I tried to date pigeons so you wouldn’t have to

HatofulLogo

Hatoful Boyfriend (2015)

Every now and then a game comes along so deviant that your conscience urges you not to play it. It is something that your super-ego won’t ever forgive you for. If you put Cho Aniki or Senran Kagura into your console and load it up, right then and there you are voluntarily flagging yourself for the FBI, the NSA, the MIB, and all sorts. It won’t be too much longer until the Facebook rabble catch wind of your transgressions against societal morality, and then it’s trial by social media for you. And of course, such trials are unwinnable. You are finished, your reputation left completely destroyed, you will be egged anywhere you go, children will scream at the sight of you, and even your mother will stop inviting you round for tea.

Obviously, Hatoful Boyfriend is a digital-only game. Actually, it’s probably physical too in Japan, but in terms of keeping perversity out of society they are a little late to that party. But come on, could you imagine sauntering into Gamestop, looking past Battlefield, FIFA and other chav-approved games and whipping Hatoful from the shelves?

Standing in the queue, you recognise that this is your last chance to drop the gamebox on the floor and scarper, just in case someone sees you. You know full well that you could go viral in an instant, and for all the wrong reasons, all because everyone’s equipped with phones well capable of recording you in ultra-high quality and no-one ever thought to make this illegal.

But you persevere. You bring the game to the blue-haired, good-looking bohemian girl behind the counter, and you both simultaneously grit your teeth as the transaction starts. This was a mistake, and you knew it. But no backing out now. The 6 foot 7 handsome lad with the Kratos beard on the other till has chanced a look over, and sees immediately what’s going on.

Unabashed, he laughs, mostly to himself but you can well hear it. And there’s no sense in you complaining about the customer being always right and rude staff et cetera et cetera because in this case, the customer is a weirdo and a social leper who needs castrating, here and now.

The blue-haired girl goes out back to find the only sealed copy of the game, leaving the empty box on the counter for all to see which in turn leaves you standing there, beaming bright red. You’re a right state old son, and everyone can see you. When she returns and asks you for whatever price it was, probably eighty quid considering it’s an obscure Japanese title, your tongue has doubled in size and had its taste-buds replaced by carpet.

You pay the dough and leave as swiftly as you can, with your shoelaces suddenly tied together and a ‘Kick Me’ (or rather, ‘Arrest Me’) sign suddenly on your back. You resolve never to go back to that Gamestop again, which is futile thinking as you have just been barred for life anyway.

Then you bring home the troublesome game and what is it? A dating-sim where you play as a human girl and all of the male suitors are pigeons. You read that correctly, and no it isn’t the type of concept that you think is bonkers at first but has you quickly falling in love with it.

As far as I could make out from the shoddy translation, you’ve transferred to a high-school for gifted birds and you’re told to live your life from there. There’s no context or reason given, no little third-person aside voice that puts the player at ease, nothing. You must now woo pigeons, that is your only true calling in life.

You don’t even have to pass the school exams, and there are stats in the game but I don’t see why they matter one iota, or why going to Music class improves your Charisma, but what do I know? I’m not a pigeon.

In actual fact, there isn’t even much to play. You are very rarely given a choice of dialogue options, and even when you are, they’re not exactly juicy. I couldn’t quite believe I found myself yearning for more control over a pigeon-love-sim, but there you go. Deviancy makes us do some awfully desperate things in the heat of the moment.

But anyway, I had thought the whole point of dating sims was to play your cards right to see various anime girls in states of undress, all with wretched personalities and hair every colour of the rainbow. You of course play the well-hung, nerdy, adorkable everyman who happens to find himself running a female-only hotspring or massage parlour or somesuch.

Some liberal political party in Japan probably kicked up rough over sexism, so then game developers had to start coming out with male equivalents for these types of arrest-worthy games, aimed at the discerning female pervert gamer. And this is what they’re presented with.

Even when you do get a dialogue option or a question to answer, it’s not a good time either. As it turns out, there is a crazy sort of conspiracy-laden overarching plot in the game, and the whole thing is a dystopian future where bird flu has wiped out most of humanity and pigeons now rule the roost (little bird pun for you there).

Your place in all this is as a test subject for a mysterious government body, who survey you and make you undergo this odd human-pigeon social experiment. Get one of the rare ingame questions wrong, and they come out of nowhere to put the black sack over your head and end your game.

And because I never got access to the save screen, because the game never told me there was one and the controls are surprisingly poor for a menu-based game, I had to start all over again. If at this point you wish to complain about me spoiling the plot for you, I will remind you that this is a game about bipolar pigeons.

Having already immersed myself deep into the pigeony slice of life once, and consigned myself to a life of running the gauntlet of paedo-hunters anytime I nipped to the shops, I wasn’t about to do it twice. So I watched this whole conspiracy plot on YouTube to see just what was going on. Wouldn’t you know it, this turns out the be the real meat of the game, and a far cry from all this pigeon lark.

Of course, you have to play through the pigeon portion several times to get endings for each of the pigeons (what am I doing) and even in the name of journalism I wasn’t going to do that. Imagine getting Red Dead Redemption 2 but you had to build up a strong bond with one of six mountain goats before you could play the actual game.

That was the end of Hatoful Boyfriend for me, but not the end of the embarrassment. You see, I fell into the trap of unlocking Trophies for the game, and they don’t get scrubbed quickly. No. They are marks of indelible shame on your PSN/Steam/Xbox account and nothing short of destroying your log-in details and emigrating will absolve you of the shame.

They should paint some sort of telltale symbol on me, using paint that’s only visible under UV light. This will make me flash up as a sex attacker risk in airport X-ray scanners, and I will be taken out back and ‘set upon’, the result of which makes you ordinary members of society safer. Better than that though, the pigeons, who can see UV light, will find me irresistible.

1 January 2019

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