HIGH It’s a great mashup of genres.
LOW Eric, and how he’s handled.
WTF How is there not an ‘adult’ version of this for sale somewhere?
As someone who plays a lot of games, I’m always on the lookout for the new and noteworthy, and I’m especially interested in genre mashups – taking two established styles and combining them to create something fresh. Boyfriend Dungeon is a perfect example. Coming from Kitfox Games, this Kickstarter success story takes two separate genres — the dungeon crawler and the dating sim — and combines them to deliver a light and likable summertime romp.
The premise of Boyfriend Dungeon is simple. After creating a character (male, female or non-binary) the player arrives in a new city for the summer, greeted by their cousin. Cuz wants to set them up on dates and get them more socialized, so he’s an eager matchmaker. It’s not fully explained what the player’s story is or why they need help with dating, but things have to start somewhere.
During this intro we learn that the world of Boyfriend Dungeon is populated by two kinds of people — humans who can inexplicably turn into weapons, and the humans who wield them. I appreciate that the writers didn’t bend over backwards rationalizing any of this, it’s simply stated as fact and they move on, which was the right call.
The player soon encounters several characters, each one introduced with a fantastically-animated transformation sequence showcasing both their weapon and human forms. They’re all open to the idea of romance while also dealing with a variety of issues such as college woes, difficult parents, artistic endeavors, the spirit world, and more.
The artwork for the dating sequences is top-notch – they’re pleasantly stylized and sharply designed, the voices are excellent, and I appreciated the efforts towards inclusion. There are a couple of traditionally hunky guys, of course, but then there’s a female-presenting character and a few who present as fluid or non-binary. There’s also… a cat. Regardless of which way a person leans, there’s likely to be at least one or two faces they’ll connect with.
Like most dating sims, the player chooses a potential match and enters into a conversation to feel out their likes, dislikes and foibles. Multiple dialogue options crop up, and a successful date ends with the relationship improving and the love interest’s weapon form gaining an ability. For example, Sunder is a Fabio-esque man who turns into a talwar-style curved sword. His attacks start plain, but after a meetup he gains a ‘bleed’ effect which deals damage over time that can be enhanced by more dating.
Interestingly, there are no penalties or dangers when romancing. Boyfriend Dungeon seems very interested in offering a non-punitive, non-restrictive experience, so it’s possible to court everyone at once without any ill effects like jealousy or breakup. It’s a bit odd to see that aspect of the dating sim genre left out, but I chalked it up to being a relatively small production that likely needed to focus on a manageable number of elements.
Once the player’s ready, they select a weapon partner and enter an abandoned mall which functions as a multi-level dungeon called a “dunj.” Just like how the concept of humans turning into weapons is taken for granted, so is the idea that people will go into a literal dungeon to work on their emotional health. In this case, the player is apparently dealing with fear of intimacy and connecting with others, most clearly evident in the theming of the bosses — that ‘frozen heart’ symbolism is hard to miss.
Combat in Boyfriend Dungeon gets the job done, although I can’t say that it’s great. More than anything, it’s just something to do between dates.
The action is third-person isometric, with a viewpoint that can’t be changed. The art in these sections takes a step down with blocky, generic graphics that are functional, but not as appealing as the rest. Attacks come in light and heavy varieties, along with a dodge, a heal and a special ability such as a fireball, an aggro-drawing decoy or a sleep spell.
Each weapon has its own characteristics, but there’s not much going on here — I found success by sticking with the same three-hit combos for my favorites (the dagger and the scythe) and I generally had enough healing to get myself out of any trouble.
Such straightforward combat isn’t necessarily a bad thing since Boyfriend Dungeon’s focus is split, but a little polish wouldn’t hurt. The dodge roll feels slow and isn’t the foolproof escape that it is in other games of this type – a problem, since many rooms swarm the player. It’s easy to get trapped in a corner or stuck behind shoulder-to-shoulder foes. Worse is getting hung up on a corner of geometry or being unable to properly target ranged foes since there’s no lock-on. To be fair, the level of difficulty in Boyfriend Dungeon is quite low (this isn’t a complaint) but these edges need sanding.
Dunj runs will level the player up, granting them increased damage and health. They’ll also pick up a bucketload of crafting materials for a simple gift-making system, but the most important reason to dunj is to earn love points with the chosen weapon. These points will unlock the next date once a meter is full, and as the game goes on, the player will be able to change weapons every time they go down a floor. It’s soon possible to max out the meters of three or four people in a row before going back to the overworld for a series of encounters.
These dates are the best part of the experience, and the real reason to play Boyfriend Dungeon. Each scenario has its own appeal, and learning the quirks of each person looking for love kept me coming back. However, one character stood out for all the wrong reasons.
Eric is the owner of a blacksmith shop who seems a little off at first, but it’s soon clear that he only sees weapon-people as things. He’s a world-class creeper and I wanted to be away from him immediately, so I excluded him from my dating pool, stopped answering his text messages and did not initiate events with him.
Unfortunately, while Eric is initially presented as a dating option like everyone else, it becomes impossible to progress the story without him. While I have no problem with Boyfriend Dungeon including an antagonist or elements that may make players uncomfortable, being forced to interact with Eric in this sense flies in the face of what a dating sim traditionally is, so perhaps there could have been a different way to include this content. I understand his role in the overarching narrative, but in its current form it feels like being forced to spend time with an abusive partner, and it’s awful. For a team that seems to have spent so much time on sensitivity in other aspects, this is a strange misstep.
Putting Eric’s handling aside, I had a great time with Boyfriend Dungeon. It’s a low-stress series of engaging dates and the character artwork, voices and music are superb. The combat could be tightened, but bouncing back and forth between the dunj and the attractive cast was exactly the kind of easygoing experience I was wanting, and after rolling credits I’d say that Boyfriend Dungeon’s attempt at genre fusion was a successful one.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Kitfox Games. It is currently available on PC, Switch and XB. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence, Language and Sexual Themes. There are no explicit visuals, but given the subject matter the subject of kissing and being intimate does come up, although the text is never very graphic. The violence is pretty abstract and cartoonish in the dungeons, but interacting with Eric may be a bit offputting to some people.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are subtitles for all dialogue, but the text cannot be resized or altered. There are no audio cues needed for successful play. This game is fully accessible. (See examples above.)
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no controller diagram. The left stick moves, X is light attack, Y is heavy attack, A is interact and B is dodge. The shoulder/trigger buttons are used to select tabs in menus.