Hatoful Boyfriend, a visual novel adventure by PigeoNation Inc where you play a human girl attending a school for birds, is one of those games that, in my heart of hearts, is so weird and devious and hilarious I suspect was made just for me. At the start of the game, you've been a student at a prestigious academy for gifted birds for about a year... despite not actually being a bird yourself. (But that's a long story.) Will you succeed at your studies? Reunite two estranged love birds? Find romance of your own in time for Legumentines?... or maybe you'll find out the truth? That's just the tip of one very weird iceberg. With a huge amount of replay value, creativity to burn, and some of the most shocking plot lines you could ever hope to encounter, Hatoful Boyfriend is a fascinating and surprising text adventure well worth checking out.
After your first day of introductions, you'll be able to finally make some choices about how you spend your time. Different activities influence your statistics in different ways, which in turn has an effect on how the different characters treat you and whether you can advance down certain plot paths. Since the core of the game revolves around the different characters and stories, most of your big decisions will come down to who you spend time with and how you treat them as opposed to boring ol' stat management. Don't worry; the game has five pages of save slots, accessible to save or load at any time, so you can go back to an earlier choice whenever you like at the click of a button. You can also click the little arrow button in the upper right corner to speed through text to any choices if you're replaying. The option menus are, unfortunately, untranslated as of this writing, but if you find the text hard to read, right-click to open the menu, choose the first option (P), and you can select your font of choice from the dropdown menu at the top, and then bold it by ticking the box beside it. Make sure you click "Ok" to save.
Hatoful Boyfriend actually comes in two flavours; free and "complete". The difference between the two comes down to an extra character, five more endings, some minor additions like a gallery. Trust me; you want to see the last plot only available with the full purchase.
Analysis: Whenever you're trying to describe Hatoful Boyfriend to someone, you wind up saying things like, "Yes, really," and "No, really". It sounds like it should be a bizarre joke, and a lot of people who wind up checking it out do so out of curiosity and without much expectations beyond getting a disbelieving laugh or two. While it's true that a lot of the game's appeal initially comes from how odd the premise is, players who give it a chance will find that it's far more than just a kooky premise. The English translation is nearly flawless, with the exception of the rare typo, and the plots intertwine in surprising ways. The cast of characters is enormously varied, mostly very likable in a variety of ways, and pursuing any of them will result in some very elaborate storylines that aren't just all about romance. Some of them are about... uh... well... I can't say.
It's difficult to talk about the game directly without spoiling things, but just be aware going into it that I did rate the game Orange for a reason. The delayed payoff and the abruptness of some of the endings combined with the oddball concept may not appeal to every fan of the visual novel genre. Stick with it, however, and you'll find Hatoful Boyfriend is easily one of the most clever titles you could hope to encounter. Besides, narcoleptic bird teachers, pudding-obsessed bird jocks, biker birds, bird urban legends... what more could you possibly want in a top-notch title? Some people may find the concept too hard to get past, which is a shame since Hatoful Boyfriend is easily one of the most original games to come down the pipe in a long time.
Visually the game is... well, it's pictures of birds. If you select the option at the start of the game, you'll be given an Anime-style portrait of each character once as they're introduced, but otherwise, yeah... birds. It should be weird, and maybe it is a little at first, but the more you play, the more you realise how well it works. Each character's particular bird reflects their personality quite well in appearance, and after a time you just... accept it. You're a human in a school for birds. You live in a cave. You can't start your day without red meat, and you have finely-tuned hunter-gatherer instincts. It's just how things are. It's a weird trick how, even with the birdie photos staring back at you, you can actually start to forget you are dealing with birds. Right up until the feathers start flying and the beans show up, anyway. (Legumentines is a great idea. My husband is only getting beans from now on.)
Hatoful Boyfriend has a lot of replay value. There's a tremendous amount of content you just won't see in a single playthrough, especially because some paths and options won't unlock until you've finished the game a few times. You can spend hours going through it all, and if you're at all interested in uncovering the whole mystery, you probably should. Check out the free version if you like visual novels and have a strong suspension of disbelief, and if you like it, give some thought to picking up the full game. At just over five bucks, I will tell you right now that Hatoful Boyfriend is possibly the craziest and most entertaining game purchase I have ever made. Highly recommended, for everybirdie!