I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be playing a game where I’m a female protagonist and I’m courting birds at a prestigious bird academy – but I have, and it was actually pretty enjoyable.
Before we get into my thoughts on the matter however, let’s get into a little back story first; as a new female student – let’s call her the default name, Hiyoko – enters her freshman year at St Pigeonation’s she’s surrounded by birds. This is because St. Pigeonation’s is a school for birds, even though you’re a human and you’re allowed in. Weird? Yes. But we can deal, right? Moving on.
As a student at St. Pigeonations you’ll be doing all the normal things students do during a school year. You’ll be studying (in both a structured and elective curriculum environment), mingling with other students (who are birds), participating in extracurricular activities (such as track team), and going on trips. This yearly life however, has an effect on the outcome of the story; the choices you make along the way – no matter how small – will determine your ultimate path and the ending you find.
There are fourteen different endings to get to with Hiyoko and lots of different scenes to see along the way, so you’ll have lots of fun with this one trying to see it all. Endings range from fairly mundane, to something that brings forth some emotion (in either direction), to the absolutely crazy and fantastical. But this is a game about dating birds, so what did you expect?
Speaking of the endings in the game, you get them based on three things; your stats, who you’re close to (spend the most time with) and the choices you make with that special somebirdie. Stats are raised through attending elective classes and through specific missable events throughout the year, going into three categories – Wisdom, Vitality, and Charm – based on what you’ve done to earn a boost. Who you spend time with is pretty easy to determine, but the trick with that comes where multiple endings (or simply the bad endings) are possible as your choices can send you off on many different routes… even when you’re courting the same suitor.
My first few playthroughs ended up in the same bad ending with some different choices, so you’re going to have to choose carefully (or use a guide) to get them all. Personally, I played it through properly a few times until I started to get bored of seeing the same scenes over again, then played the “fast-forward through repeat scenes and only watch new ones” game, before finally moving on to using a guide to see the things I missed.
It’s definitely not an easy thing to find your way naturally to all the possible endings, but it is possible – there are tiny hints left all over in the dialogue along the way that when added together can show you the way. That said, this is a visual novel with many endings and finding them all is ultimately a thinking man’s game; if you’ve got a bad memory or aren’t good with puzzles this one might just end up confusing you more than it entertains.
As for the graphics in the game… well, they’re mostly static images so how bad can they look? It was a little plain looking at times, but it was always crisp looking and clean. I had no problem with the graphics other than the fact that they were of birds, and there’s even a setting to alleviate a modecum of that pain available when you start the game. It’s a very weird setting however, and only applies to first introductions – so it didn’t happen to pull me away from the bird mentality at all… though you might be more susceptible to the imagery than I am (being that I’m a heterosexual male).
The sound was another matter entirely however, as I often experienced sound corruption. The song playing in the background would start exhibiting weird noises and eventually morph into something akin to the Missingno Pokémon glitch’s roar. I ended up muting the game after two playthroughs and it was much more enjoyable that way (unfortunately).
One thing I do have to complain about in addition to my previous notes however, is the frequency of crashes I experienced in the game – which were almost as numerous as the endings. It seemed like every second or third playthrough I was getting a crash, and I ended up saving at the beginning of every major event along the way just to keep from having to play the whole thing again. I probably would’ve finished out the game a few days earlier had it not been for the wasted time, but thankfully the game was more than interesting enough to keep me coming back.
Speaking of the game, it initially struck me in an odd kind of way. At first I was enjoying it simply for the laughs – like the crazy things that Okosan does, and the reactions of the different students to the situations – but as I experienced more endings that weren’t just me being killed, it dug its hooks in a little more deeply. Some of the endings I hit ended up being a bit anticlimactic, but there were others (especially those involving the truly unique characters) that hit me right in the feelings. Though I didn’t expect to go into this game and feel for a bunch of birds, that’s exactly what happened… and I had a good time doing so.
Through my time with the game I’ve come to see that Hatoful Boyfriend is full of curious little things that make you smile, or wonder what you’ll uncover next; and though it’s presented in a weird format (birds, seriously?) it still manages to be quite enjoyable if you’re open to the idea. The storylines are sometimes emotional, the endings can be quite insane, and you never know what will happen along the way – but aren’t those the fun bits that people pick up novels for in the first place?
They are for me, and Hatoful Boyfriend has delivered.