With the rise of Youtubers like PewDiePie and his many peers and imitators, who record themselves playing games for the amusement of themselves and others, so too have we seen the rise of games that could be called joke games, or more harshly lumped into the category of ”Youtube fodder”.
These games are often strange, random and sometimes intentionally poorly made, thereby making them good material for Youtubers to (over)react to. Goat Simulator, Octodad, Surgeon Simulator, they’re all jokes in and of themselves, the kind of game where seeing pictures, watching a video of it or having someone describe it to you is supposed to make you laugh and go ”Wait, what? Seriously?”
Hatoful Boyfriend, a Japanese PC visual novel/dating sim from 2011, would definetly be labeled a Youtube fodder game by some. The silly premise played completely straight – that the player is a Japanese high school girl romancing birds at the prestigious high school St. Pigeonation’s– quickly made it one of the go-to ”weird” games for people to laugh at and make videos about.
Three years later and it’s now gotten a remake, courtesy of Texas-based publisher Devolver Digital. The question is: Is it actually entertaining?
Hatoful Boyfriend plays like a typical visual novel, with the story being told through still images, drawings and text and the player progressing it and occassionally making decisions by clicking the mouse or alternatively pressing a button on the keyboard.
Since visual novels aren’t all that popular outside of Japan it’s understandable that a lot of players won’t have played anything like Hatoful Boyfriend before (the closest thing I’ve played is last year’s excellent The Yawhg), but thankfully the game is incredibly accessible and easy to understand.
While there’s not a lot of traditional gameplay per se, there are quite a lot of choices to be made. There are several different birds for the player to romance – among others the childhood friend Ryouta, the pudding-obsessed Okosan and the pompous French nobleman Sakuya – and there are fourteen(!) different endings.
At several points the player is free to choose what class to attend – math class, gym class or music class – with each class improving the stat Wisdom, Endurance or Charisma respectively. The player’s stats do play a part in the story at times, so choosing the right class for the right path is pretty important. With festivals, exams and other events taking place during three terms, the player gets a slice of Japanese high school. With added birds.
Some of the paths you can go down are surprisingly normal – if very dramatic and particularly avian – love stories, but others are downright absurd, with secret agents, birds stuck in time, twisted murders, fallen angels and dairy-based gods.
The game is clearly meant to be played over and over again to see the many different paths and endings, which would be considerably more annoying without the button that lets one fast-forward through dialogue, stopping only whenever a choice is presented or the button is pressed again or the player clicks anywhere on the screen.
The art is simple but pleasant to look at, and helps drive home the absurdity of the game by having photo-realistic birds in front of drawn backgrounds. The soundtrack, mainly composed of simple piano arrangements, slow guitar strums and some classical music is also pleasant to listen to, but largely forgettable outside of the two rock songs used for some of the more intense situations which are surprisingly great.
Where the game truly excels, of course, is in its writing. Playing through such a text-heavy game would be torture if the writing wasn’t good, but thankfully it manages to be quite funny, bizarre and even a bit sad and moving. Getting every ending will take a while but is absolutely worth it, especially since the ”final” ending (weird, I know) is possibly the best one. As silly as it sounds, I actually got pretty damn invested in the story of said ending, to the point where the fact that just about every character was a bird barely even phased me anymore. Props to the writing team for playing most of the game completely straight.
It’s hard to think of that many problems with Hatoful Boyfriend. It does at times get a little repetitive when you’re trying to get every ending but other than that only minor technical and grammatical errors stand out as real flaws. As a comedy game I found it amusing, but not neccessarily as funny as the likes of Jazzpunk, Magicka or later Saints Row entries. Comedy is however a highly subjective thing, and unlike a lot of other joke games it doesn’t outstay its welcome as soon as the inherent funnyness of the premise wears off.
Overfall, Hatoful Boyfriend is a joke game that’s elevated above its peers thanks mostly to its writing. It will certainly elicit some laughs, especially when played with other people, and while play sessions are usually short it has enough unique endings to both warrant many visits to the academy and justify its relatively low price. Those who decide to get all endings should prepare to use the fast-forward button quite a bit, since many events repeat in every plathrough.
7 out of 10.
Hatoful Boyfriend was developed by Mediatonic and Hato Moa and published by Devolver Digital. The game was released on 4 September 2014 for PC, Mac and Linux at the MSRP of $7,99. A copy was provided by the publisher for the sake of review.