and I loved working at his cafe just because I sort of wanted to giggle with delight every time he was on the screen!

However, my absolute favorite side character was definitely Azami, the bad ass, traffic law abiding biker finch. She saves your ass a couple of different times. Once because you stupidly got lost, and once because a bunch of delinquent city pigeons were hassling you.
Azami, the badass law abiding biker finch.
Yes. Very intimidating.
If you're lucky enough to go through the game a certain way, you get to reward Azami for her bravery, and well-below-the-speed-limit scooter rides, with helping her find her own long lost love. The scene is both hilarious and sweet. Azami also sort of marks the point where the game let's you know it's a bit more than just a dating game with pictures of pigeons instead of boys, as up until she shows up the game is sort of still in setting-the-scene mode and is a bit slow up until this point. On my secondary play throughs, I actually just fast forward through most of the text until Azami comes in. Personally, when I first met her, my doubts were erased and I knew I would really enjoy the game.

All-in-all, so far I've found Hatoful Boyfriend to be a ridiculously enjoyable game and was so much more than I was expecting. I thought I was just going to have some laughs at the weirdness of a pigeon dating sim, and don't get me wrong, I laughed a lot over it, but I also found it to so far be a very satisfying and fun game.

Over the next few days I plan on trying to finish the other 4 endings and trying to complete any other alternate endings before going onto the legendary Hurtful Boyfriend AKA Bad Boys Love section of the game, which is supposed to be a wild ride through rip-your-heart-out-ville. I have tried not to spoil it too much for myself, and again, I can barely resist taking peeks at the wiki, but it looks like the world of Hatoful apparently has been some sort of Battle For The Planet of the Apes Pigeons apocalyptic world all along, which actually seems to be hinted at during some of the scenery you run by during one particular scene.

I look forward to my heart being ripped out, stomped on, and pecked at like inferior non-legendary pudding! And then I look forward to coming back for more with the sequel Holiday Star, which is apparently a non-dating sim visual novel.


  1. hatoful boyfriend is a favourite of mine to play when I get bored haha

  2. I'm so glad you posed this. I've been so curious with all the screenshots you've posted to your tumblr! It sounds amazingly ridiculous and I will definitely check it out.

  3. I wanted to get the murdered by a serial killer ending! Instead I was murder by some shady society here:


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