September 8th, 2021

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Boyfriend Dungeon

Many years ago, back in the 80s and 90s, much of my free time was spent on single-player computer games. They rivaled reading as my favorite pastime. As the web rose, I spent less time on them. Most of my game-playing switched to games I played with friends. Occasionally, I’d immerse myself in new iterations of Civilization, but my biggest solo gameplay activity in the last few years has been phone games: Pokemon GO!, Love Nikki and Time Princess. (These are all online-only games with a slight multiplayer component, but the vast majority of gameplay is solo.)

But I kept thinking “single-player games are fun!” To the degree that, when a KS for a neat computer game would come to my attention, I sometimes backed it. By July 2021, I had backed 4 different video games, 3 of which had delivered between 1 and 8 years previously, and none of which had I played, or even installed.

(I have a terrible record of making use of anything I back on Kickstarter, but that’s another entry.)

On August 10, the fourth game delivered: Boyfriend Dungeon. I was actually still looking forward to playing Boyfriend Dungeon. A few days later, I not only fetched the Steam key reserved for me, but I added it to my Steam account, installed the game, and then -- amazing! -- I started playing it.

Boyfriend Dungeon is a dating sim crossed with a dungeon stomp. You play as an individual who’s never dated before. You are visiting Verona Beach for the summer, where you sublet an apartment from your cousin. A dungeon has recently taken over the local mall, and it happens that a bunch of people can turn into weapons. The hot new thing is to meet up with a weapon and then go into the dungeon with said weapon and fight monsters.

The game just rolls with its wild premise. “Sometimes people turn into weapons and sometimes your mall turns out to be a dungeon full of old communications tech that’s trying to kill you, you know, these things happen.” No, I don’t know, and these things do not happen, but I’m glad to see that we’re sidestepping the tropes of “pretending none of this is going on” or “the government intervenes to cordon off the dungeon-mall and puts all the weapon-people into testing facilities” or whatever.

The game has six weapon-people (three male, one female, two nonbinary) and one weapon-cat (male). There’s some diversity in races/origins here: one African-American, one immigrant from India, one Korean man, and three white people. They are all slender and conventionally attractive. As you fight in the dungeon with one of the weapons, you gain affection with that weapon. Each rank of affection unlocks an encounter/date with that person (or cat). It also unlocks a new ability or a new ability choice (choices of ability are easily altered if you change your mind later).

You choose your pronouns and your appearance at the start of the game, and can change either one at any time. The sprites are androgynous, and you can choose to wear any clothing options available; the appearance of clothing is not affected by the pronouns you choose. I liked these touches and thought they worked pretty well.

All of the weapon-people are protagonist-sexual, as it should be in any dating sim. You can play through the encounters as either romantic or friendly. The same character can max affection with all 6 weapon-people, and play through each encounter as romantic, or none of the encounters as romantic, or just one of them. It doesn’t seem to impact the storylines one way or another.

After you max affection with one weapon, you get a 2x bonus to affection with all other weapons, so that does have the nice effect of reducing grindiness.

I maxed affection with all seven weapons and finished the main storyline. Note: finishing the main storyline ends the game! I recommend either finishing everything you want to do before you start the final storyline encounter (it will be obvious when this will happen) or making a copy of your save file first (the game supports this).

I picked the romantic options when dating the six weapon-people, and the romantic options all imply sexual content, although they’re fade-to-black about it. I found five of the routes pretty satisfying, and the sixth one a bewildering choice for a dating sim. I didn’t explore any of the “let’s be friends” choices with the weapon-people. My impression from the reactions of those who did is that the dates work best as romantic-allosexual. There are no romantic-asexual options, and the friendship options are portrayed as positive but not with the same depth as the romantic-allosexual.

The weapon-cat encounters are pretty much “make friends with a cat”. I found the weapon-cat storyline endearing although I’m not sure why the devs thought this was a good storyline to put in a dating sim. I mean, he’s a cat. He doesn’t talk, he does not interact as a being of human intelligence, and you’re not dating him. I’m not saying I wouldn’t play a “befriend seven different cats with different feline personalities, each of them getting their own distinct storyline” game because I 1000% would. But it was an odd choice when everything else is dating (basically) humans.

The game has a content warning for stalking; I’ll get into this more in the spoilers section below. I have some spoilery issues with the main storyline as well.

I am not much into dungeon-stomps and it took me a while to get the hang of this one well enough to get through it. I ended up repeating a lot of the early levels in the first dungeon several times because it’s what I could handle. Once I figured it out, I think I was somewhat overleveled for the later stuff, so it was pretty easy thereafter.

The final storyline fight was difficult enough that after I beat it once, I reloaded and tried to beat it with a different weapon, and then nope’d out after a few failures.

There is a setting to give you double health or something on those lines; I didn’t have a hard enough time to turn it on. (Though maybe using it would let me beat the boss again with a different weapon). I didn’t see any other difficulty settings.

So I found the combat content a bit grindy and a bit challenging, but it wasn’t much of an issue. And I liked the little break between storyline encounters that stomping around the dungeon provided.

Overall, I had a great time with the game. I appreciated that it was polyam-friendly (if only in harem-style), bisexual-friendly, and had nonbinary rep for both the protag and the love interests. I enjoyed the romances, and I liked the setting and the tone: offbeat and with a sense of humor, but serious enough that I could immerse myself in the world. The main storyline disappointed me in some ways, but not enough to impair my enjoyment of the game.

On to the spoilers! This includes some stuff that I enjoyed figuring out on my own and am glad was not spoiled for me. It also includes details about the content warnings and specifics on what disappointed me. So YMMV on wanting to read it.

I want to point out that I enjoyed this game enough that writing this review makes me want to play through it again. XD According to Steam, I spent 15 hours playing it. I expect someone reasonably good at the dungeon stomp could get through all the content in 10 hours or less.

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