One of the best things about the recent surge in indie game development over the last few years is the opening it has provided for some really goddamned weird ideas to flourish. Some of these goofy gems have actually translated into success, with games like “Octodad,” in which the player controls an octopus in business attire trying to fool the world around him into thinking he’s human, earning mainstream attention. Some of these indie gems have made or are set to make the move onto home consoles, as well. One of those games is “Hatoful Boyfriend.”
“Hatoful Boyfriend” is a dating simulation game where you play as a female high school student trying to navigate her way through the trials and tribulations of teenage life. You also happen to be the only human at the school the game is centered around, St. PigeoNation’s Institute, as everyone else in attendance is some variety of pigeon. That’s not some weird euphemism; every other character in the game is literally a bird.
What ensues might just be the most commitment to a single central joke I’ve ever witnessed. From avian classmates trying to flirt with your sexy human self by weaving little tidbits like “Did you know doves meet sexual maturity within a year of birth?” into conversation after class and other little pieces like every mention of the word “anybody” being replaced with “anybirdie,” the game is relentless in reminding you just how absurd the premise is.
“Hatoful” is a parody of the Japanese dating sim genre, but knowing that won’t do the average American video game player much good, as these types of games don’t really exist in Western markets. This further amplifies the weirdness, as there’s not much frame of reference as to which parts of the game are based on typical tropes, and which are pulled directly out of the creator’s ass and given a whitewashing of bad bird-related puns.
The game continually hints at a darker-than-expected (read: post-apocalyptic) reasoning for why humans and pigeons are now apparently on equal intellectual footing, and branches out into overly melodramatic side stories about the personal lives of classmates. I can’t exactly say I was emotionally moved by one birdy friend who had to work several part-time jobs every summer to take care of his mother, but I was sure a shit amused by the idea.
Looking at “Hatoful Boyfriend” as a game to be played and beaten is probably the wrong way of approaching it. I’m sure there are many players who will enjoy replaying it over and over to see the different endings and the lengths the game goes to in drawing out the bird shtick and the sim-dating parody, but for most others, being exposed to the insanity via 5-minute YouTube clips is probably more than enough.
At the end of the day, it’s an exercise in weird done well, and I’m glad I checked it out. I’m also glad I live alone and didn’t have to worry about anyone catching me playing the damn thing in my underwear.