I really like Boyfriend Dungeon.
This will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, or has been secretly viewing my communications, particularly over the last few weeks; the two things I talk about most since getting my copy have been Boyfriend Dungeon and Pacific Rim (2013), a film I have seen often enough in the last couple of months particularly that all of my housemates can likely quote my critiques of its sequel by memory in their sleep.
It’s not perfect – the closest to perfect a game has ever gotten for me, personally, is Disco Elysium – but it’s a cute, charming dating sim/dungeon crawler with a diverse cast of unique and interesting characters that I feel handles it’s main plot fairly well, if a little clumsily.
If you intend to play it, and don’t want spoilers, this is the time to stop reading, and then hopefully come back later, after you’re finished.
My first exposure to Boyfriend Dungeon was when they announced it for the Switch, and I will admit, I was drawn in much more by the soundtrack than by the concept. I don’t play a lot of dungeon crawlers; the only one I can think of that has ever left any kind of impact on me is Hades. Which is appropriate, because my primary thought while dungeon crawling was that I would much rather be playing Hades.
That’s not to say the combat is bad, exactly, so much as that it feels a lot like a clumsier, more stripped-down version of the same mechanics, to the point I often get the controls confused and end up rolling into an AOE attack I was perfectly safe from by trying to set an enemy on fire, or summoning my bug friend for extra help opening a safe. It also has that same effect of just being really hypnotizing once you hit your stride, up to the point you get distracted by the dog howling at a butterfly passing by two miles away and then promptly die.
Unfortunately, the fact combat feels similar also highlights just how shallow combat in Boyfriend Dungeon is. While in Hades you’re constantly upgrading your weapons and talents, collecting boons, making friends with the poor souls suffering through the afterlife, getting bullied into a killing competition with your date mate, trying and failing to rob Charon, and many other fun and completely ethical things you can be doing in the underworld, Boyfriend Dungeon relies on a leveling system to increase damage and health, and the only way to improve your combat skill aside from that is to improve your relationships with your weapons.
Another aspect where the dungeon crawling side of things falls flat is, at least for me, the difficulty curve. While Hades gets easier as you learn to read your enemies and utilize your own tools and talents, Boyfriend Dungeon starts off pretty easy to begin with, and then cranks up the difficulty in lower levels of the dungeons by ambushing you with more enemies than you will probably ever be able to avoid at once. Actually, the first example of this doesn’t even come very far into the first dungeon – when you finish talking to Sunder for the first time on level 2, the game will automatically spawn two mobs of enemies that your level 1 adventurer has little chance of surviving without turning on the 50% DR granted by Goddess Shield.
A lot of these issues are likely a result of the games split focus. It needs a way to tie the dungeon crawling aspect to the dating sim, so you have to advance your love levels with the weapons to improve your performance in the dungeon, and you have to spend a lot of time affection grinding in the dungeon in order to advance your love levels. Free bit of advice, though; you can get a whetstone by, allegedly, maxing out any love interest completely, although in practice I’ve only ever managed to get Sawyer’s despite them usually being one of the last, since I typically advance love ranks starting with Rowan and then proceeding in the order I met the characters in. That whetstone lets you bank affection gains to carry over after maxing out a love rank, as well as doubling all affection gains for all weapons, so it’s a really good thing to have if you want to save yourself a few hours of grinding.
Luckily, the dating sim side of things fares better, if only because dating sims as a general rule don’t have the same kind of expectations put on them. I’m not saying that’s fair – dating sims are a perfectly legitimate entertainment choice, and just because a lot of them are trash doesn’t mean the bar for the genre as a whole should be in the ground – but my character was not kidnapped, held hostage, and drugged by a dude who they proceeded to fall in love with, which puts it heads and shoulders above the last one I played.
That’s not to say that Boyfriend Dungeon’s characters don’t have their share of issues, just that they are, for the most part, comparatively lightly addressed, likely to avoid making the tone of the game too dark once Eric’s stalker subplot kicks off properly.
Now, there has apparently been some controversy about Eric, both due to the fact he’s a fantastic piece of shit who doesn’t see an appropriate level of consequence for the shit he pulls, and because the game’s initial trigger warning – which was updated very quickly in response to backlash – was kind of vague as to the nature and extent of Eric being a stalker piece of shit who kidnaps people and takes bits out of them to build a slave that he implies he was intending to fuck.
I cannot stress enough that Eric is a piece of shit, and while it’s good he eventually realizes, “hey, I need therapy, maybe,” I do feel that he should, perhaps, have at the very least been put on some sort of community watch list, and preferably made to pay reparations to the people he kidnapped and stole bits off, not to mention to your character, who he stalked and then made responsible for destroying the slave sword he tried to build for himself. Unfortunately, facing significant legal and social consequences for all the crimes he committed would have clashed with the overall tone of the game, so we can only hope that was all dealt with properly off screen.
Aside from Eric, the biggest problem is that the game doesn’t have much in the way of replay value. That’s not something I would normally notice, since I have the kind of brain that is perfectly happy watching the same movie on a loop for literally months, but the fact of the matter is that you can experience pretty much everything the game has to offer by just dedicating a little extra time to a single play through. The time limited implied by the setup is never actually enforced; you can max out all the relationships, get every gift, and craft every recipe in a single 8 hour playthrough – less, probably, since I have a tendency to get distracted and wander off whenever something shiny catches my eye.
And the crafting itself can be a little frustrating; you can only craft each recipe once, which is fine for the outfits and accessories you can pull from your closet when you visit the mirror to change your gender and appearance between dates or dungeon visits, but is intensely unsatisfying when it comes to gifts, especially since you the ones you have to buy can be purchased multiple times. There also aren’t a lot of things to craft. While the game boasts 65 recipes, they tend to fall into four categories – accessories, clothes, gifts, and zines. There’s nothing to improve your weapons, and the outfits themselves don’t come with any benefits, so you can mix-and-match with the accessories as you see fit. That on its own isn’t bad, except that you can only have one accessory equipped at a time, and their bonuses typically aren’t that great to begin with.
Word of advice: get the sunglasses as soon as possible, and then don’t bother with the rest unless you really want to 100% the game, or you have an obscene amount of crafting materials. The dungeons are overly generous with healing items and zines, so being able to carry one extra of one at the cost of two of the other isn’t worth it unless you literally never use magic. But you’re going to get hit, and hit often, so the bleeding damage can be a lifesaver, especially once you reach the lower levels of the La Rosa dungeon.
Now that I’ve spent roughly 1000 words picking at it, I want to reiterate: I really like this game. I think it’s fun, and it has a great deal of charm, which largely comes down to the dating sim angle.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to rate the weapons here, although if you’d like to see my ratings, and absolutely can’t wait another week, they’re already up on Patreon! Enjoy – or don’t, I’m not your parent, and it’s your money.
What I will say is that they’re all very interesting characters, and it’s clear KitFox put a lot of care into making them all unique and relatable. They aren’t always all likable, but I do love them all, even when they’re getting me killed by distracting me in the middle of my first ever dungeon run. That extends to most of the side characters, as well; Jesse is awkwardly well-meaning, Jake is a loyal but overprotective dick, Mandy is gruff but kind – I can go on, but it’s very late at night, I have class in the morning, and I have a whole other article to write talking about the characters, so I hope you get my point. None of the issues the main cast have are explored in any real depth, but they don’t really need to be; given the weight of Eric’s plot, exploring more fairly heavy issues would have fundamentally altered the game, and I love the game for what it is; a cheesy, charming, generally lighthearted summer vacation spent killing monsters and kissing swords.
Thanks for stopping by! As mentioned above, we have a Patreon, and if you’re willing to pitch 1$ a month our way, you can get access to next week’s article this week! Have a fantastic day, and I hope the universe treats you kindly!