Every now and then, you come across an indie game with a wild premise. Boyfriend Dungeon fits that description in the best way possible. Essentially, by day, you play a dating sim, wooing your prospective partner(s) across a variety of dates. By night, these people transform into weapons that you wield against the evil monsters that plague the local mall. Except at night, it’s not a mall anymore; it’s a dungeon. The name of that dungeon? The “Dunj.”
It’s one of those ideas that beckons the cliched phrase, “It’s so crazy it just might work!” And I can’t even begin to explain how well it works. I’ve played the game at PAX West 2018 and E3 2019, and each time, I couldn’t help but smile. The characters portray all sorts of archetypes in dating sims, yet there’s something endearing about them, begging you to explore beneath the surface.
For example, you’ve got Sunder, a cavalier, somewhat brash seducer. He’s the kind of guy who knows he’s attractive—you know exactly what I’m talking about. He transforms into a talwar, an Indian curved sword. On the other hand, you have Isaac, a prim, proper financier who works for his father’s company. He gets easily embarrassed when you flirt with him, but he recomposes himself quickly enough, especially around his demanding father. Naturally, he turns into an estoc, a refined one-handed weapon.
Dating sim fanatics will find a lot to love in Boyfriend Dungeon thanks to the clever, heartwarming dialog that brings these characters to life. However, fans of dungeon crawlers also have something to look forward to. Initially, I worried that the dungeon crawling would feel tacked on, like a quirky afterthought added for the sake of quirkiness. Instead, it turned out to have the same level of charm as the dating sim sections while being a full-fledged action game.
When in the Dunj, the camera takes an isometric view, and each floor features a couple rooms to explore. Most of them will be filled with monsters, giving you the perfect excuse to get to know the business end of your lover. Each weapon has a specific set of combos, varying from room-clearing attacks to devastating single-target stabs. As you level up your relationship with a character, you unlock more abilities with their corresponding weapon form. Essentially, if you latch onto your one true love, you’ll be a beast in the action segments.
The combat has a few unexpected twists to it, as well. Some rooms feature a lot of enemies who use long-range attacks, turning the game into a bullet hell out of nowhere. To add onto that bullet hell feel, you have a bomb, which clears the space around you. When you want to heal, you can pick up some bubble tea, dropped by a monster. What else would you expect to soothe your wounds? That level of charm extends to the occasional relaxation rooms in the Dunj. For example, I found a room that had some massage chairs, leading to some lovable dialog that likely changes depending on your partner.
At the end of the day, Boyfriend Dungeon is definitely a title to keep in mind this year. Rarely do you find games that fuse two unexpected genres as well as it does. Fans of dungeon crawlers might awaken a new love for dating sims, and vice versa. I’m not sure what the venn diagram overlap is between dating-sim and dungeon-crawler lovers, but I know that Boyfriend Dungeon will expand it.