Tom's Guide Verdict
Boyfriend Dungeon elicits an emotional attachment to its large cast of characters, but repetitive gameplay and dungeons sour the experience.
Relaxing soundtrack alongside interesting characters
Accessibility and inclusive romance options
Varied weapon styles to use in combat
Only two main dungeons.
Not much replay value after maxing love ranks.
Character customization feels at odds with itself
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Boyfriend Dungeon has been in development for a few years, and has garnered much attention due to its massively successful Kickstarter. The game reached more than double its original funding goal, and the developers have promised to add a few more dateable characters in the future. At present, Boyfriend Dungeon is engaging, blending the aesthetic choices of visual novels and dating simulators with isometric action/adventure gameplay, similar to Hades or Death’s Door.
However, the game has a hard time balancing these genres together effectively, with only two major dungeons to explore. I found myself playing these two dungeons numerous times, solely to upgrade my individual relationship with each weapon and complete their specific character arcs.
Still, fans of dating simulators and simple action/adventure games will absolutely find aspects worth thinking about, even after finishing the game's core narrative and their preferred romances. Or, they can be like me, and romance every single character before the end credits appear. Read our full Boyfriend Dungeon review to learn more.
Boyfriend Dungeon review: Gameplay
In Boyfriend Dungeon, you play as an anxious individual who has never been on a date, or had much luck with forming bonds of friendship. You come to stay with your cousin Jesse in the seaside town of Verona Beach until the end of the summer. As you experience this new community for yourself, you attempt to form relationships (romantic or platonic) with a diverse cast of characters. You can choose your own responses for a lot of the dates, as well as the subsequent text-message conversations.
Boyfriend Dungeon contains content warnings for harassment, stalking and manipulation, and it is best to take these warnings seriously. You'll also have a Mom character routinely texting you reassurance throughout the game, but you can turn these off if you find them uncomfortable. It is considerate of the developers to take this approach.
The main aspect that sets Boyfriend Dungeon apart from other dating simulators is the dungeons — referred to in-game as "the dunj." The player will routinely go through dungeons, where the game shifts a visual novel to a dungeon crawler. You'll fight various monsters to figure out why each dunj exists, all while confronting the main character’s inner demons and fears. In each dunj, you will discover broken, worn-out weapons who can transform into people. Finding these weapons lets you use them in battle, as well as go on dates with them.
The game includes dateable queer and/or transgender characters. Some of the character backstories are also explicitly queer. Isaac talks about how the monsters he fought in the dunj were trucks, and how they represented his family's issues with rigid masculinity. Sawyer directly talks about how they just came out as non-binary, and are adjusting to new pronouns. Quite a lot of thought went into each character.
The game also lets you customize your appearance. When I saw the game had turbans, I cried.
Turbans, and Sikh characters more generally, have been in games since back in the NES days. Recently, turban options are popping up more often in games. Not having to unlock this option moved me to tears. Compare and contrast to a game such as Cozy Grove, where it took me two full weeks to unlock a turban option.
However, I wasn't able to equip the turban with other headwear, like crowns or glasses. I couldn't wear damage-increasing glasses with a turban, or headphones that changed the dunj's soundtrack. An option that made me feel so represented at first ultimately felt pretty lacking. I was missing out on in-game bonuses because I wanted to have my character look like me. This ultimately made the game harder than it needed to be, since I couldn't equip extra accessories with perks.
Boyfriend Dungeon review: Combat
Each weapon in Boyfriend Dungeon has a human form, as well as a unique gameplay style. You're almost sure to find one that suits you. You start off with Isaac, a fencing teacher who transforms into an estoc, and strikes with fierce, quick pokes. Later on, you might equip Seven, a lasersaber who can inflict massive electric shockwaves to zap enemies.
The combat is simple, with light and heavy attacks and a dodge-roll. Boyfriend Dungeon has some rogue-like elements, but the penalties for fainting in the dunj are low. You keep any treasures you find, and earn rewards for completing each floor, finding hidden secrets, or simply hanging with your weapon-friends. Most floors have an arcade or skating rink where you can restore life and take a breather together. There is also a Goddess Shield option that you can toggle in the Settings to reduce all damage by 50%. This is helpful for players who aren't adept at action/adventure games. Some rooms can have more than 20 enemies, and feel much more challenging than normal treks into the dunj.
Discovering hangouts lets you give a gift to your weapon friend. This will usually increase your relationship rank with them. Maxing out each relationship level will prompt an inevitable date text, which further increases your rank. Leveling up your relationships with weapon-friends unlocks new, and more powerful abilities.
However, I found myself increasing love ranks much quicker by simply exploring the dunj. After you max out each weapon's love ranks, there's not much reason to revisit the dunj. That's disappointing, especially considering there are only two dungeons in the game.
Boyfriend Dungeon review: Story
The story in Boyfriend Dungeon is a pretty straightforward fish-out-of-water situation. The player visits Verona Beach for the summer, and learns to create meaningful relationships with other residents by going on dates. The core narrative focuses on dealing with a jerk named Eric, who impedes your progress throughout.
The player can interact with up to seven weapon-people, each one of whom has an individual arc. Helping one character process grief, or teaching another how to cook, made me look forward to these dates. Each character exudes a very different energy. It was also refreshing for characters to discuss topics like consent, or managing depression with medication.
There's not much replay value at the moment, but I hope to dive in again when the developers add more dateable characters in the future. The end had me smiling, but also sad about leaving Verona Beach. Saying goodbye to major characters in games with huge casts is always a downer, but their stories and problems helped me think about my own anxiety and hesitancy in making new relationships, just like the main character. People can improve and be better, as long as they have some space to amend past mistakes.
Boyfriend Dungeon: Visuals and sound
Boyfriend Dungeon has a fantastic, relaxing vibe throughout. When you meet each weapon, you see a gorgeous animation of them transforming from weapon form into human form, or vice versa, as if you were watching a magical girl show. Even though the transformation sequences are short, each one is memorable.
Just like any visual novel, the game employs stills for characters, and some characters have voice acting as well. The voicework is generally pretty solid. Some of the subtitles were incorrect, though, which would take me out of the game for a moment.
The game’s soundtrack is mesmerizing, and I found myself listening to it away from the game, too. It sets the tone extraordinarily well, and the lyrical tracks were my absolute favourites. They all transported me back to my pleasant memories of Verona Beach.
Boyfriend Dungeon review: Verdict
Boyfriend Dungeon has been in development for several years, and it basically delivers what it promised. I was sorely disappointed that the game only had two dungeons, though. By the end, I was mostly just reading, having exhausted most of the combat options. The game tries to bring together the visual novel aesthetic with action/adventure gameplay, but there is not an equal balance of the two.
Still, I was taken in by Boyfriend Dungeon's accessibility, and by having numerous characters be outwardly queer and/or transgender. I also personally found the option of having a turban right from the start admirable. I do hope to visit Verona Beach again, when future dateable characters come out. But as of now, the game has very little replayability. I would have liked more dungeons to explore and conquer.
If you haven't already backed this game on Kickstarter, I would say to hold off for now — but maybe pick it up when the inevitable future content hits.