Developer Kitfox Games finally released the highly-anticipated Boyfriend Dungeon: part dating simulator and part dungeon-crawler where you date the very weapons you wield in battle. It’s a killer concept that doesn’t quite make the cut. The dating elements are the most successful, thanks to some wonderful characters and writing, but the dungeon crawling and combat doesn’t have the same depth.
After creating an adorable little character, the story begins as you arrive in Verona Beach for the summer. You meet up with your cousin Jesse, who shows you your accommodation and quickly sets you up on several dates. According to Jesse, you’ve never been on a date before and Verona Beach is the perfect place to come out of your shell and date some hot weapons.
In this world certain people can transform into weapons – from daggers to lasersabers to brass knuckles – that others can wield. Coincidentally there’s a mall infested with monsters for you to clear out with your sexy date in tow. Over the course of one summer, you’ll be going on different dates and clearing procedurally-generated levels of monsters to increase your love rank with each datable character.
The opening messages and character creation will clue you in to the considerations the developers have made in making Boyfriend Dungeon a modern dating simulator. You’ll be greeted with content warnings for emotional manipulation, given the option to not receive texts from your Mom, and the chance to choose your character’s pronouns – including non-binary options. And although the content warnings have been the cause of some fiery Twitter debates, it’s nice to see developers create a gaming world that strives to be inclusive.
After meeting the suave fencing instructor Isaac – who thankfully becomes a dateable character – you soon dive into a ‘dunj’ and get to grips with the game’s combat. Unfortunately it’s immediately apparent that the combat is serviceable at best. You’ll mostly be utilising dodge rolls, light attacks and heavy attacks to clear floors of different monsters and bosses. The movement itself feels a little slippery, and the dodge rolls have a strange delay before performing the actual roll, but it’s something you get accustomed to over time. The real downside is how basic the dungeon-crawling is, particularly at the beginning of the game. Each weapon has a combo list, but in reality it only results in pulling off light and heavy attacks in different ordered sequences. The enemies tend to simply charge at you or fire projectiles from afar, so every combat encounter boils down to running around, getting a couple of hits in, dodge, and repeat.
You’ll be wanting to spend time in the game’s two explorable dungeons to build your relationships with each of the seven romanceable characters/weapons. It’s a great concept on paper: spending time in a dunj with a particular weapon equipped builds their love rank, which in turn unlocks another date with that character after reaching each love rank level. It seamlessly ties the narrative, dating sim and combat together, but means if you want to pursue another date with someone, you best enjoy the playstyle in their weapon form. For example, I enjoyed flirting with the party-loving Sunder, but didn’t so much enjoy his slow, heavy playstyle as a Talwar.
Not everything in the dunj is a bore, however. There are plenty of collectibles in the form of recipes and materials to craft them, which makes each trip highly rewarding. Recipes are used to craft clothing items for yourself, gifts for your dates, or zines – special moves which honestly don’t do much in the heat of battle. Hangouts can also be found throughout each dunj, be it an ice-skating rink or an ice cream stall. These areas not only provide a moment of respite to fill your health bar, but also to spend time with your date and increase their all-important love level.
Enough talk about the dungeons, Boyfriend Dungeon is a lover not a fighter. It’s easy to fall for every single character, thanks to their glorious animated introductions, engrossing storylines, and delicious character designs. Boyfriend Dungeon ties with Hades for having the sexiest cast of characters in gaming, and it’s lovely to see a mix of male, female and non-binary people within the cast. Most of your interactions with each lover, outside of the dunj, is through text messages and dates. These sections will be familiar for anyone accustomed to dating sims and visual novels: they’re text heavy and present you with simple dialogue options.
Kitfox Games gives you the freedom to choose who you want to max out your love level with, and whether that takes the form of romantic or platonic love. It’s genuinely delightful to see a game featuring romanceable NPC’s where platonic relationships are valued just as much as sexual relationships. In my playthrough I decided to max out the love level for every character, and it was nice to not have my polyamory questioned. My only problem, however, was how there weren’t really dialogue options with each character to explain my polyamorous relationships. Some of the characters would explain how they didn’t mind if I dated someone else, but others would proclaim their undying love for me soon after I took another character home for the night. I wasn’t given the opportunities to let other characters consent to a polyamorous relationship, and made getting an achievement for maxing out everyone’s love levels a little unsavoury.
Each character is well-defined and have satisfying arcs that cover a range of themes and issues. One character starts off cold and introverted, but they later open up about how they’ve been dealing with depression. Another character wrestles with a rocky relationship with their father, another has trust issues. I only really pursued the full cast because their stories were so engrossing and I wanted to see where they ended up. Okay fine, and because I was seriously attracted to everyone. There is an over-arching narrative involving the villainous Eric. He ends up being your first date in the game, but you quickly find out Eric is a stalker and all-round horrible person. Interactions with Eric can be triggering for some players, but his narrative arc has a satisfying conclusion that enforces Boyfriend Dungeon‘s exploration of consent and safe relationships.
Much like in a real relationship, it takes time to really appreciate Boyfriend Dungeon and the experience features its fair share of highs and lows. The game is at it’s best when you’re flirting over texts and going on dates, but at it’s worse when slogging through the same dungeon to increase someone’s love level. There is definitely room for improvement when it comes to the moment-to-moment gameplay, but the developers deserve credit for exploring modern dating through an original concept. It’s a summer I won’t soon forget.
Boyfriend Dungeon is out now on PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.