The release of Boyfriend Dungeon felt all but inevitable in the wake of various indie gaming trends. It's an earnestly open-minded romantic visual novel with an absurd premise like Raptor Boyfriend. At the same time, it combines those elements into an isometric hack-and-slash dungeon crawler. In many ways, it shouldn't work. But thanks to some really solid writing, as well as stellar voice-acting and music, most of it comes together into something effortlessly charming.
Looking For Love In Verona
After making your own custom character, you are brought to the city of Verona Beach for the summer. You have an apartment thanks to your cousin hooking you up. This isn't just a regular vacation, you're trying to get out of your comfort zone and start dating, with your cousin as your wingman. But you have a particular type of person: the kind of people who can transform into swords. Also, you can wield them as weapons while exploring dungeons filled with symbolic personal demons.
If there is one thing that Boyfriend Dungeon does right away is lean into its own genre tropes. There is no complex lore for how people learned to turn into weapons. The personal demon dungeons are just treated as things that show up. In fact, going through dungeons for loot is treated as a profitable but dangerous side hustle. It comes right out and acknowledges that this is a heightened video game world and just goes with it.
This is a good thing since it helps the main story settle into its main attraction: kissing swords. As you play, either your cousin will hook you up with a date or you will encounter a new character while in a dungeon. From there you can exchange texts, go out to different locations for coffee or a movie, and even equip them as a weapon during a dungeon run. Doing any of these things will slowly increase your relationship with them. Once you hit certain “Love Ranks” you unlock additional scenes with the character as well as new perks and abilities for their weapon forms.
"It must be stated that Boyfriend Dungeon is very progressive when it comes to your character's identity. Your character can be any gender: male, female, or non-binary. None of these choices will lock you out of any potential romance options.
Hands down, these interactions are the reason to play Boyfriend Dungeon. Lead Writer Tanya X. Short clearly had fun making entertaining dialogue and believable interactions with the kind of character archetypes straight out of pulpy romance novels. The suave, sharp-dressed businessman, the smoldering shirtless club owner, the angst-ridden oddball who lost a loved one, they're all here. It also helps that when things do get romantic, it is legitimately hot thanks to some well-observed nuance with its intimacy. Some of this can be attributed to Christine Love, the lead behind the far more explicit Ladykiller in a Bind, who is credited with writing additional dialogue.
But what really makes the lines work are the voice-actors on display. Sungwon Cho sells the bad-boy swagger of club owner Sunder, Justice Washington's pure charisma overwhelms as Isaac, and Fryda Wolf nails the attitude of a modern performance artist in Valeria. The absolute banger of a soundtrack helps as well.
Finally, it must be stated that Boyfriend Dungeon is very progressive when it comes to your character's identity. Your character can be any gender: male, female, or non-binary. None of these choices will lock you out of any potential romance options. Fashion accessories and hairstyles aren't arbitrarily locked away. At any point in the game, you can change these pronouns as well as your name with no comment or complaint from any of the characters. In short, Boyfriend Dungeon is out and proud, and encourages you to be the same.
Cutting Through The Troubles
As for the hack-and-slash sections of Boyfriend Dungeon, they're well-executed if a bit perfunctory. You go from floor to floor killing monsters and getting money as well as blueprints to craft gifts for your partners and clothing for yourself. There are boss battles, hidden rooms, and even social zones where you and the weapon you're with can share some alone time together. Every time you die or exit the dungeon, you level up. This mostly amounts to giving you more health which helps make future runs easier.
The combat here feels great. Each romantic interest in the game has very distinct weapon types and playstyles. Sunder is all about damage over time with bleed effects, Isaac can parry and riposte with well-timed dodge rolls, Seven is a lightsaber that sends out lightning charges, the list goes on. Encounter designs throw in a healthy mix of long-range projectiles and swarming hordes. But above all, everything feels responsive and punchy.
My only real complaint is that I wish there were more of these sections. There are only two dungeons in the entire game. The best one is the very first one: an abandoned mall. There's some sly commentary in here about the slow death of malls and department stores with monster designs based on outdated analog technology. If you wanted to have a boss fight with a crab monster that looks like a rotary phone, Boyfriend Dungeon has you covered. The second one is based on a dance club and is meant to represent the main character's fear of intimacy with monsters that look like martini glasses and giant pairs of lips blowing kisses. It's not as memorable since this dungeon pops up about halfway through the plot where you should have at least one partner greatly interested in you.
It almost feels as if there were supposed to be more dungeons and a longer story, but things had to be cut and changed around, leading to a sense of repetition. It tries to ape the imagery and shorthand of internal struggle through videogame narrative, something the Persona series has down to a science but messes up a bit on the crucial details.
Then there's the final boss. Boyfriend Dungeon has gotten into a bit of controversy regarding its final antagonist. Simply put, if you can imagine a bad combination of stalking, emotional manipulation, and a bunch of other red flags, the big bad embodies them. The game even opens with a content warning letting you know that these elements will be in play. While debate still rages on about whether or not implementing these warnings helped or hindered more sensitive players – personally, the game itself makes it abundantly clear that the behaviors shown are rightfully vilified which reinforces the overall themes of intimacy and emotional honesty – in actual practice the fight comes off as rote. There are no cheats or swerves in terms of story beats, but the actual fight and resolution didn't leave me as emotionally invested as the dating sim elements.
However, given how Boyfriend Dungeon does a great job encompassing many different people of different types, not pulling off a traditional video game final boss fight isn't exactly a dealbreaker. I still had a blast with my eight hours of playtime, inviting characters over to cuddle and cook together, then looking for leather jacket blueprints in my next dungeon run. In that sense, it's an experience more about the journey than the destination.
Boyfriend Dungeon | Final Thoughts
When it's all about being getting close with sword guys, Boyfriend Dungeon is an utter delight. As a hack-and-slash RPG, it mostly sticks to fundamentals but can feel lacking in content. But taken as a whole, it's an experience that is full of personality and heart which helps gloss over these elements. If you love romance, or even just like swords, you'll find a lot to enjoy here.
TechRaptor reviewed Boyfriend Dungeon on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch and Xbox One.
- Fun, Interesting Romantic Interests
- Colorful, Energetic Art Direction and Music
- Solid, Agreeable Action Combat
- Underwhelming Dungeon Variety
- Lackluster Final Boss