Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star – the video game gift equivalent of socks.
The time has come, the game devs said, to speak of many things. Of Christmas trees and ornament thieves, and cute boys with wings. Just in time for Christmas, Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star is out on Steam, Playstation 4, and PS Vita, as a full sequel to the original Hatoful Boyfriend…sort of. This time the focus is a little less on the romance, and a little more on the increasingly weird stories of the Hatoful world. This bird is missing a few feathers,though, and looks like It hasn’t had a decent meal of birdseed in in a week.
Anybirdie familiar with the original Hatoful Boyfriend will know that the Hatoful universe is one where humans and birds coexist peacefully. Crazy, I know. Players took on the role of the only human girl in an all-birds school, and set off to romance the many fine feathered friends-with-benefits in St. Pidgeonation’s Academy. Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star follows the same group of characters, disregarding the extremely varied multiple endings in order to keep the same charming cast around for a second game.
Also new is the way the story in this new game plays out. Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star isn’t so much a dating sim game as a visual novel, split into four stories with occasional interactive segments. Sacrificing the dialogue options and multiple paths that went with them means that a certain void needs to be filled, and unfortunately there’s still some empty space. The only real interactivity in the stories of Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star comes from occasional binary choices. For example: “time to investigate a Christmas tree thief. Should we go to place A or place B?”
What makes things worse is that the four, episodic stories of Holiday Star don’t even feel particularly genuine. Sparce is the heart that made the first Hatoful Boyfriend as charming and lovable as it surprisingly, inexplicably was. All four episodes in Holiday Star feel uninspired and, frankly, boring. They all feel like DLC episodes, none really deserving of being part of a full game. The writing has its occasional witty moments, but even then, some lines seem to be pushing the envelope in directions in which the envelope most decidedly should not have been pushed. Some are probably just issues of weird translation choices, but others seem like evidence of lazier writing.
Then there’s the issue of context. Something that made Hatoful Boyfriend so unique was the presence of a much darker story, Bad Boys Love (or BBL for short) underneath the surface. BBL was only unlockable by playing through enough regular romance routes in the main game, and revealed a lot of horrifying lore about the true nature of the Hatoful world. With that established, it’s really hard to gauge whether Holiday Star is intended for those who have played BBL in the original, or were meant to be enjoyed by all players. Heavy information, and the existence of a character exclusive to that route, are all treated as if they should already be known; in addition, they’re used in strange ways that soil the tone of the original. Players familiar with the original should take into account that not just this route, but all the routes, are basically de-canonized for the sake of this new adventure. Y’know, if you care that much about continuity in a game about Bird Christmas.
As disappointing as the barely-a-game nature of Holiday Star is, it does offer more than just the four primary episodes. The game includes a Radio mode, in which Ryouta, one of the game’s central avian characters, answers fan mail and reveals secrets about the inner workings of St. Pidgeonation’s Academy, as well as the development of the game itself. There are some other side stories that even feature humanized versions of the game’s cast of avian characters, but even these have very little substance.
Even the presentation is lacking in Holiday Star; or, as I have just now decided to start calling it, Hatoful 2: Plumage Boogaloo. The characters and HUD are exactly the same as they’ve always been, and a lot of scenes have recycled music or no audio whatsoever. I actually wondered if I had muted my computer by accident, but no; this was simply the workings of a bird-centric game in need of some extra revision. There is good art direction, at least, especially as the later episodes take on a storybook motif that does add some new charm unique to this sequel. Unfortunately, it comes as too little, too late.
I sit here, wondering what else to say about Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star, but knowing in my heart of holiday hearts that there is nothing left to say. The fact is, Holiday Star is barely a game at all; while its predecessor managed to inject a lot of genuine fun and cleverness into figuring out the different romantic routes possible with its avian cast, Holiday Star forgets any kind of mechanical…well, anything whatsoever. To make matters worse, the stories those mechanics are sacrificed in favor of aren’t even particularly interesting. There’s nothing here. The birds have flown the coop. Make a new holiday nest under a different star.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Playstation 4, Playstation Vita; Publisher: Devolver Digital: Developer: PigeoNation Inc, Mediatonic; Players: 1; Released: December 15th, 2015; Genre: Visual Novel; MSRP: $9.99
Note: This review is based on review code provided by Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star’s publisher, Devolver Digital.