Birds of a Feather: Why You Should Play the Dating Sim, Hatoful Boyfriend

GNOVIS- HATOFUL PIC

It’s just another day in February, that special time of year to be with the one you love. A time to buy them roses, cards, and beans.

Beans?

Yes, beans. It’s Legumentine’s, a celebration of love and companionship, a time when “girls are encouraged to buy packaged beans and give them to the bird they like.”[1] And today is your chance to let that lucky birdy know that you like them. So go on, pick up some soybeans from your local grocery store and spread the love!

Okay, you’re either thinking one of two things. You’re thinking, “What the hell did I just read, is this blogger okay?” Or, “Oh, I know what she’s talking about! I’ve played that game before!” Or maybe you’ve clicked out of the article due to sheer confusion and alarm over the idea of giving beans to a bird, not a human, not even a mammal, that you like.

If you’re still here, all of this talk about bean-giving and birds refers to a dating simulation called Hatoful Boyfriend. And yes, that’s Hatoful, not Hateful. “Hatoful Boyfriend (はーとふる彼氏, Hātofuru Kareshi) is a Japanese otome-based series where all characters except its faceless heroine are birds.”[2] Otome meaning a game that is prominently female-targeted, with romance being a key part of the game. Birds meaning… birds. Yeah, every character in this game is a bird. Like, a pigeon or a dove or a partridge.

Everyone in the game, besides the main character, are of the avian persuasion. Whether this makes you laugh or raise your eyebrows is a personal choice, of course, but let me explain what this means before you make any pre-judgments. This game is a sort of parody of dating simulations. There are many dating sims, ranging from cutesy high school dating sims to violent, mystery-driven sims that include some romance on the side.

I am not an otome enthusiast. I’ve played a grand total of three otome games from beginning to end, two of those being from the Hatoful franchise. I’ve watched some YouTuber’s play a couple otome dating sims, but never gotten through all the videos. So I’m no expert, but I know enough to understand that Hatoful Boyfriend is a great example of how to mess with popular tropes.

The game identifies traditional high school anime tropes, plays with them, then turns them completely on their head. Some of these tropes involve the creepy school infirmary doctor, the mysterious transfer student, and the trustworthy best friend character that always seems to have some sort of medical or family problem. There’s also this weird anime trope I’ve noticed that goes as follows: if you ever meet a character that is always at the library, is never seen outside of school, and never talks to anyone other than the main character, they’re probably a ghost. Seriously, this trope pops up way more than you would think. It pops up in Hatoful Boyfriend, too, but not in the way I expected.

Basically, Hatoful Boyfriend does a splendid job of identifying these popular and overused tropes, and turning them into something new. By making all of the characters birds, there is this added layer of silliness and self-awareness. The game frequently makes meta statements about itself, about other dating sims, and about pop culture as a whole.

It’s a simple game, really. You play a human student that gets selected to go to St. Pigeonation’s, an elite school for birds. You are the only human ever accepted into this prestigious place, and now you must navigate both the halls and the complexities of relationships. The game is structured on a day-to-day basis. You wake up, go to school, and see what happens. Hopefully, you meet a bird that you like (all of the birds have human personas, by the way. They have gijinka “(擬人化; Western term Humanization) forms. Rather than referring to just any animal with human characteristics, a gijinka is most often a fan re-design of an animal-like character in a human or humanoid form.”[3]) Seeing the birds in “human form” makes it a lot easier when picking which one to pursue, at least, for me. Just check out this pheasant:

GNOVIS- HATOFUL PIC

But anyways, you better find a bird to pursue, or you die. No, not metaphorically, you literally die in-game. So think of this game as the Japanese version of The Lobster[4], only your punishment for not finding love is death rather than being turned into an animal of your choice. Seems a little intense for an innocent dating sim parody, doesn’t it? That’s because Hatoful Boyfriend is so much more than a parody.

Without giving away the entire plot, I can honestly say that Hatoful Boyfriend is one of the most emotional, thought-provoking, and well written video games I have ever played. Seriously. If I had to rank this game it would be right up there with Dragon Age: Origins and Life is Strange. Hatoful Boyfriend is just that good. It’s a surprisingly deep story hidden beneath a couple layers of ridiculous parody.

My best friend and I played this game together in undergrad. We voice acted the whole thing, all 10+ hours of the game, which probably annoyed the shit out of our roommates. But it was so much fun. We started playing the game as a joke. It was five bucks on Steam and seemed pretty funny, so we played it. Then we actually became invested in it, in the story and characters. By the end of the game, our minds were blown.

So if you’re a gamer of any kind, if you like anime, good parodies, or if you’re a bird enthusiast, you should play this game. If this entire concept makes you go, “Uhh, no,” that’s fine. That’s totally cool. This game is not for everyone. But if the idea of playing a dating sim where you romance birds makes you laugh, you should play. It’s a great game, full of plot twists, interesting characters, and A+ meme humor. I’m always a sucker for good meme humor.

I leave you with the original image, you, a mere high school student, giving beans to the bird of your dreams. Beautiful, isn’t it?

REFERENCES

Fig. 1 From Steam. http://cdn.akamai.steamstatic.com/steam/apps/310080/ss_6c191678caebc93c559fc7d9c895abe215560570.600×338.jpg?t=1468917927

Fig. 2 From Hatoful Boyfriend Wikia. http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hatoful/images/c/c5/ShuuIwamineRemakeICPSS.png/revision/latest?cb=20150507012745

Gijinka (擬人化) / Humanization,” Know Your Meme, accessed December 21, 2016, http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/subcultures/gijinka-humanization

“Hatoful Boyfriend Wikia,” fandom powered by Wikia, accessed December 21, 2016, http://hatoful.wikia.com/wiki/Hatoful_Boyfriend_Wiki.

“Legumentine’s,” fandom powered by Wikia, accessed December 21, 2016, http://hatoful.wikia.com/wiki/Legumentine’s

“The Lobster,” Rotten Tomatoes, accessed December 21, 2016, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_lobster/

 

[1]  “Legumentine’s,” fandom powered by Wikia, accessed December 21, 2016, http://hatoful.wikia.com/wiki/Legumentine’s

[2]  “Hatoful Boyfriend Wikia,” fandom powered by Wikia, accessed December 21, 2016, http://hatoful.wikia.com/wiki/Hatoful_Boyfriend_Wiki

[3]Gijinka (擬人化) / Humanization,” Know Your Meme, accessed December 21, 2016, http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/subcultures/gijinka-humanization

[4] “The Lobster,” Rotten Tomatoes, accessed December 21, 2016, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_lobster/

 

MC Gayoso

Mary-Cecile "MC" is a native Floridian and first-year CCT student. She has a background in communication and media ecology, as well as some teaching experience. Her research interests include fandom studies, game studies, and the study of media representations. In her spare time, she likes to read, write, and play all kinds of games (whether they be video or role-playing games). One of her goals is to be a university professor.