Sometimes you come across a game that really makes you curious what the developers were thinking when they were first drafting it. Boyfriend Dungeon is one such game. It’s a dungeon crawler, rather like Hades or Diablo, with the twist that your character is probably dating the weapon they’re using to kill baddies. As ridiculous as it sounds, Boyfriend Dungeon often surprises you with how compelling it can prove to be. It’s far from perfect, but this is the kind of game that will definitely strike a chord with an audience.
The premise of Boyfriend Dungeon sees you assuming the role of a twenty-something, blank slate protagonist with next to no romantic experience in life. You go to stay with your cousin near Verona Beach for the summer, and he decides to make it his mission to hook you up with someone before the summer ends. Lucky for you, several of the local youths have the puzzling ability to transform into close-range weapons, which is perfect for going on romantic outings into nearby dungeons to kill some monsters.
There are seven romantic partners to choose from (just so you know, one of them is a cat) and you’re given the option to build relationships with each of them via texting, going on dates in town, and delving into one of the two dungeons on offer. Each of them is flawed in their own way, be it the result of a strained relationship with their parents or more general sociopathic tendencies, and their arcs are slowly borne out over repeated interactions. As a result, the narrative is often defined less by your character’s growth or actions and more by the emotional progress (or backsliding…) all the supporting cast goes through, which makes for a fascinating story. Learning more about a person’s history as you get to know them is fun, and the often stark personality differences between the candidates help to make the cast feel nicely diverse and well-rounded.
Generally speaking, all the candidates are well-written and three dimensional, although the overall premise is so absurd that it can sometimes be hard to connect with it. Apart from the whole transformation aspect, it’s rather overbearing having this swarm of people blowing up your phone for little reason other than because your character is somehow just so interesting and attractive to them. It can feel unearned, even given the goofy premise, and this combined with the lightning speed in which you leap into relationships can make the characters less believable than they might be. More importantly, once you start shifting into the dating phase of relationships, there are no consequences for juggling multiple romantic partners at the same time, which is fine but feels like an oddly missed opportunity for a game that centers heavily around relationship building.
We feel special attention also must be paid to the uncomfortable aspects of the narrative, which may even be triggering to some players. The ongoing, constant attention from your harem—rife with not so thinly veiled flirtatious comments—can feel vaguely assaulting, and things are worsened by one character in particular who eventually resorts to stalking behavior and abusive texts. For that latter example, you’re not given the option to avoid or disengage with this person either, meaning you’re forced to maintain contact with them if you want to continue progressing. Frankly, these issues drastically reduced our overall enjoyment of Boyfriend Dungeon, which is a shame considering how good it can be at its best.
When you’re not busy getting caught up in all kinds of drama, you’ll spend your time attempting to delve deeper into a dungeon (cutely called a “Dunj” in-game) where gameplay bears more than a little resemblance to Hades. Your chosen partner for that run will take on their weapon form, and you go down floor by floor, clearing out any baddies you encounter along the way and hopefully encountering a safe or two. Combat is satisfying and snappy, and the reward loop keeps you wanting to come back for more.
Every dungeon dive ends with your character gaining at least a couple levels from all the enemies and floors cleared, which encourages you to jump back in once more and see if you can get just a little further. Getting kills not only nets you bumps to your character’s health and attack stats, it also gives you experience to raise your relationship level with your current weapon.
Every time you hit a new threshold with your relationship level, you unlock another tier to that weapon/person’s skill tree to power up their combat effectiveness. Each weapon is centered around a gimmick, which is iterated on and deepened with each level. For example, Valeria turns into a dagger with a playstyle centered around inflicting a confuse status on enemies, while leveling her up further lets you inflict critical hits on any enemies you’ve managed to confuse. There’s enough diversity in weapon types that each one feels truly unique, though it can be annoying when you like a weapon, but not the person behind it. Given the premise, it makes sense that weapon progression is directly tied to your relationship level with the character, but sometimes you just want to level up a scythe without having to buy it dinner and make out with it afterward.
If we were to pick a problem with the combat, however, it would be that things tend to get too repetitive too quick. Even the randomly generated floors get rather familiar quite soon, and the enemy variety across the two dungeons is lackluster. Combat is fun to begin with, but there comes a point where you’re left wondering what’s next, only to find that there isn’t anything next. The issue is that the combat system doesn’t have enough depth to sufficiently differentiate runs from each other. Sure, you can change up your weapons, but the limited enemy variety and lack of power ups or upgrades along the way make your attempts blend together soon.
Between runs, you can take materials and recipes you’ve gathered from the dungeons to obtain new items and clothes. Some of these will have tangible benefits, like doubling all damage or trading healing items for more special attacks, but most clothes just act as nice cosmetics to customize your character. Even if this is the case, it’s still a real thrill when you find another new recipe on a dungeon run, and this system helps to make the repeated attempts at a dungeon feel that much more meaningful when you have collectibles to show for it.
As for presentation, Boyfriend Dungeon is quite easy on the eyes. Each of the supporting characters is uniquely designed, with some truly impressive cutscenes that play upon each first meeting as you watch them transform. The art style is distinctive and original, while also proving to be nicely readable for when arenas get a little busy with activity. All this is topped by a soundtrack that has some shockingly catchy pop music mixed in with much more chill lo-fi beats to kill monsters to.
Boyfriend Dungeon is an excellent example of a flawed gem, with an original premise and an engaging gameplay loop marred by a lack of development of ideas and mechanics. Combat is really fun, until you realize it’s kind of shallow. The characters are interesting, until they become unbelievable or downright unlikeable. It's the kind of game that seems pretty great until you really get to know it, after which it can start to feel like work. We'd give Boyfriend Dungeon a very light recommendation, as there’s enough here to justify a purchase and you’ll likely be glad that you gave it a shot. That said, there are some legitimate issues in its execution, so maybe wait for a deep sale before picking it up.