Before I dive into this review, I want to say a few things. One, this might be the first time I’ve seen credits for three games in less than a week and I’m kind of flabbergasted. Two, I want to apologize because I was absolutely wretched about taking screenshots throughout this play, so this post is going to be a little image-light for me. Finally, THERE WILL BE SPOLIERS but I promise to clearly mark where they start – scroll past that point only if you are okay with being spoiled.
I am very familiar with the feeling of playing a game I think I’m going to like, and then not liking it at all. What I’m far less used to is playing something I expect to not like to satiate my curiosity, and then blowing through it in a couple play sessions. And that, friends, is how I managed to finish Boyfriend Dungeon the day after downloading it from XBox Game Pass for PC.
Of course, the majority of the appeal came from the bizarre premise & genre mash-up. What if some people could turn into weapons, and some people were Wielders, who could use those weapons, and what if you could make a little bit of cash beating up monsters in a mall instead of paying for therapy? What if we used this premise to make a game that is part dating sim and part action dungeon crawler? That’s Boyfriend Dungeon. I had to try it, and then I could not stop playing.
Make no mistake, this is a fairly short game. I didn’t chase every achievement, but I did max out each relationship path before embarking on the “point of no return” quest. It’s also not a particularly difficult game – I’m not great with this type of game, and I don’t feel like there were too many points even I found challenging. Overall, while I found the game to be pretty compelling while playing, as soon as I stepped away from it, my feelings changed more to a “Well, that was fine.”
I actually prefer my games pretty low on the difficulty scale (especially games, like this one, that really benefit from the use of a controller), so that didn’t bother me at all. I’m really not a huge fan of dating sims normally, so I’m not sure how much awkwardness is par for the course, but the vicarious embarrassment, which was nearly constant and pretty intense, wasn’t too much of a problem for me. Instead, what keeps me from feeling like this game was pretty damn good is that the pacing is downright awful.
The early game really made me feel like I was in for a damn long haul – everything felt so slow, despite being bombarded with information (and characters) that ended up coming to absolutely nothing. A couple hours in, I decided to check the expected game length on How Long To Beat, and was surprised that I was almost halfway through despite feeling like I just started. At that time, I had only met 3 out of the 7 dateable characters, and hadn’t proceeded very far in any of their storylines.
And then, Kitfox Games threw a cinderblock on the gas pedal, and the result is what feels like it should have been way more game crammed into a package that doesn’t fit it. I’m not sure why they decided to release the game at this point because it’s pretty clear while playing that there is stuff they either cut out or just haven’t added in yet. There are holes, and they’re easy to see while playing.
Early on in the game, the main way of gaining relationship points with your chosen weapon(s) is to traverse the dungeon with them. Of course, you’re not all that powerful early on, and when you run out of health, that run is over. If you make it far enough, you will unlock floor skips, but this is definitely a slow process, and it’s interspersed with unavoidable “dates” with characters who are not really part of the plot.
By about the midway point, you have access to a fair amount of money with which you can purchase gifts, as well as having unlocked at least some gift crafting recipes. This is about the time that relationship gain feels pretty satisfying, but that only lasts until the you max out your first relationship path. At that point, you’re granted an item which doubles all relationship point gain regardless of source. The same item also grants the ability to early points over each level’s cap. This means that if you hadn’t been giving out gifts previously, and you choose to start doing so now, you can practically skip multiple relationship levels with a judicious gift or two, or simply by progressing through the second (of only two) dungeons. Sure, you still get the interactions, but its a little jarring when date requests start coming back to back.
This ended up working to my benefit, because I had almost completed the game’s plot when I realized I had missed a person. A couple meetings, a couple gifts, and a few dungeon floors let me go from never having met the person to maxed out in less than an hour of game time. Which was for the best, but only because I was really out of things to do other than grinding for the sake of grinding. I was mildly concerned that I maybe I had rushed the game, but my character level didn’t slow me down any on the final boss fight, so unless the intent is to add more content, there’s no reason for the potential character level to be even as high as it is. This could potentially be a frustration for someone who wants to hit “max level” before finishing the game – there’s just no way that it’s necessary if you’re even moderately competent.
On top of that, there are a few character / story issues that are troublesome for quite a few players. One of the romance options doesn’t have a satisfying “good” ending, no matter what you do. The character who turns out to be the main antagonist is outrageously problematic long before you realize he’s the actual bad guy of the game, and not just a horrible person, and hooboy, the ending to that arc felt … really unsatisfying, as the game wants you to feel like that taking oneself to therapy is adequate punishment for kidnapping and mutilation in this world. Opinions seem to be more divided on the absolute utter lack of consequences to getting romantically involved with absolutely everyone; for me, I think what was lacking was the ability to communicate that fact in a lot of instances.
For me, by the midway point of the game, every time I the option came up with a new character, I chose a platonic route. It locks you out of absolutely nothing, and it soothed my conscience a little bit. Which also kind of leads into a personal issue I tend to have with dating sims, and I don’t know if this is a thing that happens with people who are bigger fans of the genre.
To me, it always feels like there are one, sometimes two, characters that are presented as the right choice, and the rest of them are just there to sweet talk you and wave a whole bouquet of red flags. Of course, in Boyfriend Dungeon, it doesn’t really matter if you choose one person or all of them – you don’t get your happily ever after, at least not within the game.
The main character arc was a little painful – you arrive in Verona Beach as a person of indeterminate age who has never so much been on a date. In no time, you’re the object of a madman’s obsession, and absolutely everyone is tripping over themselves to get next to you, including a 200 year old vampire, and a K-pop celebrity, because, I suppose, you are the main character. It was extra weird for me since the two main fears you’re fighting throughout the story are the fear of change and the fear of intimacy. It’s like, maybe you were never actually ready to date at all?
But then, even once you’ve conquered your fears, and destroyed the bad guy, you’re rewarded simply with a day on the beach and a plane ride back home. All the characters who have been declaring their undying love for you throughout the whole game are suddenly like “It’s been real, keep in touch, maybe we’ll see each other again someday, I guess.”
It’s a let down. I would have – at the very least – been able to choose one character I connected most to and gotten some kind of little epilogue of what happened with that relationship after the credits. The ending definitely needed something, because I was sitting there, shaking my head, thinking that’s it?
Maybe it’s a little too much to expect emotional authenticity and a satisfying resolution from a game that has living weapons and a datable cat (who is also a weapon).
I feel like I’ve done a lot of complaining here about a game I actually liked. It was weird and out there and the dungeon crawling – for me at least – was enjoyable, but probably would just be frustrating for someone who likes their combat more challenging. For the most part, the relationship candidates had interesting personal stories, and spending time with them, both inside and outside of the dungeons, felt good.
No, Boyfriend Dungeon isn’t a bad game, but it’s a game that feels incomplete. It’s a game where you can see the supports through the gaps in the finish. For me, the attempt to make everyone happy by letting you do pretty much whatever you wanted missed the mark. I wanted more meaningful choices. I wanted to be able to say the wrong thing and have that have lasting consequences. And maybe, just a little, I wanted someone to beg me not to leave.