How amazing is it than in an age of gaming that’s rife with first person shooters, racers and… well… Minecraft, that an avian dating simulator could find its place on mainstream consoles? That was the case with last year’s Hatoful Boyfriend – a game that took the traditional dating simulator concept and mixed it up by making the protagonist’s potential love interests birds. It might sound completely insane, but it proved to be a hit with gamers and gained relative success – so much so that it’s warranted a festive follow up in Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star.

Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star

Unfortunately, what made the original such a cult hit is absent in this follow up. Gone is the freedom to craft your own branching story and even the dating aspect as a whole. Instead, you follow four turbulent tales in the Hatoful Boyfriend world that despite being full of of the zany humour the series is known for, comes lacking the interactivity and charm that made the original title such a joy to play through.

Those who’ve played Hatoful Boyfriend previously will know the basic mechanics to how the game works. In the vein of a visual novel, you’ll read through dialogue and interactions between characters that is accompanied by illustrations of each scene. It’s a simple premise that has been utilised by countless games over the years, but isn’t something that everyone will enjoy. It can often feel like you’re reading a book more than actually playing a game, but this isn’t always a downside of course; the genre is described as a ‘visual novel’ after all. Unfortunately, Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star doesn’t quite find the balance between reading and interaction.

Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star

Whereas the original title offered countless choices that actually bore consequence on how the tale would play out, the choices you make in Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star feel inconsequential. Sure, you can get a fail-state where you may have to start the episode again, but fans are used to there being branching paths to follow that allow you to create your own narrative. Instead, you’re given a story that has a fixed beginning, middle and end – a shame given the interactivity the previous entry featured.

Despite the choices baring no real consequence to how the story will play out, they barely feature at all through each episode anyway. I only noticed that you’d get one choice per episode, though in truth the quantity doesn’t really matter when the choice you may make feels so insignificant anyway.

At least the episodes that feature in the game are interesting, especially to returning fans of the series. The characters you know and love return with their variety of colourful personalities, and there’s even room for a few new faces too. There’s three main scenarios that take place over the four episodes; my personal favourite was the festive first episode though. Perhaps it’s my love of the Christmas holiday period, or maybe it was the strange looking bird creatures manning a tank and wreaking havoc – who knows? You’ll get plenty of laughs out of the chaotic nature of it all though.

Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star

Each episode lasts between thirty minutes and an hour, so there’s plenty to get through. You’ll unlock smaller side episodes too, each telling a unique tale involving some of the lesser featured characters from the game. One such episode lets you play out a tale but with the birds actually taking a human form – it’s interesting to see how each avian character you encounter in the game shapes up as an actual human.

The aesthetics of Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star are great, blending a combination of both real life photos of birds and stylised environmental illustrations. Two of the later episodes even adopt their own unique look with a fresh feeling, hand drawn style. You’ll never get bored of what you see in the game, even if the narrative aspects don’t quite match it.

Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star

In the end, Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star just doesn’t live up to the original. Sure it has the great visuals and the wacky world and characters are ever present, it just isn’t all that fun to play this time around. Whilst it tells a good story, it feels like that’s all it does – tell a story. Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star just doesn’t offer the same engagement and focuses on making you read more than interact. Fans of the original may find something to enjoy here, otherwise it’s hard to recommend – just stick to the original game that doesn’t feel like an experience that has had it’s had its wings clipped.

– Attractive, varied visuals
– Fans of the original will enjoy re-visiting the world and characters

– Very minimal interaction within the game compared to the original
– It feels like you’re reading a book rather than playing a game

Format Reviewed: Playstation 4