I originally made a typo in the title of this review: “Boyfriend Fungeon.” And honestly, it’s so much fun that could be the name of the game and I wouldn’t even think twice. The premise of Boyfriend Dungeon, an action-adventure RPG, is quite simple: date your weapons in the outside world, or wield your dates in dungeons (dunjs/dunjes?) while mixing in some dating along the way. The game is very inclusive, your character is never assigned a gender and there are clothing options for everyone. Most weapons are males, some are non-binary, one is a female – and you can date them all at once! You even become friends with a wieldable cat.
I don’t remember how I first heard of Kitfox Games and Boyfriend Dungeon; it may have either been through other Canadian developers, or it may have been through the very successful Kickstarter campaign. The campaign began mid-way through 2018, with over CAN$272,000 being raised compared to the initial goal of CAN$65,500. With this extra cash came stretch goals, and one after another was smashed: first Pocket the cat, then Rowan (inspired by Hatoful Boyfriend, the wonderful pigeon dating visual novel), an art book, and finally two extra characters (Leah and Owen).
Before continuing, I’d like to extend the same warning the developer of Boyfriend Dungeon gives at the beginning of the game: there are mentions of stalking and manipulation. I won’t talk about it much, but it will be brought up in the discourse around the game, and it’s absolutely there. Quickly veering off-course, there was also an option to turn off messages from “mom,” which is a complaint I’ve heard about other titles for people who have difficult family dynamics that can make such messages high impact, so I was very glad to see it.
Boyfriend Dungeon is set in the seaside town of Verona Beach. It is indeed Romeo-and-Juliet themed, including the outright reference to Capulet at a location. You’ve just temporarily moved to the area, staying at your cousin’s place until the lease for it is up. But fair Verona Beach is a bit… quirky. For one, some people can turn into weapons. You know how some people can just inherently wiggle their ears or roll their tongue? Like that, but with turning into weapons. Also, there’s a strange new fad: killing monsters in dungeons (singularly, each is a dunj, although the logistics of making that plural makes my head hurt so we’ll just call them dungeons). Of course, there is also a mystery afoot, as someone is kidnapping/stealing weapon-people, taking a part of them, then dumping them in dungeons.
There are two main goals to the game: befriend and/or date weapon-people, and defeat your fears in the dungeons by hacking at them with weapons. The player is the wielder, so they can hold weapons but not become one. The relationship between wielder and weapon can be perfectly platonic, or perfectly romantic, or something in between. And nobody gets jealous if you’re seeing someone else; I would know, as I full-on romanced several weapons at once. The player’s character has some issues with, to put it bluntly, people. This includes social anxiety. Dating is basically a new concept to them, and they’ve never ever done it before now. To say I relate is a understatement – I’m very open about the fact I deal with severe anxiety that manifests in multiple forms, including social anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. The mere idea of leaving home to visit a new city for a summer makes me feel physically ill, so this fearless video game me is kind of inspiring. If they can put themselves out there, meet people, and make mistakes, maybe I can too.
Most of what I enjoy about Boyfriend Dungeon are the relationships formed. Each weapon-person is complex for their own reasons, often with a background that makes you wonder if they’re really interested in you at all. The highlight is Pocket, a cat that you can become great friends with by approaching them very slowly and both growing from there. I honestly can’t imagine the game without Pocket, so I’m quite grateful for that first stretch goal. Not everyone is nice, and one non-weapon will develop a creepy obsession with you, which feels uncomfortable, but it is absolutely needed for the narrative. There is also some talk on the importance of consent.
So aside from dating, which functions like a visual novel, there is dunjing in one of the two dunjes. The first is a mall, decorated like every mall in the western world. The second is a nightclub that increases the difficulty by adding obstacles like steps several times in each level. The dungeons are what you’d expect from a dungeon crawler: procedurally generated with multiple floors to explore and enemies to defeat. The fun part of dungeons in Boyfriend Dungeon is that the monsters are actually visual representations of the main character’s fears – I won’t say more than that though, I don’t want to ruin it! Each dunj has its own monsters, further differentiating them from each other. The phonograph that spits out spiky records is my personal favourite, but each one is equally clever and creepy.
There is one little button in the game that makes it more accessible to anyone who struggles with pain, hand-eye coordination, or even just processing time. The Goddess Shield is an option that can be turned on, and allows the character to take 50 per cent less damage than normal. This means I played for hours at a time, for days in a row, and experienced very little physical fallout. Too often do I look forward to titles but they end up being too much for me, so major thanks to Kitfox Games for making this one manageable like that!
There are a few ways to upgrade your dunj experience, and gain the ability to plunder further and further down. The first is to upgrade your weapon ranks by dating them and offering them gifts. You can do this within the dungeons (things like sitting in massage chairs, ice skating, or chilling in VIP), but you’ll need proper real-world dates to lock-in that rank chance. Each new rank gives the weapon a new skill, sometimes offering the choice between two (as a random example, swinging further versus farther pushback). The second is by crafting clothing items (you can craft the aforementioned gifts as well). Certain items of clothing give you a new ability when worn; I’d wear anything that would give me extra damage when fighting monsters, so my getup got kind of whacky sometimes.
What weapon you use will determine what you need to do and how close you need to get to monsters in the dunj. Some are rather close combat, while others are more widely slashing. I found good and bad in all of them, and having to use each to help rank them up gave me a more complete feel for the game versus sticking with my favourite. Each weapon has its own skills. Fighting is a bit finicky at first, but as your weapons increase in rank it becomes easier (although I suppose hours of practice helps too). There are also limited spells (zines) that can be used, as well as health replenishment. Replacements for both can be found in the dungeons as you go forth. And you go forth at a singular speed, but it’s a good one so while unexpected, it’s not a problem.
A quick note on crafting: you can only do each item once. For clothing, that’s cool, you really only need one. But it would be really nice to be able to craft small multiples of gifts. By the end of the game, I ended up with far more crafting ingredients (found in the dungeons, or purchased from shops) than I could ever have needed. Actually, the same goes for cash. I ended up earning way more than I ever needed. Some added purchasable items would have been nice too.
Your phone is an integral part of the gameplay, as it gives you access to text messages and information about your weapons. A quick glance can tell you where you need to go, who you’re meeting with, or what weapon needs a proper date to rank up. It’s really handy having everything in one place, accessible literally all of the time.
Unfortunately, there are a couple aspects I struggle with when it comes to gameplay. The biggest is that the game feels incomplete. I want more. There’s space for another dunj plushie on a shelf, and it looks so sad. There are also two weapons from the Kickstarter stretch goals who are yet to be added, Leah and Owen (AKA Hammer and Axe). The good news is that they are coming in the future, with some other bits; a backer e-mail from the developer states, “Everyone’s faves Hammer and Axe will also be in an update in the coming months. Hammer is roughly 50 per cent complete, and Axe is roughly 10 per cent, but we’d like to combine it with a few other extremely important bits of content and features.”
The second issue I have is small yet mighty: my game glitched during the final scene, and I couldn’t actually complete the game without fighting the final boss for a second time. Bugs happen, and this won’t affect my review score, but boy was I frustrated.
The sound and music is often a highlight, without taking over from the actual narrative or gameplay at hand. Each track fits perfectly with the times it is played. For example, there’s a song about being out of control on the dance floor while you’re dunjing in the dance club. There’s even a song that sounds vaguely like a cat singing that I’ve heard while chilling with Pocket, but I’m not entirely certain I’m not just hearing things.
I’ve mentioned a lot of things about Boyfriend Dungeon I’ve liked, but I saved the best for last: the transformation sequences. When a weapon first turns to a person, an animated scene will play showing the progress from weapon to human. It is a very obvious nod to Sailor Moon, and it’s perfection for its purpose.
Someone I know summed up the game perfectly: this seems like the kind of game Tina Belcher (a character in Bob’s Burgers) would write. And I am fully here for it. I am head-over-heels for six weapons, something I never thought I would say. The narrative, the gameplay, the music, the animation – it’s all wonderful. Any complaint I have lies in the fact I am greedy and want more. Thankfully, more is on the way!