Love is a battlefield. That is especially true in a world where weapons also happen to be extremely dateable people! The unique visual novel/dungeon crawling RPG hybrid Boyfriend Dungeon presents such a world, and it is overall a sweet and entertaining, albeit simple, experience.
The premise of Boyfriend Dungeon is thus: you arrive at a small town known as Verona Beach, where the only resident you know is your helpful cousin Jesse. While in Verona Beach, you hope to find yourself and gain some independence. Boyfriend Dungeon‘s world is much the same as our own, save for a few crucial differences. Certain people are born with the ability to turn into sentient weapons, and there are areas that have somehow evolved to become monster-filled dungeons, called “dunjs,” that can change depending on the inner fears of the person traversing them.
Because you arrive at Verona Beach without much of a sustainable income, you decide to use your ability as a wielder (someone who can’t turn into a weapon themselves but can use them in combat) to traverse the dunjs to earn money and face your personal demons with the help of weapon-people you meet along the way. Your character has also never been on a date or even a mere friendship outing before, so Jesse takes it upon himself to help you become more confident in that field. Perhaps traversing the dunjs with weapon-people might also help you with socializing? Naturally, that depends on your actions throughout the story as you grow into your own alongside those around you.
Boyfriend Dungeon starts with a simple yet surprisingly detailed character creator. You get to name your in-game avatar, select their pronouns (which include non-binary options!), and design how they’ll appear while traversing the world map and dunjs. I was especially impressed by just how readily your pronouns are brought up throughout the storyline. Should you ever decide you’re jonesing for a change in appearance while playing, you have the option to redo your customizations at any time thanks to the handy mirror in your apartment, which also serves as your base of operations.
The gameplay for Boyfriend Dungeon is a mix of visual novel elements and RPG mechanics. The RPG parts aren’t wholly complex, so it is easy enough to get the hang of them with the helpful tips that the game provides early on. You can create various items at your craft table at your apartment once you’ve got the materials and recipes for them. You can also check your phone at any time for text messages from various characters and respond to them, as well as see your stats with your weaponry or just what you have in your inventory. Boyfriend Dungeon autosaves as well, so you don’t even have to worry about manual saving.
The most significant gameplay component of Boyfriend Dungeon by far is dunj exploration. Each dunj is a multi-leveled affair that you traverse with one of your weapon companions equipped, but you can change between all of the weapons you have access to after successfully completing a level before proceeding if you wish. Combat mainly subsists of putting strings of combos together using light and heavy attacks while trying to avoid blows, though each weapon has its own unique playstyle. The more you traverse a dunj with a specific weapon, the further your bond with them increases, and there are even various “hang out” spots throughout the dunjs where you can converse with your weapon companion and possibly garner more affection with them.
Enemies appear on-screen, sometimes in droves, but I didn’t find combat to be particularly challenging. Even if your health reaches zero, there is no real “game over” in Boyfriend Dungeon. Rather, you return to the surface with all of your collected items and recipes for crafting, and your experience points and affection levels remain intact. Exploring a dunj until your health runs out lets you gather items necessary to craft stronger equipment, level your character up so that you have higher health and stats, and potentially open up new date events with your weapons that may allow you to strengthen them and further customize their individual abilities.
Dunj exploration is vital to advancing the story, and Boyfriend Dungeon helpfully keeps track of completed levels so that you don’t have to start at the beginning of the dungeon each time. Boss fights provide a decent challenge, and the deeper you go into a dunj, the stronger even the common enemies become, but I never found the increased difficulty insurmountable, especially since my own character’s and weapons’ growth usually matched it.
After your affection with a weapon has risen to the next available level, you’ll be invited to go on a date with them somewhere around Verona Beach. Based on your choices, dates provide further insight into your character and give you a look at your weapons’ personal stories too. You can even craft gifts to give to your weapons, which raise affection if you choose the right one. Beware that there is a penalty for choosing incorrectly: Valeria the Dagger was not too amused by my attempt to gift her a teddy bear once! A successful date not only helps you advance the relationship, either from a friendship or romance stance, but also improves the individual weapon’s abilities in combat. There are levels of affection to try and reach with at least one weapon before the final battle, as you’ll only be able to choose between the weapons you’ve reached the maximum affection level with for it, ultimately affecting your ending scenes. So building relationships is vital not only to the narrative but also to gameplay.
For the most part, I quite liked Boyfriend Dungeon’s cast and story. It is an interesting take on the dungeon-crawling formula, and I enjoyed the introspective nature of the plot and how it focused on inner growth and facing your fears. My character suffered from anxiety, and I felt this was captured well and treated appropriately through my choices and others’ reactions to them. It made the tale more personable to me, given my own experiences with anxiety disorders, and I found the sense of hope from the “new beginning” message of the ending comforting.
Now, I can’t ignore the reasoning behind the content warning that Boyfriend Dungeon supplies before starting up the game. A certain antagonistic character is someone you have to spend time interacting with for plot reasons, and this character brings stalking and other disturbing tendencies with them. As these interactions escalated, I found myself getting increasingly upset and uncomfortable, and I’m not someone who has experienced such occurrences in my personal life. I can imagine this character might be quite upsetting to those who have, so I advise players to take the now-amended content warning to heart before trying the title out. Overall, I appreciate that the story doesn’t excuse what this character does in any way, shape, or form and that ultimately they seek out the help they need later on. Still, take caution before playing!
Throughout Boyfriend Dungeon, you also get text messages from your character’s mother. While I found them to be rather positive and supportive throughout the game, I can see where that may be open to interpretation and potentially upsetting for the player. Fortunately, you’re given the option to turn the messages off if you’d like, which I thought was a nice touch from the developers’ end.
Beyond the potentially triggering components of the antagonistic stalker character and “Mom,” I found the characters in Boyfriend Dungeon to be quite likable and memorable, all with their own quirks and weaknesses that made them stand out as individuals. The cheerful Sawyer, fiery Valeria, calm Isaac, and the pop star Seven were some of my personal favorites out of the cast. I indeed had a hard time choosing between Valeria and Seven as my significant other, though Seven’s backstory and his understanding of my anxiety, given his battle with depression, had me leaning towards him, but most of the cast all well-written and appealing in their own ways.
Graphics are more on the simple side as far as the 3D sprite work is concerned, but they work nicely in Boyfriend Dungeon. The visual novel-style character artwork is excellent and gorgeous to behold. And I loved the use of colorful animation during the ending and when the weapons first turned into people. The voice work is wonderful and emotive, and I especially like the music that plays during dunj exploration as even the vocal are fitting. The English script is also very nicely done with no errors to speak of, and great attention to detail has been paid to things like pronouns both for the player character and others such as Sawyer.
Despite some minor flaws, I rather enjoyed Boyfriend Dungeon. At around five to eight hours long, it might be a bit on the short side for those expecting the lengthier content of most dungeon crawlers, but I felt the length was perfect for conveying the story Kitfox Games wanted to tell. Fans of outright challenging games might want to look elsewhere, but those more interested in story and narrative choice with enjoyable-albeit-simple gameplay might want to give this game a look. Getting attached to your weapons takes on a whole new and surprisingly welcome meaning here!