Hatoful Boyfriend, pronounced as heart-o-ful boyfriend in Japanese is a visual novel. For those who’ve never tried one, its basically a graphic novel/comic in gaming form, where the game is pretty much 99% story. Sometimes you get to make choices that affect the outcome, but generally its a “game” with lots of reading. The unique aspect of Hatoful Boyfriend as you may have guessed judging from the game’s artwork is that its mostly about birds, and here you play as a human going to an all-bird school. You are also the only ‘girl’ and the birds (and the teachers) are all male. Without doing much research I think its safe to say there probably has never been a game quite like this. Unfortunately my one big criticism that I have really hurts the game and makes it nearly unplayable for me.
The game is set up into three parts mirroring the three terms in a Japanese high school. It’s an all bird school, but the birds/students take regular classes and activities like humans. You get to choose some aspects of school life, like what you want to study or what afternoon activity you want to do, that has an effect on who you will meet next in the game and what type of ending you’ll get. The first time through the game I had a mix of emotions, some of which were, it was mildly amusing, very weird (to date birds), a little boring (as a result of the mountains of text to wade through) and kinda disappointed at the ending I got. And it was over rather quickly, approximately 45 minutes and really wondered if that was all there was to it. But then I’ve gone online to read that I need to finish the game 13/14 times, once to get each of the character’s endings to be able to access the ‘true’ ending which will make this one of the most amazing stories ever.
To be clear I made it through the game a total of 4 times and by that time, I pretty much had my fill of the game. There are a number of issues for instance, there aren’t any dating choices to made, rather you do get some ambigious choices, that you have no idea what the outcome might be that ultimately affect your ending. So if you were to play without a guide, it would be a matter of trial and error and writing down all the choices you made to get each of the endings. The writing and the endings started to get better by the fourth one, however the repetitiveness was really starting to grate on me. As mentioned, the story arc is broken down to three parts and the entire Act 1 and parts of Act 2 dialogue are pretty much the same each time you run through. So if you want to get to the true ending, you’ll be reading the same thing at least 13 times. By the second run through, I was already skipping the text as fast as I could, hammering away at the enter button which is no way to play an enjoyable game. One time I made the wrong choice and got the same ending wasting a good half an hour of my time. That’s totally on me. But very frustrating nevertheless. Half an hour is a long time to hammer the enter button.
The question to ask yourself is, can you take a leap of imagination and date birds (as a human) and can you read the same dialogue over and over? If you can and are ready to go bird/human dating, by all means try and get the true ending. It’s meant to be good. Getting one ending in this game is only one small piece of the overall story. The full story is hidden behind a lot of repetitiveness. What would be FAR better would be if the story was somehow structured in a way where you didn’t have to replay the game and that you could date everyone and finally get to the true ending somehow. As for me, i’ll guess I’ll go and watch the true ending online to see what all the fuss is about.
Score: 3.5 love birds out of 10
NB: I played the PC version and I expect the PS4 and PC to be a similar experience.