This past Monday, my friend No H invited me over to her place to play video games. “Hatoful Boyfriend was on sale for $5!!” she said enthusiastically. Hatoful Boyfriend is a Japanese dating sim that No H has been desperate to play ever since it was featured on Day9’s old Geek & Sundry show, Meta Dating. For those of you that don’t understand any of the words in that sentence, a dating sim is a type of video game that basically functions as a choose-your-own-adventure romance novel, where the primary objective of the game is to date someone. Choices you make, such as what outfit to wear or how to flirt with another character affect which of the love interests you can end up with as well as your ultimate success in the game.
Until Hatoful Boyfriend, I had only ever played one other dating sim, a game called Magical Diary (also at No H’s insistence). To say it did not go extremely well would be an understatement. Here is a series of increasingly frustrated emails I sent to the group of friends with whom I was tandem-playing:
Not only did I fail to achieve my primary objective of being as slutty as possible, I was instead punished for my attempted promiscuity by getting shackled to some kind of undead sex trafficker who tried to suck out my soul. I was not entirely pleased with the outcome.
Hatoful Boyfriend, however, promised to be a different kind of experience. First, I was playing IRL with No H, a friend who is actually competent at video games. And second? Hatoful Boyfriend is a game in which you, the human protagonist, attempt to find love in a school entirely populated by super-smart pigeons.
Yes. This is a game wherein you try to date birds. You’re a human, but all your hypothetical love interests are birds. And somehow, that fact is not remotely the strangest aspect of this game. Here are ten things that are even crazier:
- Humans are referred to as “hunter-gatherers,” and I’m pretty sure it’s a pejorative.
- There is a shopkeeping, sentient bird who voluntarily sleeps in a cage.
- A pigeon on the track team runs faster than you, a human.
- You live in a cave.
- You are willing to give up a job to your best feathered friend, Ryouta, because “he needs it more,” despite the fact that you live in a cave.
- One day, during summer break, you go for a run and accidentally get lost and run like, 60 miles by mistake.
- The most celebrated pigeon in the world is Brian Pigeon, which is an actual blog that pre-dates this game.
- There is a cool lady bird named Azami, whom you cannot date, who rides a Vespa. She can fly but instead she chooses to get places riding a Vespa. A Vespa that she refuses to accelerate over 19 mph.
- A transfer student is appointed president of the student body upon arrival at the school.
- You, the only human and the only female at a school entirely populated by male birds, are consistently surprised when people know who you are.
Perhaps the most perplexing thing about Hatoful Boyfriend, though, is how boring it is. It has got to be the least interactive video game I’ve ever played, and that includes Dear Esther. I’m not sure we got to make a single decision until like 30 minutes into the game. That’s a lot of exposition for a premise that is never going to make any sense, no matter how much explaining you do. And as far as your romantic options are concerned? Yikes.
Hatoful Boyfriend love interests as reimagined as men from Jane Austen novels:
Ryouta as Edmund Bertram (Mansfield Park)
Ryouta is the worst. He’s your classic Nice Guy–we’ve been friends with him “since he was barely hatched,” which means that he follows us fucking everywhere and thinks he’s entitled to put his feathers all over our lady parts. But you just know that the second Mary Crawford comes along, he’s going to be equally desperate to put his little pigeon penis in her cloaca. Go away, Ryouta.
Favorite Wikipedia Quote about Ryouta:
“Bad Boys Love (where he becomes the player character after the protagonist is killed) reveals that his chronic illness is not natural, but is instead the result of Shuu intentionally compromising his immune system in order to make him a suitable carrier for the deadly Charon virus and thus a living biological weapon of mass destruction; the events of the scenario occurring because of a wish he made after witnessing the Hatoful House incident with the protagonist eight years before the events of the game, something he unconsciously forced himself to forget due to the trauma.”
Nageki as Captain Benwick (Persuasion)
Oh my god, Nageki is so insufferable. He spends all his time mooning around the library, probably reading Edgar Allen Poe. He’s only a freshman, but he spends an awful lot of time talking down to you as his intellectual inferior, and he’s always surprised if you have something intelligent to say. He’s probably one of the easiest birds to date, as you always know where to find him. But really, who would want to spend any time with him?
Favorite Wikipedia Quote about Nageki:
“In his romantic route, through his interactions with the protagonist Nageki slowly comes to realize that he is actually a ghost—having committed suicide at the school, his spirit is bound to the library (though archive documents and HolidayStar clarify that he can also move up and down on a vertical axis). He then fades away as he confesses to the protagonist, his love for her causing him to pass on peacefully to the afterlife.”
Kazuaki as Mr. Hurst (Pride and Prejudice)
Kazuaki is our narcoleptic math teacher. When he is not unconscious, he’s being fairly shady by handing out thinly-veiled rape threats. “You should be careful out this late! It can be dangerous for a girl, you know,” he said menacingly before asking to walk us home (we passed, thanks).
Favorite Wikipedia quote about Kazuaki:
In HolidayStar, the circumstances behind his pseudocide and identity switch are elaborated on: influenced by his insanity and as part of his plan for revenge, Hitori stole his current appearance and identity from another button quail, a clinically depressed college student named Kazuaki Nanaki. He befriended and then murdered the original Kazuaki by tricking him into making a false suicide pact, passing off the other quail’s remains as his own after abandoning him to die.
Shuu as Mr. Collins (Pride and Prejudice)
Shuu is the doctor at school and also happens to be an enormous creepshow. For some reason, the human manga rendering of Shuu is inexplicably almost hot, even though this is clearly not what that sketchy, bloated bird looks like as a human:
And yeah, he doesn’t even get to be goofy Miniseries!Collins or even unctuous Book!Collins; he’s definitely creepy-finger-sniffing!Collins from Lost in Austen.
Favorite Wikipedia quote about Shuu:
In his romantic route, however, he readily admits that the rumors are true, having even fed the protagonist a murdered Yuuya disguised as a Christmas turkey; he then kills the protagonist as well, keeping her head preserved in a jar out of fondness.
San as Fez (That 70s Show)
What’s that you say? Jane Austen didn’t write That 70s Show? Well, unfortunately, San’s brand of eccentricity defies 19th century descriptions. Frankly, it also defies 20th and 21st century descriptions. I’m not sure he really speaks English/Japanese/Human Language, and even the “translations” of his coos never seem to make any sort of sense.
Favorite Wikipedia quote about San:
“He is obsessed with pudding, to the point of creating a pseudoreligion with a deity named Lord Pudi and dedicating his training to finding the “true pudding”… In his romantic route, the protagonist struggles to get closer to him and comprehend his understanding of the concept of pudding, which appears to be completely separate from normal reasoning.”
Sakuya as Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice)
Sakuya is our resident rich snob, a fantail pigeon who thinks his shit don’t stink. But unlike Elizabeth Bennet, we’re never coming round on this pompous ass. He’s definitely not Miniseries!Darcy. I’m not even sure he’s MacFayden!Darcy. He may be relegated to Mormon!Darcy, a mere caricature of himself. (And as an aside, you should definitely, definitely track down a copy of the Mormon adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; you will laugh until you cry [or maybe just cry]).
Favorite Wikipedia quote about Sakuya:
“Despite looking down on “peasants” and “peasant activities”, he is surprisingly good at domestic tasks like cleaning, and is a skilled piano player well-versed in musical history.”
Yuuya as Mr. Wickham (Pride and Prejudice)
Yuuya is Sakuya’s older brother, but he’s, you know, actually fun. Sure, he’s a huge flirt and would make a terrible boyfriend, but who cares. This is pigeon high school! Yuuya is the only bird around who we might actually want to spend time with.
Favorite Wikipedia Quote about Yuuya:
“Bad Boys Love reveals that Yuuya and Sakuya are actually full-blooded siblings: Sakuya’s unhatched egg was ordered to be destroyed upon their mother’s remarriage to the Le Bel patriarch, with Yuuya volunteering to do it after their mother found herself unable to kill her own child. Instead of destroying Sakuya’s egg however, he switched it with an egg laid between his mother and his stepfather and smashed the other egg, killing his actual half-brother—mostly to protect Sakuya but partly out of spite for his stepfather, who had his father assassinated in order to marry his mother.”
Unfortunately, we never successfully got Yuuya on a date. In fact, we never managed to get anyone on a date. After 87 minutes of absolutely nothing happening, we were murdered. Game over. WE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW MURDER WAS AN OPTION. Instead of getting to experience ANY of the madness listed in the Wikipedia article, we spent an hour and a half doing fuck all until we were quietly murdered in our cave.
I honestly have no idea what we did wrong, or what we could have done differently. I feel like in that entire hour and a half, we only got to make ten decisions, and they were all things boring things like, “do we want to go to math class or gym class?” Or, else, completely insane options like this one:
Upon losing Hatoful Boyfriend, we played Long Live the Queen, a visual novel game by the same people that created Magical Diary. At age 14, we accidentally got engaged to a 26 year old Duke because we didn’t understand court manners, and then we got murdered on the way to our friend’s birthday party.
It’s good to know that I’m even worse at Japanese dating sims than I am at actual dating. At least I’ve never been murdered or secretly engaged to a demon.