Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X
August 12, 2021
Boyfriend Dungeon, the dating simulator blended with a dungeon crawler fix is finally here. As teased via interviews and marketing over the past two years, it’s filled to the brim with saucy romances and fast-paced combat. The result is a solid product and a fun romp, but I can’t help but come out of the experience identifying plenty of changes that in fact could make this good game something much greater.
Painting a bizarre world, even for a dating sim
What is so intriguing about Boyfriend Dungeon is the game’s premise. Players control a 20-something fresh to the beach-side town known as Verona Beach. Residing in your cousin Jesse’s apartment, they’re intent on helping you score your first ever date. There’s a wacky and fun catch with that. These dates you’re wooing have the ability to transform into weapons, aiding you on your future journey in dungeons. Yes, the rogue-like type. No, not the dirty kind.
This world is introduced so quickly and brushed aside like it’s normal that it’s charming. Jesse quickly greets you, says something short to the effect of “Hey, there are these dungeons or as we like to call them dunjs. Get talking to the locals and get romancing them. Oh, by the way, they can transform into weapons to help you with your dungeon adventures. Have fun, bye!” Then you’re on your way. Following that will be some fun and steamy romance on offer. I hope you have a paper fan and towel at the ready.
Boyfriend Dungeon lets you smooch cuties who just so happen to be oh so dangerous weapons
Boyfriend Dungeon may just give last year’s Hades a run for its money with how hot and heavy some of its character interactions can be. Perhaps this was always going to be the case – Hades’ attractive character design was more of a pleasant surprise. With Dungeon, it’s wearing that innate horniness on its sleeve. Featuring not just boyfriends but a female romance option and non-binary characters, it offered plenty to tease out the needy pansexual parts of myself.
Valeria, the female romance option in-game ended up being my favourite choice. She sports a gorgeous character design with a heavy coat, ripped jeans and various jewellery. It seems she’s also a girl after my heart, as she has an aura of mystery about her, leaving me curious to know her backstory through every exchange we get, flirty or otherwise. Then there’s Sunder, a character that can be described as no more than a f*ckboy player. It’s clear from the get-go he’s going to inevitably break your heart, but his allure is undeniable and hard to ignore.
“Boyfriend Dungeon may just give last year’s Hades a run for its money with how hot and heavy some of its character interactions can be.”
In-between runs in dungeons, players will regularly receive texts on their in-game mobile. These range from interactions that can shift back and forth from being confiding and poetic in nature to absolutely crude. Yes, I’m once again looking at you Sunder. I see that 2 AM “U up?” text you sent me. Most are joyous and provide further insight into each character
The other way to grow and get closer to your relevant eligible bachelor is through the dates themselves. In typical dating sim fashion, gifts can be provided to boost that level a little more, hoping to see that meter tick over. If it does, perks are added to that person’s weapon for the dunj runs. What this can look like is a longer stun time on enemies or a wider area of effect in a finisher. A wonderful way to help make your fights that little bit easier.
All this solidifies is that Boyfriend Dungeon is a stronger dating sim than it is a dungeon crawler. Even though it has some archetypes that have caused controversy and discussion (more on that later), it’s undeniable how diverse and well designed the characters are. Getting to know them then becomes all the more rewarding and complex.
Crawling through dungeons and conquering your fears
Boyfriend Dungeon only contains two dungeons. As gameplay goes, it’s pretty stock standard for games that you’ll see in the rogue-like genre. You’ll be descending through level upon level, working towards conquering the final boss of that area. Where the game differs from most in the category is in aesthetic. The two dungeons on offer include one set in a mall and one set in the basement of a club.
Both do well to paint a millennial hellscape to navigate. Wandering around the mall you’ll fight enemies such as old mobile flip phones while your journeys in the club basement see you fending off enemies in the forms of lips that blow kisses and martini glasses. Your healing items are servings of Boba or mugs of coffee while zines serve as your abilities. It kind of reminds me of some of the types of weird but creative imagery and tidbits you’d see in Going Under, except it’s less bleak and morose. In fact, it’s actually more hopeful.
You see, these enemies stem from some of the deepest fears the character has. Just one of the bosses you’ll face in dungeons is a heart that you need to gradually break your way into. This heart is the manifestation of the fear of intimacy. I frankly love that. It’s good and creative stuff.
Other than that, it’s your typical affair that you’ve seen before in a rogue-like, only with scarce things to do. Combat is never all that hard and you’re levelling up your health, unlocking items and recipes for crafting buffed clothing and zines at a steady rate.
This is once again where the inevitable comparison to Hades returns. A lot of improvements could be made on Boyfriend Dungeon just by borrowing more from the beloved Supergiant game. That’s a little reductive to say, but it rings true and makes new entries in the genre, such as this one, face harder battles to stand out.
More dungeons and further passive dialogue would’ve gone a long way. I can’t count on my hands the time I’d stumble upon a rest spot mid dunj only to be greeted with the same line I’d seen numerous times before. In short, Boyfriend Dungeon has some perfectly competent rogue-like and dungeon crawling gameplay, but it needs more in this regard to stand high with the true genre winners.
Weighing in on the discourse surrounding Boyfriend Dungeon
Boyfriend Dungeon has been out less than a week and is already no stranger to discussion online. Namely, this comes down to two points in regards to the romances: one of the options sports a stalker character. Another option to romance is a non-binary individual that looks quite coded to be underage. The formerly mentioned character actually plays a large role in the overarching plot, including its climax. The game also offers a trigger warning to such themes at its start. Considering that, I can absolutely see how distressing such themes can be for some.
Still, Boyfriend Dungeon does provide that warning at the beginning. Developer Kitfox Games have since responded stating they’re soon to include an improved content warning, while others plead for an opt-out to this. The word consent has been tossed around in regards to this issue, with players claiming this isn’t something they wanted to partake in. Here’s the thing: you consent to this the second you boot up the game, see those content warnings and decide to continue. Wanting a stronger content warning is entirely valid but asking the removal of said character is complex. Setting this precedent will undoubtedly create problems between developers and their consumers in the future. The warning’s already there, leave it in and leave it be.
The other raised issue is one of the more valid concerns in my opinion. Sawyer is the name of a non-binary character in the game. They’re a character you can date. Fine. Where the problem lies in the somewhat stereotypical infantilised look that the non-binary character sports. They’re in some form of school uniform, with no clarity whether it’s college or high school. On subsequent dates, you teach them how to do everyday tasks such as boiling an egg. They’re shy about kissing… the list goes on. It seems Boyfriend Dungeon wants me to read them as a teen that you as an adult can date. That’s frankly not on. We’re better than this as LGBTQIA+ creators and consumers.
Perhaps the reason this game has come under such scrutiny is the fact that content made by folk from the LGBTQIA+ community seems to be held under higher standards. I’m entirely glad these discussions are happening and agree with some of them, I just wish such discussion would enter other games’ orbit as well. It’s entirely disheartening to see an indie game made by a diverse team trying their best suffer this while some other higher budget games remain free of critique.
- Wonderful art style full of colour that helps to bring a realised, weird world
- Varied dating options that provide some steamy scenes
- Dungeons, though limited, have some great design behind them
- Repetitious dialogue in dungeons gets old and frustrating
- Has some troubling characterisation of a non-binary character and themes of stalking
Boyfriend Dungeon is a good dating sim held back to being something truly great by its curious choices and lite dungeon-crawler elements. While you may not get the deepest rogue-like experience in-game, you will be satisfied by some of the intense, hot (and maybe even cute) relationships on offer. Just tread careful ground if you’re sensitive to some of the themes that the game is exploring. Regardless, some good and disposable fun can be had smashing some monsters and pashing some cuties. Delve on.