If you’re not prepared to read a number of paragraphs about why a dating game based around birds really isn’t that great, then no one will blame you for leaving. If you missed out on the original PC version and you’re hoping to learn what all the hubbub is about, however, then get ready to dive into criticism of perhaps the strangest video game ever made.
Hatoful Boyfriend is the type of game that’s more fun to discuss than it is to actually play. It’s a title based around a human protagonist falling in love with a variety of birds, a concept that’s way more hilarious to admit to playing than it is entertaining. Sure, it’s definitely charming and undeniably unique, but neither of those qualities actually make for a good video game. That initial surge of hysterical insanity that comes from booting up a hardcore pidgeon dating simulation fades away when you realize that ninety minutes simply isn’t long enough to flesh out characters enough to make the player actually care about them, a criminal sin in a title solely dependent on narrative engagement. With that said, there’s nothing wrong with jumping in to Hatoful Boyfriend out of morbid curiosity. Yes, it definitely falls into the “borderline garbage” category, and there’s absolutely no reason why this nonsensical title should have found its way onto the digital storefront of the most popular console in the world. However, it’s the type of lovable trash that’s straight up perfect for hate-playing, which is something great in it of its own right.
With the straightest face possible, let’s dive into exactly what Hatoful Boyfriend is about. You take the role of a female teenager, a hunter gatherer to be precise, attending a school full of pidgeons (that’s right, you’re the only member of your species here, so it’s going to get weird). As you progress through the school year, various pigeons, doves and sparrows will make their romantic intentions known and it’s your job to pick the one that interests you most and follow their quest line until its conclusion. Throughout the short, but replayable campaign, you have the opportunity to join a club, take on a job at a festival and increase your base wisdom, vitality and charm in order to make yourself the most desirable student at St. PidgeoNation Institute. It’s complete and utter nonsense in every sense, and while that’s definitely a win in one department, the fact of the matter is that more entertainment is derived from hiding the fact that you’re playing Hatoful Boyfriend from observers or significant others than there is in making sweet, sweet bird love. While shows like Bar Rescue and The Real Housewives are awful programs, there is some entertainment to be had in watching these beautiful train wrecks in action. The narrative in Hatoful Boyfriend inspires the same sort of feelings within players, as it’s gripping in a way that’s completely separate from its true quality.
There’s a chance that this story could have been something truly special if it was a bit more fleshed out, but sadly there simply isn’t enough time to get to know every character on a more intimate level. Because this visual novel’s campaign is only one or two hours long, it’s hard to even discern which characters are which; this is likely a function of the fact that we, as humans, have an easier time differentiating other humans than we do individual aviary creatures. Dating simulations are supposed to be just that, simulations; the idea that the player can’t simulate true feelings, no matter how strange or bizarre, is a problem with the length of the content itself. Sure, there are a number of alternate endings to be viewed, and there is evidence of a grand conspiracy afoot the more you dive into the lore, but replays almost immediately feel like they are being completed for the sense of completion rather than genuine interest. When you reach your third or fourth playthrough, ask yourself: are you actually interested in these characters, or do you just want to see something different for the sake of seeing something different? An alternate ending has no power when the rest of the story lacks genuine power.
Make no mistake about it, this review is absolutely negative, and that fancy numerical graphic at the bottom of the screen will reflect that, but there’s something oddly lovable about Hatoful Boyfriend. This is where the review process becomes oddly difficult, as separating one’s admiration for the bizarre from the actual quality of the product is quite challenging. This particular author has an affinity for the disastrous, the strange and the awkward, but this is a result of personal taste rather than quality. Watching random train passengers look at me with disgust as the a bird discussed sexual maturity on the screen of my Vita was something thrilling, but the bird content itself was total nonsense. Hatoful Boyfriend is a visual novel that succeeds at being terrible, and while there’s something to be said about the fact that this joke has made its way onto the PlayStation 4, it’s simply not a good video game.
In terms of the PlayStation port, all of the items you hope would be there are. It’s a Cross-Buy, Cross-Save title, meaning that you get both the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation Vita versions with one purchase, so if you’re interested in making strangers extremely uncomfortable, you’ll be able to take Hatoful Boyfriend on the road. While the Cross-Save system isn’t seamless (something that should begin to become standard after titles like Rogue Legacy handled this so well), the fact that it’s there is something to admire. After all, whenever a title lacks this functionality, like the weak PlayStation port of Stealth Inc. 2, it makes the entire Cross-Buy system largely worthless. The fact that you can play through alternate endings on the go or at home does lend some value to Hatoful Boyfriend, though it doesn’t necessarily increase its overall quality.
Hatoful Boyfriend is the food fight of video games. While you can derive a great deal of entertainment from its complete insanity, this doesn’t negate the fact that the end result is a total mess. In order to properly judge the quality of this bizarre visual novel, all of the awkward sentiment surrounding it has to be removed. Sure, if you’re looking for the best place to date city fowl, then this is the best title to get your fix, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good in a vacuum. If you’re looking for something to leave a strange taste in your mouth that causes you to desire the insane slate of awesome titles set to release in the coming weeks, then this will satisfy that urge. The lesson here is simple: it’s okay to enjoy something that’s awful, so long as you realize that the enjoyment is coming from you, not the awful thing itself.