In the opening scene of Hatoful Boyfriend – the PlayStation 4's premiere pigeon dating simulator – its main character Hiyoko Tosaka attempts to describe the school that she attends. "It's a long story," she laments, before quickly giving up. If you want to see everything that this bizarre title has to offer, you'll have to play this opening sequence numerous times, and each time you do, her difficulty in description will make more and more sense. Put simply, this is an incredibly strange game – one of the strangest that you're ever likely to play. But if you're on-board with its gleefully absurd premise, it's also likely to be one of the funniest and most memorable.
As a sophomore at Pigeonation's Academy – the world's most prestigious school for birds – your job is to have fun, study hard, and ultimately pick a pigeon that you wish to pursue. Oh, it may also be pertinent to mention that you're the only human at said institution. Indeed, if the idea of human-on-pigeon romance makes you uncomfortable, this is absolutely not the game for you.
In gameplay terms, this amounts to making lots of little decisions. Which subject will you study during your elective period? Whose side will you take in one of many feathered furores? Which avian admirer will escort you to the local festival?
All of these choices affect your relationships and stats, which in turn affect the warbler you end up wooing. Don't panic too much, though, as the comic nature of the experience means that – barring a few notable exceptions – you'll never struggle too hard to figure out what to do.
With that said, the real question is whether the writing manages to keep this premise afloat. Thankfully, we're happy to report that it's consistently hilarious throughout. Each character is more unique and silly than the last, and the whole thing buzzes with a brilliant and absurd humour. There is also a remarkably subtle and sinister thread which runs through each of the different stories, which only fully reveals itself upon their collective completion.
The overall tone is very strange, then, as while there are certainly many side-splittingly silly moments, there are some equally sombre and serious ones. In any other game, this inconsistency would be a negative, but in a title which attempts to realistically recreate the avian dating world, it feels somewhat fitting. And, in reality, who are we to say that the lamentations of these loquacious lovebirds aren't lifelike?
At any rate, the dialogue is always crisp and funny, making the prospect of replaying the title in order to experience each potential bird-beau's ending incredibly enticing. Indeed, completing the game itself will only take an hour or two the first time around, but to truly enjoy its sometimes surprising nuance, you'll have to give it several more goes. What's more, finishing specific endings unlocks extra content which adds even more ridiculous and hysterical texture.
The only downfall, then, is that replaying the game means that you also have to replay the sections which are the same regardless of which path you chose. The aforementioned introduction, for instance, becomes particularly irritating after the tenth time that you view it. While there is an option to speed up the overall pace of the gameplay, it's still a pain to have to sit through the exact same conversations time and time again. A mode which allows you to skip straight through to the meaningful choices might have solved this problem.
In terms of presentation, there is unfortunately very little variation in what you're seeing and hearing during the moment to moment gameplay. The visuals, for instance, are consistently gorgeous, but there just isn't all that much to them. Similarly, the music is fitting, but simply not varied enough. In many ways this is par for the course, but a bit of diversity on this front might have been nice.
In simple terms, Hatoful Boyfriend is an infectiously bizarre dating simulator about choosing a partner from a particularly fanciful flock of pigeons. But when all the birds come home to roost, your enjoyment of this comical curio is almost entirely dependent on your ability to truck with its utterly insane premise. Indeed, if you don't take umbrage with a bit of pigeon-on-human romance, you're likely to be taken on a riotous and remarkable romp.