Visual Novels: Storming their way to your devices

I didn&rsquo;t think I&rsquo;d actually finish the Steam visual novel <em>Hatoful Boyfriend</em> with all achievements unlocked, but, lo and behold, I did! <em>Hatoful Boyfriend</em> first flew into the spotlight when a few gaming news outlets picked up on this peculiar visual novel where, instead of going after eligible human candidates in different &ldquo;routes,&rdquo; all the options were to romance birds. With feathers. And wings. And it&rsquo;s all buried in a giant pile of bird humour.

The game was originally created by &ldquo;Hato Mao&rdquo; as a joke game, but soon caught on enough that there has been a continuation called <em>Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star</em>. If you had followed along with the original news releases, there was even a chance for owners of birds to submit pictures to be considered as characters for the game.

I originally came into this game thinking it was going to be a light read, but once you go through enough routes, the &ldquo;true&rdquo; ending and epilogue unlock: that&rsquo;s when the bird poop really hits the fan. I&rsquo;m not going to include the spoiler here, but the route goes from somewhat light-hearted to become a tear-inducing, gut-wrenching, post-apocalyptic tale of woe and delusion. There&rsquo;s everything in the 15 different endings, from one that resembles something out of<em> Hannibal</em> to the simple pursuit of the perfect pudding.

<em>Hatoful Boyfriend</em> is a tale of intrigue and genuine character development, even if the main mechanic is reading and making the right choices. One thing that might throw off people new to visual novels is that electives<em> do </em>matter in-game. The user interface was simple, despite missing the &ldquo;back&rdquo; button to re-read past text. I wish I had the choice to only skip already-read dialogue, but I never had to double-back because of clicking on the wrong choice, so that was fine. My favourite route, by far, was Luzon bleeding-heart dove Anghel&rsquo;s &ldquo;To the End of Emptiness.&rdquo;

Something new about the experience is that the game was unexpectedly 1000 times funnier when you play with friends voicing different characters, as visual novels are usually a very solitary experience and the game isn&rsquo;t voiced. Steam achievements are really nice for documenting progress in the game since some visual novels are very opaque in terms of showing how much of the story you have completed, especially if certain routes only unlock at certain forks in the story.

I hope <em>Hatoful Boyfriend</em> will be the beginning of many more visual novels being localized to English via Steam. The translation was chock full of references from popular culture that was accessible to people even if you weren&rsquo;t versed in otaku lingo. A lot of making a visual novel work hinges on the editor, as the game is mostly just the text and images.

Steam seems to be catching on as an accessible way for people to play localized text-based adventures. There have been several <em>otome</em> games (a subset of visual novels geared towards women) for smartphones, like the pay-per-route <em>My Forged Wedding</em> or <em>Alice in the Country of Hearts</em>, but they don&rsquo;t have the same carefully crafted immersive experience put into releases like those by Nitro+CHiRAL (<em>DRAMAtical Murder, Sweet Pool</em>). Things like cost, story content, legal issues, editors, and time restrictions will affect the choices of what visual novels will come to North America, but I sincerely hope that this will lead to more official releases through PC, Steam, 3DS, or Vita.

<em>Harvest December</em> will soon be coming to the Nintendo eShop, so that should be something to look forward to. Hybrid visual novel games that include more actions beyond reading, like Aksys Games&rsquo; <em>Zero Escape</em> puzzle escape series and upcoming VN/RPG hybrid <em>Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters</em> might be key. MangaGamer recently announced the localization of Poni-Pachet&rsquo;s <em>OZMAFI,</em> and boy&rsquo;s love story set in a jazz bar title <em>No, Thank You!</em>, and I&rsquo;ll definitely be picking up the latter.

What games do I hope to see in the future? I&rsquo;ve always wanted more serious BL games, or even the RPG parody <em>Dot Kareshi -We&rsquo;re 8Bit Lovers-</em>. Until then, I guess I&rsquo;ll just settle for waiting for the upcoming Steam release <em>PacaPlus</em> from Sekai Project. Hey, we&rsquo;ve survived a haughty fantail dove in <em>Hatoful Boyfriend</em>, time machine microwaves in <em>Steins;Gate</em>, sushi-men in <em>Love! Sushi Rangers</em> &mdash; a game about dating a fluffy alpaca shouldn&rsquo;t be too out there.