Title: Boyfriend Dungeon
Developer: Kitfox Games
Release Date: 08/11/2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Kitfox Games
Genre: Dating Sim, Visual Novel, Action, LGBTQ+
The idea of a dating sim that puts inclusivity and representation first is a noble one. Adding that design philosophy to an action-heavy dungeon crawler was the pitch that got developer Kitfox Games to quadruple their Kickstarter goal for crowdfunding Boyfriend Dungeon. Unfortunately, while I had a delightful time with the game, the way its engaging ideas weakly synergize by the conclusion left me feeling somewhat perplexed and disappointed.
Starting with the many positives, Boyfriend Dungeon definitely fulfills its goal of inclusivity and representation. The idea here is to give the player as many options for engaging with the cast as possible, and it begins with a small-scale character creator that features the ability to choose your character’s pronouns. This choice can also be changed at any time during your playthrough. Furthermore, your choice of he/him, she/her, or they/them has absolutely no drawbacks to speak of, as any protagonist can romance or befriend any potential love interest.
The routes in Boyfriend Dungeon‘s dating sim half are more comparable to a Persona game than a traditional dating sim. Rather than choosing one character and sticking with them exclusively, since your potential paramours are also your weapons, the player is encouraged to at least make friends with all of them. Each route can be clearly pursued with purely friendly intentions or romantic desires, with a clear decision on the player’s part, thankfully lacking opaque event flags. This approach makes the title more accessible and negates the need to follow a walkthrough. Basically, you’ll get what you want out of your time.
The other element taken from the social link system is that each weapon gets stronger as your bond with them outside of the dungeon increases, giving bonuses like combo finishers delivering status effects or having a wider area of attack. This system grants well-paced rewards for your efforts in each dungeon, in addition to regular experience gain. Dealing more damage and having more hit points in each run makes going back into the “dunj” feel addictive, and the excellent soundtrack heightens the replayability.
The characters themselves are largely likable, with the obvious exception being the villain, whose story is essentially the main plot. Currently, at launch, there are three guys, two non-binary individuals, and one girl available, though another guy and girl are coming in the near future as post-launch content from the Kickstarter campaign. It’s saddening that these characters weren’t ready for launch, particularly when one of them actually appears in the base game but is un-dateable, which left me feeling rather teased.
Speaking of feeling teased, the combat is immensely flashy but ultimately nothing to write home about. The hack-and-slash action portions are fine, and the weapons feel unique and satisfactory to use, but it all lacks the precision of something like Hades, a roguelike I couldn’t help but compare this one to for obvious reasons. The enemy variety is lacking, and much of the fighting feels like button-mashing thanks to the frequent crowding of enemies. Several distinctions between how each weapon handles feel more like they were designed for a title emphasizing specific combat situations, like the rapier emphasizing a counterstrike ability in a game that very often has you dodging projectiles it can’t counter. Still, by the end of the second dungeon, the limited scope becomes abundantly clear.
By that aforementioned point, you’ll assuredly realize that you’ve basically completed Boyfriend Dungeon. There are two procedurally-generated dungeons, the second of which doesn’t even have to be cleared, and then a boss fight, for which you have to pick one of the weapons you’ve maxed out your bond with. This was when I realized that the game was hurtling towards an abrupt, questionable ending, contrasting with how much delight I had only an hour before.
Conclusively, while I certainly enjoyed my time with Boyfriend Dungeon, the sudden end to its narrative and the half-empty world map left me feeling like I had just finished an Early Access game rather than a full experience. I don’t generally have an issue with brevity in games, but the end to this one just left me craving more because I loved the cast, the representation, and the addictive leveling system. I definitely recommend this title to those who want to dip their toes in the water of dating sims, but a lack of challenge and a rather shallow conclusion end up holding it back from being a must-play experience.
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