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Game On: ‘Boyfriend Dungeon’ is a bizarre but fun adventure

Aug. 26, 2021 Updated Thu., Aug. 26, 2021 at 3:35 p.m.

The story segments of “Boyfriend Dungeon” play out like a visual novel with anime styling. It’s quirky and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is to the game’s credit. “Boyfriend Dungeon” is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows PC and via an Xbox Game Pass subscription.  (Kitfox Games)
The story segments of “Boyfriend Dungeon” play out like a visual novel with anime styling. It’s quirky and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is to the game’s credit. “Boyfriend Dungeon” is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows PC and via an Xbox Game Pass subscription. (Kitfox Games)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Aug. 11 saw the release of “Boyfriend Dungeon,” a dungeon-crawling dating-simulator hybrid that’s every bit as ridiculous as it sounds – you play the role of a “wielder” who goes on dates and destroys monsters with a handful of people who can turn into weapons at will. Based on the “date your weapons” premise alone, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to play it.

If I’m being honest, I expected that the game wouldn’t hold my interest for very long – hybrid games often excel in one category but stumble in the other. But while “Boyfriend Dungeon” doesn’t offer any groundbreaking innovations, the story is compelling, and the gameplay is smooth as butter. The bizarre premise is a bonus, a good way to hook people looking for something just a little bit weird. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor should it.

“Boyfriend Dungeon” has a wonderful sense of style. The isometric dungeon-crawling looks about how you’d expect, but the animations are extra fluid, and enemy movements are telegraphed well enough for competent players to learn how to dodge and parry attacks before long. The dating sim portions play out as visual novels and feature anime-like, hand-drawn artwork, and the transformation animations for each weapon you meet are breathtaking.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the game is its setting. Fantasy and science-fiction games are popular for a reason, but once in a while something different is welcome. “Boyfriend Dungeon” takes place in a fictional modern-day college town in California named “Verona Beach,” and although many things are exaggerated throughout the game for dramatic or comedic effect, the game’s events are mostly believable.

Well, except for the whole “people turning into swords” bit, which everyone around you considers to be a fairly normal occurrence. With the modern setting comes certain advantages and disadvantages. The two dungeons you can explore – colloquially called a “dunj” in-game – are a shopping mall and a nightclub, and while it makes for an amusing concept, after exploring several floors, I found myself longing for something a bit more imaginative.

It doesn’t help that the synthpop soundtrack for the game is woefully short, cementing the sinking feeling of sameness as you play. On the plus side, the modern setting enabled the writers to really explore the limits of making a dating sim. Two of the romanceable weapons are nonbinary, you can choose to be nonbinary yourself, and accordingly every character you can flirt with is hypothetically pansexual.

“Dragon Age 2” did something similar, and call me close-minded, but every single character being openly bisexual in medieval times felt out of place even in the presence of magic, dragons and other fantastical things. In “Boyfriend Dungeon,” all of that makes sense. I’d also like to applaud developer Kitfox Games for writing believable drama – I haven’t played boatloads of dating sims, but they’re typically preposterously idealistic.

Almost every character you can date in “Boyfriend Dungeon” has some amount of emotional baggage, and Kitfox Games left plenty of clues alluding to these points of tension before they ever come up. It’s easy to become invested in the characters as a result, and it rewards players for paying close attention – that’s great writing, plain and simple.

A cornerstone of most RPGs and dungeon crawlers is the presence of numerous weapons and characters. Despite the plethora of tactics available, it’s often too easy to get trapped in the pitfall of getting comfortable with one character or weapon and never feeling compelled to try something different.

Because your levels in “Boyfriend Dungeon” are tied to the number of dates you’ve been on with your weapon, the game nudges players to switch things up constantly. Someone put a lot of thought into the pacing of the game, and it shows. “Boyfriend Dungeon” is not without flaws – although its premise is original in many ways, it does fall into the “new guy in town” trope.

Your character has zero dating experience, but suddenly everyone wants them – all the usual clichés are present. The game was almost bug-free for me, but monsters periodically drop items in out-of-bounds areas, and there’s no way to get them. It’s a common occurrence and a rather surprising oversight, so I imagine it will be fixed soon. The game is getting good press and reportedly selling five times as fast as “Moon Hunters,” one of Kitfox Games’ previous titles.

It was made possible thanks to a highly successful Kickstarter campaign – the goal was $65,579, and $272,280 was pledged. “Boyfriend Dungeon” is included with Xbox Game Pass and is available to purchase on digital storefronts for $20 on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Windows PC. It’s still pending a rating from the ESRB, but I’ll go on the record saying only adults should play this one.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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