“We’re just too hot for this old rickety thing to handle.”
Verona Beach – a chill place to spend the summer. Especially in a rent-free apartment previously occupied by your cousin. Kind of him to offer you the space, even if he’s one of the most obnoxious and interfering people you’ll ever meet. But hey, families – can’t pick ‘em.
But you can pick lovers, and that’s part of the reason you’re here. See, you’ve never had a date. Not even once. Your cousin, under some duress from your mother, has been assigned your wingman, but it won’t be long before you’re able to make connections at your own pace. Connections that have some very interesting quirks…
In Verona Beach, your ideal love interests are all rather wonderfully capable of transforming themselves into wield-able weapons. Cue Boyfriend Dungeon’s core premise. Namely, dating the weapons you will take into dungeons – or ‘dunjis’ – to do battle with a host of monsters that reflect your deepest fears.
It’s a neat, clever premise – the kind ideally suited to gaming’s specific narrative and gameplay strengths, successfully mixing the dating sim with hack-and-slash (or “shack-and-slash”) dungeon combat. Successful to a point, anyway.
Throughout your summer in Verona, you’ll meet a host of potential love interests. Each character feels unique, carrying their own baggage, harbouring secrets, and needing you just as much as you need them.
There’s Valeria, a dagger, who also happens to be a talented artist in need of a new direction in life. Although initially resistant, your developing romance eventually allows her to open about her rather extraordinary talents. Then there’s Sawyer, a glaive, and to them you are a lodestone in their young life. They really did entrance me! There’s plenty more, too – seven, in total – and each feel fully alive, their personal dramas unique to their own lived experiences.
Your time together is either spent on dates across Verona’s lovingly drawn romantic hotspots or in the dungeons.
Dungeon combat is pretty basic, settling for fun, engaging encounters that are never too taxing. Each love interest transforms into a specific weapon – a glaive, a scythe, and so on – and as your relationships deepen, you’ll unlock more abilities, transforming you both into an increasingly powerful duo.
There’s items to pick up along the way, most of which you can take home and craft into gifts (flowers, cupcakes, pizzas…). Like the combat itself there’s no real depth to the crafting process; all you need do is find the right materials and put them together at home. That’s not in any way a slight – just an observation on the game’s breezy and poppy tone. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I liked my dates. Their dialogue was thoughtful and considered, probing the complexities of modern love, sex, and desire. I’ve seem some reviewers lauding the ‘great writing’, but I can’t agree with that. They probe the complexities, sure, but the game never digs very deep. It’s just good, so let’s not get carried away, yeah?
More importantly, this is an inclusive game with stellar representation. Proudly LGBTQ+, I was so heartened to see these characters represent our diverse and developing understanding of gender. It’s arguably the writing’s greatest strength.
Yet, when it comes to the ‘game’ bit, I can’t help but feel Boyfriend Dungeon is lacking. I mentioned earlier that the game’s tone was poppy and breezy, and whilst that felt right for the game, more was in order in some crucial departments. There’s only two dungeons to complete, a singe villain to defeat, and, dates aside, that’s sort of it. It does not take long for the two dungeons to lose any sense of challenge, rendering your experience points a little worthless.
As the dungeons are representations of the protagonist’s fears, it’s disappointing to see it handled in such a cursory manner. Sure, it’s not meant to be a complex drama, but by the time the second dungeon concluded, I didn’t feel like a complete statement on the game’s many themes had been reached. There’s much more that could have been done to create a fulfilling arc worthy of the game’s thematic interests. It’s fine that the combat and crafting are kept minimal, but thematically I walked away feeling like there wasn’t nearly enough done to properly capitalise on such a clever premise.
Even if it did let you date a cat
But whatever misgivings I have about the game’s overall execution, I had a super fun time. The characters are likeable and compelling, the combat enjoyable and simplistic, and it’s loaded with positive vibes: a welcome relief in today’s angry world, drunk on hate and eager to lash out in fear of diversity, of difference. Boyfriend Dungeon emphatically embraces our differences, and for that reason alone, it’s worth giving it a try.
And you can date a cat.
Platforms Available – Steam, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Review based on Steam media account copy. Please read this post for more on our scoring policy.