When I first encountered Boyfriend Dungeon, from Kitfox Games, at IndieCade in 2019, I have to admit the thought of a dungeon crawler meets dating sim to be a little strange. The crowds that gathered around the game was impressive, but really? Dating your swords? But after my complete playthrough, my initial response was completely misinformed. Boyfriend Dungeon is a very good game but it’s not without its flaws.
The story of Boyfriend Dungeon is simple enough: you are a newcomer to Verona Beach and your cousin, Jesse, wants to make sure your summer of love goes off without a hitch. You are inexperienced in the ways of dating and intimacy, but that’s all going to change in a matter of days. Jesse sets you up with a shop owner named Eric, and he is, by all definitions, the absolute worst. The date goes poorly, but that doesn’t stop Eric from continuing his advances through texts and in-person run-ins. And here is where Boyfriend Dungeon has stirred up a bit of controversy. There is a warning at the beginning of the game about instances of stalking and emotional manipulation and almost all of it stems from Eric. He is the main antagonist, so unfortunately you cannot avoid his storyline, but he is problematic. I would proceed with caution if these are triggering.
Beyond the issues of Eric’s actions, you meet new people and are set up on dates. The world of Boyfriend Dungeon is unique in that certain people can turn into weapons, and you can wield them. The first weapon you meet is a man named Isaac, who can turn into an estoc. Isaac teaches you the way of the Wielder: a person who can only wield weapons but not turn into one. Through his lessons, you learn about the dunj (or dungeon), a place where you can hone your skills. In the first dunj, Verona Mall, you are met with retro-style enemies like flip phones, old TVs, and record players. Along the way you rescue Sunder, a talwar, who becomes another weapon you can wield.
Throughout the game, you constantly encounter the themes of the game: fear of change and fear of intimacy. The mall dunj, for instance, focuses on your fear of change, which explains the retro-style phones, TVs, and record players. The second dunj, at La Rosa, Sunder’s Bar, you have to face your fear of intimacy. Fear of Intimacy manifests itself as lips, boom boxes, and cocktails.
And this is the game. You meet new weapons, and then you rank up those weapons by taking them to the dunj. For every Love Rank you gain, you get to go on a date with that weapon. And through those dates, you can either opt to be their friend or you can work your way to sexy time at your apartment. With each rank up, the weapons get stronger, and you can choose skills specific to that weapon. Your character levels up as well which grants you more health and more damage. In all, there are seven weapons that you can meet and potentially date. One of the weapons is a cat, so your “dates” are hanging out in public places and watching Pocket do cat things.
“Boyfriend Dungeon is an enjoyable dungeon crawler/dating sim that is worth looking at especially for players who have been curious about dating sim games, but also really love swords. ”-Wren
The game does have some shortcomings. There are only two dungeons that you can access in the game, and there are only 12 levels in each dungeon. As you gain rank and level up, these dungeon levels become easy to clear. This becomes a problem in the end game, especially if you are trying to max out your Love Rank with each weapon because it starts to feel a little grindy by that point. I’m not sure what the plans are for DLCs, other than introducing two new weapons, but the game would benefit from an additional dungeon or two. (UPDATE: a new dunj is planned!)
The other issue is how quick dating and relationship building really is. At the start, it is well known that you are inexperienced and have never been on any dates. But even after your first encounter with Isaac, you are already on your way to having a romantic relationship. And soon you find yourself in a relationship with Sunder, and Valeria, and Rowan, and Seven. Then there’s Sawyer, who I didn’t pursue a relationship with because they felt more like a sibling than a potential love interest. But there’s Sawyer as well. For someone with no experience, that is quite a lucky streak.
It is a dating sim so don’t expect long storylines that give time for each relationship to breathe. You only have a few months in Verona Beach, so things happen quickly. Fortunately, each character has an interesting story. Seven, as a member of a popular K-POP band, is trying to deal with fame and everything that comes with it. Rowan is a witch who is dealing with severe grief and Isaac is dealing with a toxic father.
All of that aside, what Boyfriend Dungeon does very well is try to be as inclusive and mindful of the players as possible. At the character creation screen, you can choose your pronouns including they/them. You can choose to receive text messages from your mom in-game. Within the game, each of your potential partners is considerate of what you want. Even with Eric’s actions, characters try to protect you and frequently call out Eric’s troublesome and damaging behavior. There are also two non-binary characters, Sawyer and Rowan, with Sawyer sharing with you that they have just come out as non-binary and they ask you to use their proper pronouns. Of course, your character can be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or even asexual.
Boyfriend Dungeon is an enjoyable dungeon crawler/dating sim that is worth looking at especially for players who have been curious about dating sim games, but also really love swords. The game is available for Nintendo Switch, PC, Linux, Xbox One and Xbox X|S.