I gave up on Hatoful Boyfriend while holidaying in Bushwick.
Which is appropriate, because Hatoful Boyfriend, like Bushwick, is best enjoyed ironically.
At first glance, Hatoful is a birdie-based bestiality romp wrapped up in marshmallow anime packaging.
At first glance, Bushwick appears to the brat capital of Brooklyn, and at second, the hipster hub of the western world. Every Saturday morning a new brood is born. Incubated in the warm wash of gentrification and rocked by the shuddering aftershocks of the L line, the young crack open the front doors of their Brooklyn brownstones and emerge into the light, blinking and sticky with Pabst.
Inside one such nest, the flatmate of bae’s childhood buddy is telling me about a guy – who we’ll call Icarus – who used to live in the same building. Icarus – are you fine with Icarus, or would you rather it was something less distracting, like Matt? – believed that he – Icarus, not the flatmate – was a bird.
Supposedly this guy made a pretty convincing case for being a bird – that is, if you’re easily convinced. Despite not looking like a bird, sounding like a bird, or being capable of independent flight, this guy had somehow managed to align himself to avian ideals and ethos, and he clung to this identity with as much tenacious smugness as a raw vegan. In most buildings such proclamations would have established the offender as Resident Crazy, however I got the impression that in kook-friendly, alternative Bushwick he was Just Another Creative Guy Getting ON With His Shit.
I make all the appropriate noises in response to Icarus’s tale:
- Lol no really
- but did he actually think he was a bird doe
- oh no whut das crazy
I save my game just as the call to brunch sounds throughout Brooklyn. Bottomless mimosas won’t drink themselves.
En-route to Williamsburg, a sign in the Subway proclaims a new science exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History
DINOSAURS AMONG US!
You’ll never look at birds in the same way again!
The younger, happier, pre-Hatoful me might have passed that poster by, barely batting an eyelid. But today the last sentence leaves me cold, my spine prickling with shame and guilt.
I’ll never look at birds in the same way again.
Where simulated romance is concerned, Hatoful Boyfriend is not my first rodeo.
I’ve played problematic dating sims before. In 2004, in between making bank on Neopets, I successfully seduced a barely-legal permatanned Ganguro Girl with a mixture of low-key manipulation and autistic memorization of her vital statistics, which included blood type and breast size as well as surname and birthdate.
I feel confident that I can handle whatever Hatoful Boyfriend throws at me. I should know the form. I got this. I’m ready to roll. Hold on to your butts.
My concept of how this will play out is pretty cut and dry: I’m going to crash-land in the game world of St Pigeonation’s and shake up the student body in more ways than one. After registration, I’m going to adorably bumble my way into bed with as many beaks as I can muster. Like an avian Alicia Silverstone, I’ll regale the class flock with my skills in debate, then get feather-finger-banged in the janitor’s closet during the lunch hour. I intend to spend gameplay with one hand on the keys and one down my pants, filling up on feeling weird and #feelingmyself.
Trouble is, the point of Hatoful Boyfriend, doesn’t really seem to be racking up conquests. It’s all about the build-up, all about the chase. Some people might have suspected this, but degenerates like me really need this to be signposted. A disclaimer or a written warning in the opening credits would have sufficed: ‘Please Do Not Fuck The Birds’.
The childishly named Pavlova Areola was my first incarnation, and she had exactly zero game. This might have been my fault. I hadn’t really made up my mind which bird to chirpse, and my gameplay suffered from scatterbomb tactics – failing to put sufficient time in with each target, attempting to backchat, and generally letting my mouthy feminist ideology infuse my gameplay. Before I could so much as ruffle any feathers I was assassinated by hawks in the night for failing to generate sufficient levels of intimacy with anyone.
Vulva Pecker was my second attempt, and my tactics changed. Where Areola was gung-ho and gobby, Vulva was girl next door. I played nice, said the right things, and set my sights on what any noob could see was the most accessible target – the impoverished best friend with the invalid mother and the weak stomach. Ryouta finally confessed his love to me in a park on the advice of the former. The credits rolled. It didn’t feel like winning. The conclusion felt watery and inconsistent, much like the contents of my affianced’s bowels.
I stayed Vulva for my third go. Like my protagonist, I had also attended a school for birds (in a sense) and I knew from experience that teacher totty was the most highly coveted. Being a male teacher in a British girls’ school is like being James Franco anywhere. You simply don’t deserve all the attention you’re getting.
Getting to the teacher ending was hardly more satisfying – I effectively got shut down by a narcoleptic bird too burned by a previous relationship to ever love again. Plus, it would be pretty weird if the game explicitly endorsed relationships between teacher and student. Kazuaki gave a textbook ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ speech so that my sensitive schoolgirl feelings wouldn’t be crushed, and told me to come back in a few years. I never really had a handle on exactly how old my protagonists were, though I assumed from their naïveté that puberty was a thing of the very recent past.
In my fourth game I was Labia Harlem. I decided to bang the weird kid who never left the library. He turned out to be the ghost of a dove who committed suicide due to bullying. As soon as I’d filled him up, massaged his ego and made him feel whole again, he disintegrated, skipping off to the astral plane with his shiny new sense of self-worth.
After this string of semi-rejections from birds who were quite clearly out of my league, I was depressed, and done. The relentlessly chirpy dialogue was grinding me down, the bouncy music was setting me on edge, and my first few romances had been more tepid than torrid, so I decided to call it quits.
I never scored with Sakuuya, the self-important aristorcrat; Okosan, a belligerent track star; or Yuuya, a less beaky Owen Wilson. I like to feel like there was a bit of Sapphic energy with Azami, a java sparrow who rode a scooter and sold takoyaki (her unrestricted access to wheels and food making her my dream woman), but the storyline I selected only served to reunite her with the budgerigar who abandoned her years ago, but who now wants to be her baby daddy.
I also never unearthed the ‘OMG teh mystery!’ that appeared to surround the school, and particularly never figured out what was the deal with the character of skulking staff member Shuu. Shuu was a bloke – or bird – straight out of the Argus Filch School of Ugly Characters Are Always Evil. Described as ‘greasy’ and ‘creepy’, Shuu occasionally sidestepped into plotlines to poison other pigeons, piss off the physics teacher, and lock me in a cupboard. If given the option, I might have dedicated myself to some serious sleuthing rather than courting almost entirely disinterested doves, but the story structure and frustratingly linear time continuum meant I had to stay on track.
Like raw veganism, believing you’re a bird, or serving as an American President, playing Hatoful Boyfriend is exceedingly fun to talk about in the abstract, but committing to doing it full-time is a whole different kettle of fish. The storylines are too similar, the puns painfully hawkward, and the fleeting glimpses of greater things are irksome rather than exciting.
Hatoful Boyfriend suffers from not being shorter. PG pigeon dating should be fun and disposable, like a plastic poncho, or those friends that you meet in the first few weeks of university. If you want kitsch, kawaii, and oh so random, Hatoful has it in spades. Punkgeons! Birdie bike gangs! Cheerleading doves! I will never look at birds in the same way again!
After a while though, being the only horny human at a school for birds feels like a burden rather than a blessing. There’s simply not enough heft behind the narrative to make me sign up to the story or its subplots, and the colossal sexual potential of anthropomorphic pigeons is left largely unexplored.
Birds of a feather flock together, and this sex-starved schoolgirl wishes she’d stayed at home.