Boyfriend Dungeon Review

A hero's fate is almost always entirely predicated on their weapons. Sure, the hero needs to be able to wield them well, but weapons control how much damage you can do, the way you'll approach combat, and they're often the very thing standing between life and death. So it's not unreasonable that over time you'd build up trust and respect for your most cherished dungeon-clearing partner. And after so many hard-fought battles side-by-side, maybe even... love?


Boyfriend Dungeon is a dating sim-meets-action roguelike, where the stronger your bond is to your weapon, the better you'll be at fighting together. While your lover(s) spend some of their time as hunks of steel, most of the time they're just regular hunks. Some people in the fictional Californian town of Verona Beach have the ability to transform into weapons, while others (such as yourself) are "wielders", able to use the weapon-people to fight monsters. Luckily for you, all the weapon-people you meet are certified hotties, and they're DTF (down to fight).






Combat & Progression


The game's main focus is dating through visual novel-style encounters, but combat is what moves the story along. Each weapon-person transforms into a different form that corresponds to their personality type - like the mysterious and distrustful Valeria who becomes a dagger, or the poised and focused Isaac who transforms into a long, pointed sword (an Estoc, if you're an enthusiast). This adds an interesting conflict between your romantic notions and fighting style, since the only way to unlock new abilities for your weapons is to improve your relationship.


Every level of experience earned by adventuring through the dungeons together culminates in an event where you'll be able to "level up" your relationship, and further determines the type of relationship you two have. These aren't always dates per-se, but you'll be able to talk to them, learn about each other, and maybe share a kiss if that's something you're into (or more, you sly adventurer you). After the hangout, romantic or not, you'll gain a new skill with your weapon. For the most part, these are passive upgrades, like adding stun effects to finishers, to keep the controls simple.


This leveling through increased affection creates the core gameplay loop. You explore to build up experience, date to level up, and then go back in the dungeon (or "dunj", as they say) for more. I personally didn't find a lot of challenge in the combat - it might be my fault for playing too much Death's Door lately, or more likely it's tuned to be accessible to those who usually fall more on the visual novel end of this genre mash-up. This led to me needing to repeat both dungeons a few times over to grind out relationship experience and crafting materials, but the dope soundtrack and frequent exit points kept it from being too tedious. Still, I wouldn't say the combat is what is going to draw people in - it's the characters.



Story & Characters


The main story follows your character wading into the world of dating for the first time. With your ultra-supportive cousin cheering you on, you'll build a relationship over the summer with the weapon, or weapons, of your choosing. Not every date always ends in a new relationship or even friendship though. I'm the first one to admit that I don't play a lot of dating sims, but my impression is that these games are more often than not entirely player-centered. What I mean by this is that they are a power fantasy in a manner of speaking, where every character is ready to love the player character if they choose the right dialogue options.


Boyfriend Dungeon, however, is a narrative game at its heart. Yes, you can date who you want, and the weapon-folk are all gorgeous. But the dating is almost ancillary to learning about the characters and their back stories. Most dates revolve around helping the NPCs in some way, from confronting their family issues to helping them grow as people, not necessarily the dinner and drinks you may be anticipating. Not every character will want to date you either, even if you do everything "right" - characters are treated as people, with their own feelings, not just objects for the player to toy with. That's not to say that you're not able to largely do what you want. You can date multiple people with no discussion from your partners, and most people are pretty willing to jump right into a close relationship. But, critically, they each have stories that will play out through the course of the story.


Much like the other characters, your antagonist Eric has his own story that has to play out as well. He's actually the person you go on your first-ever date with - a weapon-smith who believes traditional weapons are far superior to weapon-people because they don't have opinions or feelings of their own. This condescending attitude of undeserved superiority unsurprisingly translates to how he approaches dating as well. He'll repeatedly cross boundaries, going as far as to stalk the player character by showing up to interrupt dates. My original instinct was to just ghost Eric, since you can usually just ignore characters that you aren't interested in in dating sims. In this case though, the main plot of the game involves confronting Eric so players do need to interact with the person who has been harassing them.


When putting this game into the context of a narrative game, not a dating sim, the choice to structure the story this way does make sense. This is a story about relationships, and ultimately not every relationship is going to last, or even be a good one. The game's very first screen is a content warning explaining that the core story contains emotional manipulation and stalking - not "may contain", as in "could be avoided", but "contains" as in "we will be confronting this, together". Stories of any kind are mediums where people can safely explore and examine difficult topics, and I think the developers should be commended for being brave enough to tackle these themes and tactful enough to do it well.



tl;dr


Boyfriend Dungeon is a dungeon-crawling dating sim with a healthy dose of well-written narrative thrown in for good measure. The end result is a solid and fun game where you'll flirt with your swords and learn about yourself along the way. The combat was snappy and made varied through the seven weapon (and dating) options, though not particularly difficult. I loved the way the game integrated a solid narrative into what can often be a player fantasy genre. The pacing had a few awkward moments, but overall I had a great time smoochin' swords in Verona Beach.


Boyfriend Dungeon is available on PC (itch.io, Steam, Epic), Nintendo Switch and Xbox. Free DLC introducing two new romance-able NPCs and at least one more dungeon is already in development.