Pigeon Dating Simulator 2014
Moving to a new school always sucks. You need worry to about grades, pick classes, join a club, try to find new friends, and fit into an existing social hierarchy.
Imagine that but with the added confusion of all your schoolmates being birds.
Hatoful Boyfriend (PC)
It's hard to explain the curious appeal of Hatoful Boyfriend without straight up spoiling some of its story beats. What is clear is that this is not a simple dating sim where all the characters have been replaced by avian love interests; that would have been maybe too easy and wouldn't come close to the weirdness that permeates everyday life at the St. PigeoNation's Institute.
This translation of a 2011 Japanese interactive novel tries to lead you in gently. You are the only human student at this particular school. All of the other pupils and staff are birds, like your friend Ryouta Kawara, a rock dove who looks after his sick mother. Over the course of the school year, you'll meet different birds all with distinct personalities like the stuck-up, aristocratic Sakuya and the creepy school doctor, Shuu Iwamine.
Every few days, an elective day is held which gives you the choice of taking a unique class that can level up one of your three stats: wisdom, charisma, and vitality. These tie into later activities like socializing or taking exams but this isn't an RPG -- there's no checks against your stats before you can complete a task.
One thing that does feel out of place is the lack of continuity between scenes. You can pick sides in a fight between two classmates on one day and the next day neither of them will mention it or seemingly think any different of you. Whenever you play, the main story is going to pan out roughly the same, excluding any individual choices you make.
Sometimes, Hatoful Boyfriend has smart dialogue -- even simple things like replacing the term "everybody" with "everybirdie" -- but there are also times when the text can be confusing, possibly due to a mistranslation. It's a weird game, so there's a tendency to just go with the flow and not look for the logical narrative.
The achievements reveal that there are multiple endings but there's no clear way of striving for a particular conclusion; a lot of the time you just have to make your choices and see what happens.
That's an awfully reductive way to talk about the game, as an interactive novel like this. You're not really expected to manage stats, you're just trying to get through the day to see the next crazy thing that happens. From pudding-obsessed athletes to a secret society that has big plans, Hatoful Boyfriend goes above and beyond the average dating simulator.
Occasionally, it doesn't feel quite weird enough to carry the whole concept of a human schoolgirl at an all-bird high school, but there's still plenty of laughs to be had for a brief experience that you're going to have to play through multiple times to fully enjoy.
THE VERDICT - Hatoful Boyfriend
Reviewed by Alasdair Duncan