As it was recently Valentine’s Day, I figured that I would play one of the most ridiculous otome games. It’s entirely about a young Homo sapien‘s attempt to romance birds. Or die by the hands (wings?) of birds. Or engage in some paranormal pudding event with birds. Or… well, it’s a completely absurd game where you romance birds, parodying the general stereotypes and tropes of otome games. It’s called Hatoful Boyfriend, and it will break your brain in some way.
You play as Hiyoko Tosaka, who is a human attending a school for birds known as St. Pigeonation’s; she’s the only human in attendance, so she tends to stick out quite a lot. Whether she lives or dies is entirely up to the path taken, as some end up with her being completely dismembered (not visibly) while others have her running off with the bird of her choice. Unless you try to romance a maths professor, and then thankfully he tells you to come back later once you’ve matured.
This game provides you with a variety of love interests who have awkwardly different backgrounds that come together throughout the different endings, both creating a somewhat complete story and allowing you learn how they’re all related to each other in a bizarre way that segregates humans and birds through war. You can romance Hiyoko’s best friend, Ryouta Kawara, who is a rock dove she’s known since childhood; you can romance the French transfer student and fantail pigeon, Sakuya Le Bel Shirogane, or his elder brother Yuuya Sakazaki, who has a troubled past and many James Bond references. If you’re into highly energetic and incomprehensible birds, you can choose San Oko and be pushed into some ending that covers the planet in pudding; if fallen angels are more your style, you’ve got Anghel Higure, who is a slightly eccentric and rambling Luzon bleeding-heart that will lead you to an ending full of Pokémon references and a path that includes some Filipino insults. Perhaps you might enjoy your elders and choose your narcoleptic maths professor, Kazuaki Nanaki, or the incredibly creepy school doctor, Shuu Iwamine.
You even have the option of getting a job and helping Azami Koshiba, a Java sparrow who owns a takoyaki cart and a pink scooter, get back together with her ex-partner Rabu, a yellow budgie who is a regular customer at the café where Hiyoko gets a job. This doesn’t end the game, but it does get in the way of the other relationships, especially Ryouta’s. It’s kind of adorable, but it’s sort of annoying at the same time because it forces you to unnecessarily complete the story while not being able to romance any of the other birds. Because you got a job. Which is apparently unattractive? I’m not sure.
Personally, my favourite ending involves the mourning dove who can only be found in the library, Nageki Fujishiro. Hiyoko finds it curious that he never interacts with other birds and can’t be found in any other location. Through his discussions with Hiyoko, he comes to understand that he’s actually a ghost and had committed suicide in this place; this explains why he’s unable to leave. In the ending where you successfully romance him, he admits that he loves Hiyoko and fades away because of this realisation. If you complete every ending for every single bird, you’re granted a final ending that explains who he really was and that he was being used to develop biological weapons against humans because his body contained the virus. He didn’t want this to happen, and he ended up killing himself through self-immolation and hoping to destroy his whole body to prevent anyone from having access to the virus within it.
The stories are clearly ludicrous, and it’s with good reason; they’re making a clear attempt to parody the otome genre, which is rife with absurd tales that are genuinely meant to be mostly serious. That’s what makes this particular otome game enjoyable; it doesn’t take itself seriously by any means and is incredibly self-deprecating, openly acknowledging that it’s beyond ridiculous.
There are a few things to note: It provides a ‘human mode’, which allows you to see the human versions of the birds in their introduction screen; you will never again see that version of them, which is somewhat disappointing when you really like certain character designs; I really quite wished I could’ve seen more of the character art throughout the game for Sakuya, Anghel, or Shuu. I got kind of bored by the bird portraits after a while, especially after completing all of the more than ten endings, many of which barely changed the story progression with few exceptions and all of which required you to essentially play from the very beginning of the game repeatedly. It would’ve been nice if more of the events had changed so that it felt a little less like replaying an identical story on repeat until you progressed to get the final ending.
But it’s still worth playing! Probably not all at once, but it is quite an endearing game. I will be watching for sales on the upgrade and the sequel because it’s interestingly ridiculous, and I quite enjoyed it spending an entire Valentine’s Day playing it. Also, birbs.