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Boyfriend Dungeon

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CW/TW: stalking

A few weeks ago, three people sent me (Tara) a link for Boyfriend Dungeon in the Nintendo Store. I don’t really believe in signs, but by the third message, I was sold. I started playing that evening and was totally hooked. And luckily, Amanda was into it too!

Amanda: I was blessed enough to back it on Kickstarter and got some cool limited edition swag. I’ve been anxiously awaiting its release!

Tara: Boyfriend Dungeon is what you’d get if a dating sim and a dungeon crawler could make a beautiful video game baby together. You play as the main character and everything is told from your perspective as you roll into Verona Beach to hang out for the summer and hopefully try dating for the first time. Your cousin, Jonah, sends you to the mall, which is also a dungeon, so you can meet his friend Isaac and fight your way out of there together.

When you get to the mall, you learn that Isaac is an épée, which is a fencing weapon. That’s right! You’re going to find weapons who are also (usually) human and you can fight with them in the dunj! Or you can date them at places like the beach or a park! It’s hella cute and I’ve already played it twice.

Fighting in the nightclub dunj

Boyfriend Dungeon reminds me of Hades in two ways:

  1. You’re meant to go through the two dungeons multiple times. Not only is there no penalty for dying, you take collected resources home with you. You can use them to craft hats that can help you in the dunj, clothes to make you look cool, or gifts to give to your friends and/or paramours (depending on who you want to romance). It’s gentle and I appreciate that it encourages progress over perfection.
  2. The game also encourages leveling up all of the weapons, because you can only go on dates with them each time they’ve gone up a level. I found it a compelling incentive, since this is also how we get the bulk of the narrative content.

Amanda: Unlike Tara, I haven’t played Hades, and I know I’m missing out. However, I do love a dungeon crawler where different aspects are randomly generated to keep things spicy! Layouts of dungeons will change each time you load in, as well as the number of enemies, collectable locations, etc.

Tara: I agree!

Some of the dateable characters worked better for me than others. My favourites are Seven, a K-pop star who talks about living with depression and shapeshifts into a light sabre; Valeria, a street artist with a hard edge who turns into a stabby dagger; and Rowan, a sweet and dark nonbinary person who will make you tea and shifts into a vicious scythe.

Sweet enby Rowan

I wanted to like Isaac, especially since he’s so socially conscious and started a business focused on wealth distribution, but I found him kind of boring and the épée is my least favourite weapon to play with.

Amanda, who stood out for you?

Amanda: I’m definitely with Tara in that Isaac was a little boring.

There are a lot of archetypes and tropes associated with each romanceable character, which I think will really appeal to romance readers. My personal favorite was Sunder. He perfectly aligns with my own reading tastes.

Show Spoiler
A flirtatious and mysterious dude who doesn’t wear a shirt. Just a leather jacket and tight pants. He’s also a vampire!

Like Tara, I loved Seven and found him to be the biggest challenge to win him over, though all the dating aspects are kind of easy and there isn’t a punishment for choosing the wrong dialogue option. In terms of romance plus weapon play style, Valeria was the easiest for me to get into and I loved wielding her as a dagger. Super speedy and fun!

Tara: My favourite aspect of Boyfriend Dungeon is its inclusive approach to character creation. You get to choose your character’s name, pronouns (she/her, they/them, he/him), eye shape, skin colour, hairstyle, and hair colour. Even better, you can change any of these as often as you like.

Boyfriend Dungeon’s character builder

I enjoyed switching up my character’s gender as I progressed and seeing all the other characters roll with it, because it validates how fluid gender can be for people like me. Also, the choices in starting gear for your character’s noggin include a turban and a headscarf. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by a message at the beginning of the game, asking me if I wanted to receive messages from a character called “Mom,” giving me the option to not receive them. Given how many LGBTQ people have fraught parental relationships, this felt sensitive and thoughtful.

An example of texts from “Mom”

Let’s talk about the big ol’ elephant in the digital room. If you’ve heard of this game, you’ve likely also heard about the backlash over its content warning and the stalking content. Eric is the villain in Boyfriend Dungeon. He’s the first person you go on a date with and you can’t avoid it. From there, he gets progressively creepier until he’s obviously stalking you. I didn’t find it triggering, but I don’t know if that’s because I’ve never been stalked or because the game opened with the message “This game may include references to unwanted advances, stalking, and other forms of emotional manipulation. Play with care.”

I’ve been a little shocked by some of the responses to the warning, which range from saying the warning isn’t strong enough to demanding the publisher remove all content related to Eric. Given the need to protect people from adverse experiences and the low effort involved with updating a message, I’m all for strengthening the content warning (especially since the word “may” in the original warning is misleading). If stalking is going to be a problem for you, you might want to skip this one and go play Hades again.

Amanda: Tara and I heavily discussed this in DMs. I was put off by the Eric storyline because it’s unavoidable and the dialogue options don’t change much, but not because it was a personal trigger for me.

I think the conclusion we both kind of came to is that the developer team did a good job informing their players while not spoiling anything, and it was kind of them to include an even more in-depth trigger warning after the game’s release to make that clearer.

But the biggest takeaway is that unfortunately, not every piece of media will be for everyone and that’s okay. But to demand an indie company make such a drastic change to a crucial part of the plot is a really big ask.

My own personal gripes with the game lie in that it was so short and that’s purely because I’m selfish and wanted to play for many more hours. I wished the dialogue options affected more of the story, too. When it comes to more traditional visual novels, there are usually multiple endings per character, as well as collectable images related to special scenes. I would have loved to see that incorporated, just as more of a reward for pursuing certain characters.

Tara: Overall, I enjoyed most aspects of Boyfriend Dungeon and I recommend it. In fact, I liked it enough to tell a bunch of friends, so we could text and play together, agonizing over who we’d take into the final boss battle with us. Not all of the characters worked for me (sorry, Isaac), but other characters more than made up for it (*dreamy sigh* Rowan). I hope I’ll see them again in future DLC and I will definitely play Boyfriend Dungeon again.

Amanda: Definitely echoing Tara here! The enjoyment I got out of it on a slow, lazy weekend is worth whatever minor criticisms I have. I’m looking forward to more DLC and also more from the Kitfox developers.

Tara, if gamers want more games like this, what would you suggest?

I think the Monster Prom series would be great, though it lacks combat. I’ve also been really impressed by Steam’s growing collection of Otome games and visual novels, but take care with those as they often have triggering elements that aren’t explained beforehand.

For dungeon crawling that isn’t too graphic and is on the cuter side when it comes to art, The Guild of Dungeoneering. You build your dungeon as you go along with cards from a deck and if a character dies, there’s a bard who makes up a funny limerick or song about them.

Tara: I can’t think of a single game that has both the dungeon crawling and the dating elements in one convenient place. That said, I highly recommend Dream Daddy and Later Daters for anyone looking for an inclusive dating sim. And in terms of dungeon crawling with similar elements, Hades for sure. Children of Morta also encourages going out into dungeons with multiple players and is pretty fun, but I have to throw a content warning down for toxic masculinity.

Show Spoiler
The villain is a god who got all mad when his wife got pregnant because *gasp* what if she loves the baby more than him?! It really is a solid, fun game to play if you can get past that garbage fire of a bad dude, but his cut scenes can’t be avoided.

What about you? Have you played Boyfriend Dungeon? What did you think?

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