Boyfriend Dungeon’s sincerity helps it tackle dark themes with care
The sincerity with which developer Kitfox Games enters into Boyfriend Dungeon is contagious. It’d otherwise be easy to write the game off as a joke, a concept that’s wacky just to be wacky. I mean, it’s a dating simulator in which you date people that can turn into weapons, which can then be used to fight through monstrous dungeons. But it’s a concept that’s executed in earnest, with thoughtfulness and care grounding the otherwise implausible world. It was easy to just go with it. So yeah, the game is about dating people that you’ll also use as weapons to fight your insecurities. What of it?
Boyfriend Dungeon begins with the player character moving to a charming seaside town called Verona Beach, after a short customization stage where pronouns, look, and name are all adjustable. The story goes like this: You’re a person with no dating experience. Spending the summer in Verona Beach, paired with your matchmaking cousin Jesse, means learning to love. Jesse sets you up with the first date, and things spring off from there before the monster fighting begins. In the dunj — short for dungeon — is where you learn that there are some people in Verona Beach that can turn into weapons. And you just so happen to be open to wielding them.
Image: Kitfox Games
Dating is mixed with sessions in the dunj, which is also a place where you can meet new folks. You date in spots around Verona Beach, and supplement those dates with sessions in the dunj. Taking people (weapons!) into the dunj means leveling up a love ranking, which is essentially a power ranking — this is how you gain new abilities and increase your stats.
But to get there, you’ve got to date. Dating happens in a visual novel-esque style, with interactions playing out in real-time conversation choices. In between the dunj and dates, you also build these relationships through text conversations. There are seven different romance options and thus there are seven different weapons that can be used to blast your way through Boyfriend Dungeon’s two dungeons.
The initial concept, of combining dating and dungeon crawling, felt natural to me: I was able to get to know the folks around me and figure out which weapon best suited my play style. It worked as a conceptualization of dating. Balancing dates, texting, and intimacy throughout the game felt comfortable, and never overwhelming.
Image: Kitfox Games
Boyfriend Dungeon’s core narrative recently brought developer Kitfox a round of discourse. One of the first dates you’ll go on is with a guy named Eric, a condescending shop owner that quickly turns to emotional manipulation and stalking. The controversy around Eric is regarding whether Kitfox’s content warning was strong enough, and whether players should have been able to opt out of interactions with him. Kitfox has since updated its content warning at the beginning of the game to better describe these interactions — but Eric remains an integral part of the story. And that’s for good reason: Boyfriend Dungeon is a game that’s goofy, sexy, and also serious. It encompasses a lot of the good things about dating, but also some unfortunate realities. Interactions with Eric in Boyfriend Dungeon are genuinely uncomfortable. But they’re depicted in a way that doesn’t let him off the hook for his behaviors. That said, it is good that Kitfox has updated the game with a more descriptive content warning, because the narrative does delve into traumatic themes.
Boyfriend Dungeon’s story also tackles themes of fear — like fear of change or intimacy. Dungeons, specifically, are themed around those fears, with monsters coming to life as representations of each. (For fear of change, the mall dunj, you’ll fight stylized old tech; in the club, representing fear of intimacy, you fight cocktails and lips.) Each of the people you can date have their own stories and themes that touch on very real anxieties, each of which is handled with care. Kitfox is sending a very sincere message about overcoming those fears, and ultimately using that progress to absolutely annihilate Eric.
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It worked for me because of the earnestness and care with which Kitfox tells this empowered queer story. It’s not always pleasant to experience, but it’s a story that left me feeling satisfied with the outcome.
Where Boyfriend Dungeon stumbles, though, is in how quickly the story advances through the two dungeons and the dating throughout. My character went from being awkward and unsure to expertly flirtatious in no time. I felt like I could instantly woo dates left and right, with everyone clamoring to date me. That may be part of the fantasy, but the system made it so easy to speed through dating that much of it felt superficial. This all felt compounded by how quickly I was able to breeze through the two dungeons, as well. It felt satisfying in the moment to hack and slash my way through the levels, but each of the big fights came and went without much difficulty. Better pacing, I think, would have helped in making room for deeper relationships with each of Boyfriend Dungeon’s romance options, because what’s offered is compelling. Plus, more dungeons!
Despite these issues, though, I liked the majority of Boyfriend Dungeon; I got wrapped up in the fantasy of it all, finishing the game in a little more than a single session. I simply didn’t want to put the game down because I wanted to learn more about the world’s people (and cat — yes, you can befriend and fight with a cat, but not really fall in love). It would be so easy to create a concept like this that gets lost in a sense of irony, to make it all feel like one big joke. But the developers at Kitfox approached Boyfriend Dungeon with such genuine belief in the story, and that’s ultimately what stuck with me after I finished the game.
Boyfriend Dungeon was released on Aug. 11 on Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a pre-release download code provided by Kitfox Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
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