I always love it when a developer can cleverly weave together two genres. Bonus points if those two genres are a pair that we almost never see together. Kitfox Games gave themselves the challenge to do just that with Boyfriend Dungeon, a visual novel dating sim combined with a traditional dungeon-crawler. Somehow, they pull it off.
New city, new me
Boyfriend Dungeon opens with a character creator that lets you customize a handful of details, including skin tone, hairstyle, and preferred pronouns. Your character is freshly moved in with their cousin in Verona Beach, California, and after a pretty rough history of failed romance, you’re hoping that this new setting means an opportunity to turn things around for yourself.
For the first couple of minutes, Boyfriend Dungeon comes off as your standard visual novel dating game, but takes a hard left not too far in. Some of the people in this town have an ability to transform into weapons, like swords and daggers. People who can’t transform, also known as “wielders,” use these weapons in dungeons to take down monsters and earn precious loot.
It’s a bonkers premise, but one that works surprisingly well. The tropes of a visual novel dating sim have all been done to exhaustion, but when you toss in monster-slaying, you’ve got my attention. Not to mention the whole dating your swords thing, which really takes the idea of “being one with your weapon” to an entirely new level.
Putting yourself out there
The visual novel side of Boyfriend Dungeon is really well done. There’s branching dialogue choices, and you can always tell the immediate consequences of your actions. Characters will often text you, asking to hang out or go adventure in a dunj (shorthand for dungeon) together.
Boyfriend Dungeon is able to succeed as a dating game because of its colorful cast. There are several different romanceable characters, each with distinct personality traits. There’s the warm Sunder, who feels like he was plucked right out of a romance novel, or Valeria, who takes much longer to come around to the idea of getting to know you. In fact, she won’t even show you her human form the first time you meet.
I also appreciate that the game doesn’t limit which characters you can date and lock off content based on which pronouns you pick at the beginning. Each of the characters have personalities that are genuinely interesting to learn more about. I was actually excited when my favorite characters would hit me up about going on another date or taking on a new dungeon.
It’s also really impressive how Kitfox Games weaves together the dating sim side of Boyfriend Dungeon with the action-combat side. As your relationship with a character progresses, your “Love Rank” will increase. Reaching new Love Rank levels will reward you with in-game bonuses and traits for that respective weapon, such as increased damage, or a bleeding effect on wounded enemies. It incentivizes players that may not be all the way on board with the romance dynamic to put in a little more effort in that area.
Although I enjoyed my interactions with most of Boyfriend Dungeon’s characters, it felt like it was simply to easy to build a relationship with anybody I wanted. I could pretty much successfully flirt with any character I wanted to on our first interaction. They were down if I was down. While that’s nice and all, it’s a contrast to the awkward, never-dated-anyone introvert that I’m being described as.
Also, there’s a nuance to building relationships in a good dating sim. It may sound silly, but there’s something rewarding about really getting to know a character, with a relationship blossoming after you’ve become quite comfortable with each other. I’d love it if the more standoffish characters actually took longer to woo, forcing me to put the effort in to win their hearts. Everybody’s different, but the dating in Boyfriend Dungeon can feel one note at times.
A couple that slays together…
Once you get into a dungeon, it feels like you’re playing an entirely different game, and I mean that in a good way. The game takes on an isometric camera angle, and your character is rendered in 3D, similar to when they roam the overworld. Depending on what weapon-person you use, your attacks will vary. One-handed weapons allow quicker yet weaker attacks, while a two-handed blade deals heavy damage at a slower pace.
The monsters you encounter in dungeons are manifestations of your own fears and insecurities. I let out a decent laugh when I stepped into the first dungeon and saw an anthropomorphic cellphone, flapping around with fangs.
In addition to standard melee, there’s Zines, which grant you different bonus abilities based on their contents. For example, the Dragon Galore Zine allows you to shoot fireballs at enemies. Zines have a limited charge, but players can refill them while finding more in dungeons. You can also discover boba teas while exploring dungeons, which are used to replenish health.
Exploring Verona City
I really enjoyed the visual presentation of Boyfriend Dungeon. There’s a deep contrast between the 2D visual novel side of the game, where you’re reading text and looking at semi-static backgrounds, to when you’re in a 3D dungeon environment, with enemies swarming you from different directions. It’s a good representation of the two genres being mashed together.
All of the characters themselves are quite detailed as well, down to their accessories and fine physical traits, further contributing to their sense of uniqueness. What really blew me away was the cinematic animation you see when a character first transforms from a weapon back into their human form. It was like something plucked from the intro to an anime. I think I recorded every single one of them when playing on my Switch.
Boyfriend Dungeon is an impressive matchup of two genres that I’d never think would make a decent pair. It juggles interesting personal entanglements with challenging action gameplay via its dungeons. Though it could really benefit from some depth to its romantic structure, it’s not enough to sour what is overall a fascinating experience.
This review is based on a digital Nintendo Switch code provided by the publisher. Boyfriend Dungeon is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch for $19.99 USD.
- Cleverly blends dating sim with dungeon-crawler
- Diverse cast of characters
- Creative enemy designs
- Excellent art and animations
- Romance progress feels shallow
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Boyfriend Dungeon review: Man Crush Monday