I recently played through Hatoful Boyfriend for the first time. It was completely not what I expected but first I need to explain my decision to engage with this particular aspect of digital Asia. I first found an interest in let’s playing visual novels after a friend showed me PressHeartToContinue and I could not stop laughing at all the funny voices she made. Needless to say my voice does not compare. Please see her fabulousness below.
Dodger conveys her experience of visual novels in an entertaining and compelling manner, something that compelled me enough to try a visual novel for myself.
Back to expectations. So, my channel, GameWreck, is all about me being incredibly shit at games for other people’s entertainment. Generally, I stumble about running around in circles until I literally bump into the thing I need to pick up all by accident.
Apparently visual novels don’t work that way. They have an extremely minimal amount of gameplay. Your gameplay is essentially boiled down to a series of choices you make.
Surely most games are about choices?
Of course they are but in a visual novel your choices are who you think will win out of a swimming race between two estranged half-brother pigeons and what elective class to go to out of math, music and gym. I entered into this video game genre expecting to struggle in the same way as I do with all other games but it was the most straightforward experience of virtual gameplay I’ve ever experienced. On the other hand, the casual nature with which one plays a visual novel is such that I had absolutely no idea what my goal was (a bit like life really).
Immediately, I recognised character tropes: the childhood best friend, snobby rich guy, suave ladies man… etc. Tropes can be found in any kind of written work, don’t get me wrong. I used them with gusto when I first started writing cliché romances for FictionPress. (Thank god I’ve since moved on… I hope.)
There’s a certain delivery of these kinds of tropes that makes it uniquely Japanese. I say this because a period of my teens was spent consuming various Japanese manga and anime. Tropes are not just for characterisation but include dialogue traits like the use of punctuation without any words to portray exasperation or indignation and emphasis on stuttering to convey nervousness. Tropes and clichés can be incredibly exasperating, especially when the subsequent behaviour is predictable, rendering the story somewhat boring. I’ll admit I resisted for a while. My personal context as a creative writing major and English literature enthusiast found me mentally editing the dialogue between reading it from the screen and speaking it aloud.
I was quick to pick up on intertextuality, with Okusan’s dialogue very much mirroring that of a Pokémon battle. Both the game and show were a part of my childhood and a source of common ground for myself and the very foreign feeling Hatoful Boyfriend.
Despite being a Japanese game, Hatoful Boyfriend showcased its global presence by incorporating Russian slang (kulak, literally meaning “fist” and used to represent the peasant class) and referencing famous European composers. These features were all nestled inside a Japanese context, where I was also introduced to Tanabata, a Japanese festival where people write their wishes on strips of paper and hang them from bamboo trees along with decorations.
Nevertheless, Hatoful Boyfriend had some tropes with which I was not familiar. In one playthrough I managed to explore the trope of a teacher with sleep apnoea and a dark past while touching on some other interpersonal issues between estranged half-brothers. I will commend the writers for giving each of the tropes some depths to explore. I assume this is why people come back and playthrough again to find out more about the different characters. It may be enough to persuade me to playthrough again. Afterall, I never did find out what the whole purpose was.
For those who wondered, my first playthrough matched me with
The math teacher! Scandalous, I know! Don’t worry, he asked me to come back after I finished high school.