These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.
Dating simulators are one of those distinctly Japanese styles of games that has never really broken into the mainstream here, but a small number of them make their way over (or are community-translated) for the hardcore fans of the niche. Still, even if you would probably never check out a typical dating sim otherwise, you should consider playing Hatoful Boyfriend.
Why? Because it’s about dating birds—as a human girl. You’re the sole human student at St. PigeoNation’s Institute, but that species barrier might seem mighty easy to overcome when love blossoms in the hallways. Hatoful Boyfriend is a dialogue-driven, choose-your-own-adventure quest, letting you pick which birds to chat with and invite out, which classes to attend and clubs to join, and even your demeanor in conversation.
How you live out your days at bird school helps determine the course of your storyline, not to mention which of the dozen-plus endings you obtain. And if the delirious concept isn’t inviting enough, Hatoful Boyfriend really is a delightfully funny and perhaps even emotional experience, depending on your path. True story! But a lot of that relies upon how you play each interaction and which narrative threads you choose to follow.
Ready to romance some birds? If not, here are three reasons why you should give it a second thought.
Hatoful is hilarious: Hatoful Boyfriend strikes the right balance between playing things straight and being as delightfully peculiar as the premise suggests. Each bird has its own distinctive personality: One might be stuck up and act like he’s better than his “commoner” classmates, while another is elusive and hides a secret past. One bird, meanwhile, is on a constant search for the perfect pudding, and flips out in a fit of rage when he can’t have it.
Just like with real-life people, it’s a diverse mix of characters—but here, they’re birds. Surely, the original Japanese game was packed with personality, but a lot of credit must go to reliably offbeat U.S. publisher Devolver Digital for ensuring a sharp translation that comes off as fresh and relevant for Western players. Be warned: Hatoful Boyfriend may well elicit some deep laughs, and you could be in for some baffled stares if you admit you’re playing a bird dating simulator.
It’s your story: How your Hatoful Boyfriend story unfolds is dependent entirely on your own actions in the game—and every little decision plays a role. The most obvious of those are choosing which birds to visit and talk to, as you’re building relationships along the way, but there are other considerations too. Which clubs do you join? Which classes did you choose to attend? Did you get a summer job that introduced you to the kindly owner, which then alters your fate?
How you choose along the way helps shape your story and the characters that fit most prominently within it. It also may determine how long (or short) your adventure is: My first game ended in about an hour with my heroine choosing friendship with an older bird met outside of school. A second playthrough, meanwhile, lasted twice as long and spanned multiple school years, ultimately exposing me to previously unseen twists.
Plenty of birds in the air: And if you’re not satisfied with how your fairy tale (bird) romance turns out, just start a new game: You’ll see a lot of the same early-game dialogue exchanges, but they can be fast-forwarded until it’s time to make decisions. From there, you could encounter more than a dozen different endings based on your actions, and from what I’ve seen so far, they vary widely in tone and outcome. These birds aren’t interchangeable, and neither is your destiny with any of them.
Look, Hatoful Boyfriend is super weird, but that’s key to its appeal—maybe you’d never play a human dating simulator game, but with birds, it’s certainly good for a laugh. On the other hand, if you can’t fully stomach their avian advances, you can choose to have the game show a human avatar when introducing new characters. But that doesn’t make the dialogue, or the experience, any less pleasantly confounding.