Hatoful Boyfriend has been out a few years now so the concept should not be new to most gamers, but the remake for PS4 and Vita has been recently released alongside the PC versions last year and so it seemed a good time to take a look at the updated ports.
The first thing to note about Hatoful Boyfriend is just how clever it all is. Take the title for example. The pronunciation of Hatoful is both "heartful" and "hurtful" in Japanese and eludes to the game's dark undertones. Hato is also the Japanese word for "pigeon" or "dove," which is what makes Hatoful Boyfriend stand out in a sea of Japanese anime dating simulators.
As the protagonist you play the only human in a high school full of sentient birds. Throughout the game you meet around 10 different birds and make decisions that determine the types of friendships you forge with everybirdie. Your decisions matter a great deal, and one single incorrect one can see your storyline diverge onto a completely different path, so it's important to pick up on clues that will lead to your desired ending.
Each playthrough of Hatoful Boyfriend only lasts around 30 minutes and is not particularly fulfilling, but it's through multiple playthroughs, exhausting all of your options, that you really get a sense for the whole story. There are many stories that cross paths, so you will only truly understand something that happened down one path if you see another to completion. This is where Hatoful Boyfriend excels. While story-telling is obviously the key element to any dating simulator, there is a much deeper, darker story that Hatoful Boyfriend disguises on the surface and can only be discovered by following several paths. You could easily play Hatoful Boyfriend through to its conclusion several times and still not have discovered the bulk of the true story dependant on which birds you choose to flock with.
The various endings are of course what most players will strive for, and they are all completely unique. Some are your standard dating simulator love story endings, while others will have you laugh at their absurdity. Notably, Hatoful Boyfriend is one of the few dating simulators where your choices can result in death of both the protagonist and other characters, which is refreshing and adds another emotional layer to the novel. There are "bad" endings, ones where someone dies or you end up with no-one but to me this is only a good thing. The only truly bad endings are "boring" ones.
While the endings are good, and some of them are really, really good (Anghel I'm looking at you) the path to reach them once you've played it through a few times can be rather tedious, as the same dialogue trees are played out over and over where your choices are few and far between. This was made even more obvious to me when during one playthrough the game crashed, and I had to start all over again. Seemingly innocuous choices can also change the nature of your whole run and can become quite frustrating.
While all the birds are very different to date, there are several that your brain tells you to avoid—the Filipino bird who talks in fantasy style riddles, the dove obsessed with pudding or the doctor who appears to be some kind of drug pusher—yet these are the paths that lead to the best endings. It goes against the grain to push you in the direction of choosing lovers who wouldn't even entertain in real or virtual life.
As for the remake, Hatoful Boyfriend has nice art, though nothing particularly spectacular. Then again it's pretty hard to get too worked up over the aesthetics of a game that is mostly made up of static photographs of birds. The human character portraits are nice, though they only appear once. The music is atmospheric but doesn't add a lot in particular, but the touchscreen capabilities are a nice ... touch.
Hatoful Boyfriend is one of those games that you just should play even if just once for the high levels of absurdity and dark undertones, though it's certainly not the kind of game that I will rave about endlessly over Twitter. For that accolade my heart only bleeds Huniepop.
I played Hatoful Boyfriend on the PS Vita and was given a review code as courtesy. You can buy yours from the PSN Store.