Collecting swords? Cool shit. Having multiple partners? If everyone involved with it is fine, it’s cool. But! What if you could have the joys of both?
Boyfriend Dungeon is a game by Kitfox Games, bringing a fusion of dating sim and action dungeon crawler to the table. In this world, some people can transform into weapons. Why? Who cares? At the urging of your cousin Jesse, you come to spend a summer at the romantic hotspot of Verona, where you can hopefully find the confidence to meet a partner while taking plunges into the local dungeons (or “dunjs”), where you conquer manifestations of your fears and find new weapon shapeshifters on the way.
So, let’s start out with hopping into the dunj. Every time you go down a floor, you choose what weapon partner to wield. If you want to see all the routes in the game, you’re encouraged to frequently switch on your descent because the experience points they get from fighting and special in-dungeon events allows you to access the next part of a character’s route. So, there’s a very nice synergy between the dungeon crawling and visual novel aspects of the game.
As for the fighting aspect of the game, there’s a good variety in how you can play with your weapon partners offering different playstyles. Isaac is a fencing sword that encourages defensive play with counterattack skills, Valeria is a knife that encourages agile play with rolls confusing enemies, Rowan is a scythe that’s all about crowd control, etc.
Personally, I really loved using Valeria. It’s just kinda fun to zip around and her ability to passively stun people you roll past is good in almost every situation. The only playstyle that I didn’t really like was Sunder, the talwar, because while I love playstyles that whittle down enemies with bleeding in slower turn-based games, it’s kinda whatever here, and personally, I think only his last set of passives are good.
Playing the game is pretty fun. Fighting is quick and easy and there’s a fair escalation in threat to provide a decent challenge. Besides continuing the next part of a character’s story, leveling a character’s affection also unlocks a new passive benefit, with a few levels featuring mutually exclusive benefits for some limited character building. You can also equip limited use skills in the form of zines, which I honestly kept forgetting about because they didn’t seem useful beyond covering a few characters’ inability to do wide attacks. Overall, it isn’t a super complex system, but it’s certainly welcoming for people that enter Boyfriend Dungeon for the visual novel side of things.
While traveling through a dunj, you acquire materials and can find new crafting recipes in safes that are more out of the way. I usually don’t care for crafting systems, but resources are plentiful and easy to get enough that it doesn’t feel like a pain. The most important things (on the surface, at least) to craft are gifts that you could give to your dates when the opportunity presents itself; each character has preferred gifts that you can glean from their personalities, and giving them the stuff they like levels them up faster. One of the things you can craft are new outfits for your player character, with some pieces of gear granting a passive benefit. Also, I guess you can craft zines too.
Now, I like the gift system in concept, but after playing through the game, I don’t think there’s an actual gameplay incentive for getting through routes faster? When I was initially playing through, there seemed to be a hidden time system, where a day passes after a run at a dunj and after a date, with some story events happening to mark the passing time. So when I reached the supposed halfway point, I thought, “oh jeez, I need to make sure to give the right gifts so that I can see everything before the game ends!”
However, this hidden time system doesn’t matter. You’ll eventually reach a point where time stops progressing, where the game ends after you do a certain thing – otherwise, you can waste all the time you want. Unless I was actually super good at time management, you can just do everything. It’s kinda frustrating because it undermines the need to engage with gifting since you can take all the time you want with your partners, and I think it detracts from the tension associated with the event that ends the game since you can put it off.
But hey, how about those dates? Well, let me give some brief overviews.
Your starting weapon is Isaac, the guy that your cousin requested to help teach you the ways of the dunj. He is a realistic good rich person in that his sincere desire to use his wealth to actually help people screws him over. Like my man, we have to fight your dad (you unfortunately don’t). I actually think Isaac is admirable because you don’t really see black guys as the default first option in games with dating elements a lot, if at all. Probably my second favorite character.
Shortly after the tutorial, you recover Sunder from the dungeon, setting off the little quest of helping various injured weapon people scattered around the dungeons. Sunder is an odd character in that the stuff that happens in his route comes out of left field while most of the others are more straightforward. Well, out of the human cast, at least. He’s also a pretty “gray” option in that he’s a bit overbearing, with other NPCs warning you of him; though, it isn’t to the point of causing Discourse (more on that later).
Speaking of human cast, there’s the non-human Pocket, the cat that can turn into clawed brass knuckles. His route gets really weird at the end, but I think the fact that you’re in a world where people turn into weapons like it’s normal helps your suspension of disbelief for the more bizarre aspects of Boyfriend Dungeon. Honestly, as someone that’s become acquainted with a stray neighborhood cat over the past few weeks, I love just hanging out with this random cat.
Valeria is just cool. She does crime for the sake of art, dated multiple partners, she’s my favorite character to wield… she absolutely fucks and is honestly the coolest character in the game. If this game wasn’t aimed more toward the otome crowd, it probably would have been called Girlfriend Dungeon instead, because I’ve seen way more love for her than any other character on my timeline.
Sawyer is a nonbinary character and is the only one I aimed to have a platonic relationship with. You know how Persona 3 Portable’s woman path was mostly good except for making actual middle schooler Ken a dateable option among all the ones her age? Sawyer is the Ken option, and they even both have affinities with spears. Like yeah, Sawyer is a college student, but they’re also written like they’re far younger than they actually are, with their inability to cook and their reliance on your character as if you’re their older sibling. Them providing a ranged attack with their spear throws is sick, but I refuse to date them.
Another nonbinary option is Rowan, a scythe person that I kinda fell in love with at first sight because I’m a sucker for cute goths. They are a witch person and they make damn well sure to let you know that, because in spite of having a relatively normal narrative, their dialogue and history makes them come off as one of the weirder choices.
Now, both of the nonbinary characters ended up feeling weird to me. There’s a common complaint of nonbinary characters in media being relegated to non-humans. Despite being human, Sawyer and Rowan feel inhuman, with Sawyer being incompetent regarding normal things and Rowan being… Rowan. In fact, I looked around to see if anyone else had criticism of this and at least one publication was on the same wavelength as me; Henley here even goes further by pointing out that Sawyer’s youthfulness and the fact that they just came out as nonbinary plays into the idea that identifying as such is just a youth fad. Like yeah. They could have done better with these characters.
Also, there’s Seven, I guess. He’s a K-Pop guy. I honestly didn’t care about him. Sorry to Seven stans and kpoppies out there.
Going back to Sawyer a bit, an element I like is that even though all character interactions are presented as “dates,” you don’t necessarily have to reciprocate romantic feelings to continue the route. In fact, a few of them actively push themselves toward being non-romantic and you’d have to push for romance, if you’re interested. Boyfriend Dungeon is a game that champions love and in doing so, makes platonic love a viable option.
However, Boyfriend Dungeon also displays the existence of toxic, selfish love – if you can even call it that. Besides the characters you date and wield, there’s the character that desperately wants to date you: Eric. So, Eric is the villain of the game, being a weirdo stalker that looks down on weapon people – in spite of the fact that he’s blatantly tried to get with them himself. In a way, he’s essentially a parallel to your character that’s attempted to date all of the same people – with his efforts failing because unlike you, he’s just a bad person.
Eric also started a whole bunch of discourse. Honestly, it’d be hard to address Eric without addressing the Discourse. Which is why I’ve quarantined all that talk in a separate post I wrote a while back, thank you very much. Tl;dr, Eric works in the narrative of Boyfriend Dungeon and the people that complained about him are nerds.
The biggest problem I have with Boyfriend Dungeon though would be its length. Now, I’m not usually one to rant about games being short and I feel that I’m betraying my own ethos writing about this, but it just feels incomplete? There’s a lot on offer, but it did not feel like a fully unified experience.
As it stands, the dungeon crawler part of Boyfriend Dungeon is excellent… but you only have two dungeons to play around in. I was surprised that there wasn’t more afterwards, especially since you get trophies in your room for conquering each boss that can clearly hold more than two trophies. Now, it does make sense since the dungeons are supposed to be based on the player character’s insecurities and the game can only feasibly cover the broad strokes of the player character, since it’s unreasonable to account for your minute character decisions.
But also, why should the dungeons be solely based around your character? Why not have a dunj for other characters? Hell, given that Eric is your foil and has his own baggage, I’m surprised that he doesn’t have his own dunj under his store. At the very least, I think that Boyfriend Dungeon could have benefited from one more dungeon, since by that point you’d probably have a full party of weapons assembled and it’d provide you a new place to play with them in; in fact, if you’re trying to look through all the routes, having an extra dungeon to level everyone’s affection in would be better instead of having to redo the other two ones over and over.
But something I’m definitely not conflicted on is the game’s aesthetics. Boyfriend Dungeon has a strong visual style, with cutesy 3D models with bright colorful palettes melding with strong visual novel character designs. Apparently the person behind Hatoful Boyfriend designed Rowan? They did a good job, they’re a designer after my own heart, here. As for the soundtrack, it brings a nice pop vibe to both the visual novel and dungeon crawling segments. I particularly love the songs with singing, because they bring a sensual layer to the experience that’s perfectly befitting of Boyfriend Dungeon.
Overall, I think that Boyfriend Dungeon is enjoyable, if flawed. Considering my complaints, I think that people that come into Boyfriend Dungeon for the visual novel aspects will get more out of it than people looking for some action. I played the Nintendo Switch version of the game and it ran pretty well, though the game does cost a bit more on the Switch than other platforms; however, I will pay anything to not put stress on my back.