Game Reviewby Dave Riley,
Hatoful Boyfriend appears to be a pretty standard, stereotypical dating sim in every respect, with the notable exception that most of your paramours are pigeons.
Since this game's absurd premise has seemingly been spread around and bird-punned to death there's no sense belaboring the description: Hatoful Boyfriend is a dating sim where your potential suitors are pigeons.
As the only homo sapiens in the game, Hiyoko, your mission is to befriend and romance all manner of birds at the illustrious St. Pigeonation's Academy. Not just the common rock doves, like your childhood friend Ryouta (you knew him since he was hatched), but exotic avians like Shuu, a pleasantly plumaged partridge whose demeanor is anything but, or Anghel, the eccentric and foolhardy Luzon bleeding-heart--Dangan Ronpa's Gundham Tanaka in bird form. "Mission" is the only way to put it, because if Hiyoko reaches the endgame without finding a bird boy to call her own the Hawk Party descends with predacious intent and cuts short her easy high school life. Hatoful Boyfriend doesn't play around with love.
Well, it does a little. Despite the strangeness of taking math lessons from a narcoleptic quail, things work like any other dating sim--in this case an "otome game," one made primarily with straight female players in mind. You find the bird you wish to woo, then you do the things he likes and say the things he likes until he takes a gander at you. Some paths end traditionally, with your beautiful-but-sensitive bird friend revealing his story of abandonment, lost love, or strife. As the music swells, he and Hiyoko promise to be together forever and the credits roll with them looking forward to the long life ahead. Other paths go completely off the rails, dragging Hiyoko into unethical science experiments and turn-based battles, but most are lightweight and over before you know it. It's a brief game, only ninety minutes the first time through and successive runs are even shorter, with proper use of the fast forward button. Each bird boyfriend has just a handful of unique scenes. You learn why childhood friend Ryouta's always so gloomy and the secret behind handsome fantail Yuuya's playboy demeanor.
There's a dark truth lurking beneath the surface of St Pigeonation's, which should've been obvious the first time the Hawk Party murdered you for being an indecisive dater. Clearing all the routes unlocks a meatier mystery, "Bad Boy's Love," that explains some of the stranger aspects of the story, setting, and how this bizarre bird-run planet came to be. The mechanics don't differ much between mystery mode and dating mode, but the plot quickly thickens and they start tying the loose ends together: why are some of these cute birds so sad? What evil lurks in the heart of birdkind? Suffice to say, if you don't see Bad Boy Love all the way to the end--and even that's only a couple hours--you won't completely understand what Hatoful Boyfriend is about.
But maybe you don't want to, and that's fine. Though this is a parody, it's a loving one, whose best moments aren't hidden behind Bad Boy Love's conspiracy plot, they're in the day-to-day wooing of the lunkheaded Okosan or the adorably delusional Anghel, bringing a certain perspective to the anthropomorphism we imbue into anime without even thinking: are these birds any less relatable than cute anime boys because they don't have outrageously colored hair or scintillating, gigantic eyes? Hatoful Boyfriend isn't constructed around pigeon pursuit to make fun of you for liking dating sims; though, intentionally or not, it does ask "isn't the whole thing a little silly?" The answer to that is yes, of course it is. But if you can't have a sense of humor about the things you like then what's the point?
When Hatoful Boyfriend is at its strangest, like Hiyoko playing matchmaker and rekindling the flames of desire between a pair of outlaw biker birds, is when it's at its best. For something so pointedly aware of its camp, for something predicated on silliness, Hatoful Boyfriend is remarkable in its sincerity. Though you might follow your beloved into JRPG boss battles or a decades-long quest for legendary confections, in the end it's mostly about a bunch of birds just trying to make it through another day. Hatoful Boyfriend is a simple, fun thing. It doesn't snark about its premise or tug your elbow and ask if you get the gag, it just lets these birds be as they are.