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Hatoful Boyfriend

Score: 75%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Mediatonic
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

Iíve played some weird games in the past. Some of them are weird simply because of their subject matter. What I would give to have been a fly on the wall during the pitch for Katamari Damacy or during brainstorming sessions. Others are weird in an abstract, cryptic sense. Most of Suda 51ís early work (Killer7, Flower, Sun, and Rain) is just so disconnected from reality that it often goes down as some of the most challenging fare in the medium. Well, I might have turned a new page as far as weird games go. Hatoful Boyfriend is an interactive novel/dating sim in which nearly the entire cast is made up of birds. Yeah. Let that sink in for a bit. Take a deep breath, because Iíve got an even bigger shock waiting. Ready? Itís absolutely fascinating.

Hatoful Boyfriendís visuals couldnít be much simpler. Most of it piggybacks off that ubiquitous anime aesthetic that identifies it as a product of Japan. Itís a pleasant game to look at, but it isnít impressive by any stretch of the imagination. The world your character inhabits feels like a parallel universe where everything seems normal, except for that one thing. Hatoful Boyfriend attempts to connect you with its supporting cast through two methods. When youíre introduced to a new character, you see them as they are: they are birds. The juxtaposition of the very real bird images against the static anime backgrounds lends the game an extremely surreal vibe to it Ė almost nightmarish. But then your character explains their personalities and mannerisms a bit, and youíre then treated to a stylized image of what the character would look like if it was human. I frequently forgot these images and quickly associated the blank, seemingly idiotic avian mugs with the personalities developed through the dialogue.

Sound-wise, there isnít much to speak of in Hatoful Boyfriend, but whatís here is mostly great. Special mention goes to the beautiful renditions of ancient public domain music; though the context for the gameís use of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" could not be more far removed from Christmas, it still fit the mood and atmosphere of what was going on in the story. The rest of the soundtrack is stereotypical happy-go-lucky fare that youíd find in one of those countless stakes-free harem animes. But in the end, it goes a really long way towards masking the shocking history of this otherwise cheery world.


Gameplay:

How can I explain Hatoful Boyfriend without making it sound like the worst game ever made? Itís an interactive graphic novel mixed with a dating sim, wherein the dating pool is populated by individuals of the avian class. If youíre already running for the hills, chances are high I wonít be able to talk you into hanging around; if this game is anything besides bizarre, itís for sure not for everyone.

So Iíll try to explain whatís up with this game. You are a teenaged girl, a human hunter-gatherer who, for some reason, lives in a cave. But not only are you homeless in the modern sense of the word, humanity has seemingly been replaced with hyper-intelligent birds. Hatoful Boyfriend trusts you to shrug off this insane first impression, because like all good stories, it doesnít hold your hand with exposition that could otherwise ruin the storytelling.

So youíre a teenaged girl whoís seemingly ostracized from civilization due to the fact that youíre not a bird. But of course, every teenager needs to be in high school! Lucky for you, youíre enrolled in St. PigeoNationís Institute, where youíre allowed to further your academic and social life. Thereís a lot of (bird) boys, too, so naturally, you can become involved with many of them in some form or another. Again, shrug off the weirdness; itís ultimately worth it if you do.

But how does Hatoful Boyfriend play? Well... technically, it doesnít. Iím not sure you could classify this release as a game Ė at least not so much as an occasionally interactive visual novel. Think the high school hijinks of the Persona franchise, only less interactive... and with birds. As you progress through the storyís well-written (and often laugh out loud hilarious) dialogue, youíll occasionally have to make choices. These choices, whether they have to do with your academic or extracurricular life, often branch off into narrative routes that allow the player to experience new things and meet new people... um... I mean birds. The cast of characters is quite memorable, and if youíre skeptical of the characterization possibilities of the seemingly listless static faces of the bird, consider Hatoful Boyfriend, much like Thomas Was Alone yet another abstract experiment in character development.


Difficulty:

Hatoful Boyfriend is not a game that you can fail at playing. There is no gameplay, and as a result, no skill involved. The only exertion youíll need to apply while playing this game is the firing of neurons and the subsequent moving and clicking of your mouse. If you find the experience of playing Hatoful Boyfriend to be challenging on any level, I have two recommendations.

The first is to invest in a comfortable computer chair and a decent wrist cushion. Clicking and moving a mouse is generally not regarded by most to be difficult work, but ergonomic studies show that each little motion adds up. You could end up putting too much pressure on your median nerve and ending up with carpal tunnel syndrome. And thatís far worse punishment than any "Game Over" screen could possibly dole out.

The second is to take breaks every thirty minutes of so. Try this exercise: sit back in your chair, close your eyes, and gently but firmly press the balls of the middle three fingers on each hand over them. Remain thus for thirty seconds. And then youíre ready to get back to your harem... of birds.


Game Mechanics:

Iíd thought that it would be difficult enough to explain the premise of Hatoful Boyfriend on its own. But in truth, this is where it becomes really difficult. You see, Hatoful Boyfriend really only has one mechanic, and itís no different from what most of us do at work or when reading a book. You move the mouse around and click to turn the page. Thatís all there is to say.

Initially, you might believe that Hatoful Boyfriend is more of a game than it really is. This is doubly true if youíve played a role-playing game. Your character, being a high school student, is ultimately there to improve herself, and in addition to her social growth, she does. Youíll find yourself in situations that allow you to level up statistics like wisdom, vitality, and charisma. Ultimately, though, they have very little impact on your future actions, and even less still on the overall experience.

I cannot stress this enough: Hatoful Boyfriend is not for everyone. Hell, itís probably not even for me. But itís difficult to take everything in at more than face value and not be at least a little bit charmed or a little bit impressed. At the very least, you havenít experienced anything like it.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Minimum System Requirements:



OS: Windows XP with SP2 or later; Windows 7 with SP1 or later; Windows 8; Memory: 1 GB RAM; Graphics: Graphics card with DirectX 9 level (shader model 2.0) capabilities; DirectX: Version 9.0; Hard Drive: 300 MB available space; Additional Notes: Windows Vista is not supported.
 

Test System:



ASUS G74S Series, Intel Core I7 - 2670QM, 2.2 GHz, Windows 7 Premium, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560M, 12 GB RAM

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