I used to be someone who avoided dating sims. Though I like narrative driven games, and the concept sounded fun, I have a low tolerance for awkward situations given my own awkwardness and the entire concept of dating around in a game “for fun” just felt, well, not fun. But lately, there’s been an onslaught of dating sims with a twist that have been drawing me in. I’ve found myself in worlds where dates revolve around your pets, or in after school clubs full of strange people with dark secrets. Being in these wonderfully weird worlds helps remove the awkwardness some, and introduces interesting new elements and game mechanics that will keep me coming back.
Boyfriend Dungeon had me at hello. For one thing, it’s a fantastic name. What IS a boyfriend dungeon? Do I want to be in a boyfriend dungeon? Who puts the boyfriends there? But on watching the trailer, I found it even stranger than that. Not only are you looking for boyfriends while also conquering random dungeons, these boyfriends (and girlfriends, and nonbinary friends, too–) can also be weapons. That’s right! In Boyfriend Dungeon, many of the people you’ll encounter have a special power–the ability to turn into weapons, that can then be wielded by those in the population with the power of wielding–with their consent, of course.
If you think I’m simply a sucker for weird games, you’d be forgiven. But there’s been plenty of really out there games I’ve hoped would work that sadly, just didn’t. No matter how interesting or off the wall the premise is, if the game doesn’t run well or have solid mechanics, it’s going to be an absolute slog. Luckily, Boyfriend Dungeon isn’t one of them.
In Boyfriend Dungeon, you’ll be playing as a visitor to Verona Beach. You’re a hapless soul who hasn’t been able to get a single date in your whole life. Luckily, with the help of your mom and cousin, romance is in your future. Verona Beach is no ordinary place though, as you’ll soon find out when introduced to the weapon person concept. But it’s not just that. In Verona Beach, people’s idea of fun includes running a ‘dunj” here and there for money and adventure.
Enter the dungeon element. Each dungeon turns out to be a dungeon of the mind, in that the monsters in it are conjured up by your own fears. The first dungeon takes place in a 90’s style mall. After a small tutorial section, you learn that while you *can* date the people you wield, it’s not necessarily a romantic connection. Here lies one of my only small complaints–because that’s not entirely true. You can wield any weapon in the dungeon, and even have the ability to switch weapons when transitioning to another floor. But if you want to level them up and make them any good to face the increasing difficulty of each floor, you have to go on dates and “dunj” with the weapons, so you can unlock their full potential.
Thus dating and “dunj”ing go hand in hand. I found this a nice mixup to the standard “go on dates, go home, repeat” of a lot of dating sims. It also breaks up what could be monotony in the dunj itself, as though the floors change and new enemies are introduced the further you go in each dunj, the combat remains fairly samey. When you faint, you take an ambulance back home no worse for the wear and can then choose to do whatever you want.
Combat in Boyfriend Dungeon is actually a lot of fun. There’s light and heavy attacks with each weapon you’ll choose to wield, and as you level up your love level with each weapon person, new abilities are added, such as bleed effects or parrying. Each unique weapon from brass knuckle claw to estoc and so on feels different enough to make the variety exciting and similar enough that you can switch up fairly often and not feel stunted, even with a lower level weapon. Aside from your weapon, you can also use a special power granted to you by a ‘Zine. You’ll start off with the Dragon ‘Zine, which allows you to shoot an AoE fireball, but eventually, you’ll have the option to equip other ‘Zines with different powers, like putting out a decoy or leaving a mine trap.
There’s more to do than even dating and dunjing though. Boyfriend Dungeon includes a few extra elements including wardrobe and crafting that add some extra fun. As you go through dungeons and slay enemies, you’ll find materials and get cash. You can then use the cash to go shopping at various stores or craft your own items and clothes. Not everything’s particularly useful other than for aesthetics, but certain clothing items give special bonuses, like an extra life or bonus damage. You can also craft gifts to give your suitors and new ‘Zines.
Just like in real life, you’ll find yourself glued to your phone, too. In fact, handling conversations on your phone is central to the game, to progress the story, set up dates and unravel the mysteries of Verona Beach, the biggest of which is who has been abducting weapon-people and leaving them unconscious and damaged in the various “dunjes.”
There’s been a lot of talk about Boyfriend Dungeon even before release because of some of the story points, and I will say, I’m glad they did update their content warning to be more specific, because the stalking element in the story is indeed central to the plot, disturbing and at the same time unavoidable. That said, I think the overall story was intriguing, and handled very well, so that while there’s tension and uncomfortable scenarios, there’s a satisfactory resolution, and in fact, a healthier one than I even expected, given what transpired.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Boyfriend Dungeon. It was just long enough, with fun combat, and a great cast of characters to try and romance (or not). I had fun with crafting, shopping and exploring, and just in general had a blast with it, though I hoped for a little more resolution for my character by the time the credits rolled.
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