If anything, I thought Hatoful Boyfriend might be weirder. I mean, yes, you’re the only human student at an all-pigeon school called St. PigeoNation's Institute (“The most splendid and greatest academy of the pigeon, by the pigeon and for the pigeon.”) And, sure, you see a perfectly normal Japanese animation character the first time you ever meet anybody—and then you only see them as a bird forever after that. You also live in a cave. That’s an unusual choice for a human, I suppose. But I can't shake the feeling that things should just be...weirder? Maybe?
Hatoful Boyfriend is an interactive novel. You make a few choices here and there, but mostly you're being hustled between classes, the library, the teacher's lounge, and home, with stints through the park or in the city.
The humor runs dry, but I have a sense for dry humor, too. It’s just that, while the premise is absurd, the melodramatics never go through the roof. And for an avian romance, they kind of should, shouldn't they?
There’s a narcoleptic professor. An age-old friend with a sick mother. A summer job. A sidestory romance in a noodle shop. And the characters often chat about pretty vanilla topics, like the changing seasons, checking books out of the library for too long, forgetting to do homework, or how much they love tea. It’s as if the mundane is made to be extra mundane in order to make the slightly kooky moments stand out even more.
The surprises do indeed crop up. Like when you attend a school fair and your narcoleptic professor asks you to help and you enthusiastically reply, “Of course! I shall mete out information and directions like an Oni [demon] of old, cleaver in hand, seated atop a throne wrought from the skulls of my foes!” Or when you stumble across your lifelong friend outside of his job and he’s wearing a pink maid costume and he says, “No, no, you misunderstand! It’s just a transvestite cafe!” I also like it when I solved an argument between two students by ultimately throwing them both out the window. They both flew to safety, but it's the thought that counts.
Often it’ll be an elective day at school, meaning you can select between going to math, gym, or music class. They’ll bump up your wisdom, vitality, and charisma abilities, respectively—though it’s hard to tell if anything comes of that. Your dialog choices don’t seem to shrink or expand based on those stats.
The soundtrack has been working against me. There's a lite-jazz rendition of Vampire Weekend song I can’t quite remember the name of. Then there's a Casio-keyboard playthrough of a jaunty classical tune I can't stand. Then syrupy, upbeat, glockenspiel-laden tracks fill up most of the days, drifting from classrooms to hallways and back into more classrooms. The fantasy marching band song didn't sound out of place, but then again, maybe it did after a mushy trip hop night out on the town.
I honestly keep waiting for Hatoful Boyfriend to jump off the deep end—but it won't. Not yet, anyway. But I’ll likewise admit that its one-thing-wrong approach is effective as well. If everything was crazy, then nothing would be crazy, right? So, Hatoful Boyfriend has just enough story anchored in pseudo-reality to make the tiniest of weird things seem weird enough, I suppose. But I’m only halfway through the school year. We’ll see if these romances end up somewhere worthwhile, or unexpected, or (hopefully) running right off the rails into an Akira-level apocalypse. But I'm curbing my expectations that Hatoful Boyfriend is ever going to go from the window to the wall with nuttiness. That's too bad. But it's not too bad either.
Hatoful Boyfriend launches on PC today, September 4. Watch for our full review, coming soon.