In 2014, publisher Devolver Digital introduced the wonderful world of Hatoful Boyfriend to the masses. The quirky visual novel, which stands out for having players date pigeons instead of hunky guys, quickly found fans and made a splash on the internet. Now, a year later, Devolver Digital has brought over the holiday-themed spin-off stateside. Can Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star continue the series’ rise, or is this holiday offering a disappointment?
While it’s easy to brush aside Hatoful Boyfriend as a one-note joke, the debut featured a surprising amount depth to its story. Players came to simply date birds, but were quickly enamored by an interesting world. Despite taking place in an alternate universe, Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star manages to flesh out the city of Littledove Hachiman City and the world it inhabits.
The biggest change found in the game is that it’s a much more linear experience compared to the original. Players won’t be making nearly as many choices and they can’t woo any of the available aviary bachelors. While this will surely disappoint some, it goes a long way in proving that Hatoful Boyfriend can work as a series. Sure, the dating mechanic is gone, but there is still an interesting story to watch unfold.
Taking place over four chapters, Holiday Star starts off by telling a simple story about a pair of thieves that are stealing Christmas trees. While this initial case is quickly resolved, the story expands into a complicated tale that tackles some of the unresolved plot elements found in the first game. Anyone who found the world of Hatoful Boyfriend intriguing will definitely want to check this out, as the story manages to shed new light on all of the birds of St. PigeoNation’s Institute.
Separate to the main story, the game also offers up five separate short stories. These bite-sized tales range from going on a field trip to Kyoto to fleshing out characters such as Albert, Sakuya’s butler. Despite only taking 30-minutes to check out, these bonus stories end up being some of the most interesting content in the package. It’s a great addition, and those that miss the dating elements will be glad to know that they can go on a romantic New Year’s date with eight of the game’s pigeons.
Also in Holiday Star is a series of six different Q&A sessions starring the protagonist’s best friend, Ryouta. These kayfabe breaking segments are fun to read, and are a good reminder of what happened in the first game. If you still haven’t finished the original, you’ll want to stay clear of these mailbag sequences if you want to avoid any spoilers.
If there is one major disappointment about Holiday Star it’s how limited the game is as a visual novel. Typical features of the genre such as hiding text to view the scene in full or a window to view past dialogue are completely missing. There also isn’t any auto-scroll setting, so players will be pressing the cross button to advance dialogue a lot. The lack of these features make Hatoful Boyfriend feel second-rate, which is disappointing considering how much there is to like about the story.
The other major area where Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star disappoints is in its player interaction. There are only a few cases where the player is given the ability to choose what to do in the story, and if they don’t choose the right option they are greeted with a game over screen. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, but the game doesn’t allow you to save while making a choice. So unless you are saving often, don’t be surprised if you suddenly lose over an hour’s worth of progress.
I also ran into a strange bug that doesn’t allow the player to access the game’s fourth episode after completing the game. However, the game did let me load into my save midway through the fourth episode. So, if you want to be able to replay the fourth episode after you beat the game, you’ll want to save right at the beginning. This is just another example of the game lacking polish, which is uncharacteristic for a Devolver Digital published title.
All that being said though, Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star still succeeds in proving that Hatoful Boyfriend isn’t a one-hit wonder. It does a wonderful job of giving new depth to many old (and new) characters, and is worth checking out if you enjoyed the first game.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, with which we were provided with.
Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star provides more fun for fans of the series, but it's disappointing that the package surrounding it isn't more polished.