Kitfox’s recently released dating sim Boyfriend Dungeon has a novel premise. In Boyfriend Dungeon you date sword people: humans who transform into weapons that you can take dungeon crawling. And no, not sex dungeons. Classic video game dungeons with loot and monsters. On paper, Boyfriend Dungeon sounds like the best six-ish hours you could have in a game, combining the endorphin rush of monster-slaying with a cast of hotties that’ll make your heart flutter. Sounds like a great time… except one of these hotties slid a sword right through my heart.
When I entered Verona Beach, I wasn’t too enamoured with my first date. A gentleman called Isaac took me on my first run through the ‘Dunj’, as he transformed into a perfectly straight estoc to match his strait-laced personality. Isaac’s stiff manner soon became unattractive when he stood directly next to the brooding Sunder, who arrived soon afterwards. Sunder was natural, flirtatious, owned a club and looked like he had been ripped directly out of a protein shake advert. The overly civil Isaac would sign his texts like he was writing a business email. Sunder would send me a picture of himself in sword form captioned, “I was just… feeling… extra sharp today.”
I preferred the wider swings of Sunder’s combos in the Dunj, I acted cynical about the mall to impress him - even though I love shopping – and his favourite gifts turned out to be alcohol, which I had coincidentally picked up all the recipes for. So, me and Sunder were a match made in dating-sim heaven.
But despite our seeming compatibility, there were warning signs. For one, after inviting me to his club he excused himself to the toilet. I decided to follow him - not because I was insecure, you understand, I was just worried he might have fallen over or something like that. That’s when I found Sunder with his face buried in a random woman’s neck. Also, his friend explicitly warned me to not trust him. So there was that. But I ignored all those tiny issues because I thought, in true video game romance fashion, that any problems that did arise could be ironed out if played smarter. If I gave the right gifts, picked the correct dialogue options and spent enough time with Sunder in the Dunj I'd 'win' his love.
The other dateable denizens of Verona Beach weren’t that appealing to me either. Sawyer the glaive was a little too naive and immature and annoying. Rowan, a scythe, was in mourning and threatened to kill me, so not the perfect partner for a summer on the beach. Valeria was… a girl, so we decided to stay friends. There was K-pop star, Seven, who didn’t eat ice cream because he feared the calories and struck me as a bit pretentious. And then there was Pocket, a cat who turned into brass knuckles and who I did end up wielding a lot, but that’s just because I love cats, not in a romantic way. (Even though I did say “I love you” after going on six dates and maxing out my love rank with the feline. I’m... uh... not exactly sure if Boyfriend Dungeon did made me romance a cat or not.)
[Spoilers for Sunder's story in Boyfriend Dungeon follow!]
I decided to continue my summer romance with Sunder as he grappled with becoming better at relationships then he was in the past. He became more attentive, honest and comfortable. He eventually gave me an explanation to his shady behaviours: he was a vampire. In my mind, this was a reasonable explaination for having his head in that strange woman’s neck. He was just thirsty! Makes total sense. I still neglected the other sword people, only taking Sunder to the Dunj and anticipating his texts after every time I levelled up our love rank. His bloodsucking admission somehow made him more alluring. He was suddenly more mysterious and more honest for sharing such a taboo secret. By the time we only had one more love rank to go, I thought this meant everything was all good, right? We had overcome the hurdle in the relationship and all that was left was for us to max out that love rank and live happily ever after.
Except, this time Sunder didn’t text me immediately after levelling up, as characters usually do. In the event that Sunder’s storyline was bugged - and he was lost in an abstract abyss full of stray code and deformed faces – I turned elsewhere. I spent the time grinding with other characters. For loot and XP, I mean. This was when Seven began to intrigue me more. All the things that were off-putting about him before had actual reasonable explanations. He sometimes acted jaded because of his battles with mental health, and his resistance toward ice cream came from the constrictions of being a worldwide K-pop star with an image to maintain. In many ways, Seven was the complete opposite of Sunder, coming off more sensitive, mellow and reserved than the macho vampire.
I was in the middle of my budding romance with Seven when Sunder finally replied. I knew immediately that it was bad news but, again, Boyfriend Dungeon is a video game. Whatever the problem is, quick enough reflexes or smart enough thinking or good enough loot will save the day. To my surprise, this didn't apply to Sunder. This is something that I, and many other players, were confused about. “Wait, I got the bad ending?”
It turns out every ending with Sunder is the bad ending; no matter what you do, he’ll break up with you. Many online fans were asking for a patch to include a version of the story where Sunder fights his demons for the sake of true love, as all the other characters do. Some fans even took Sunder into the final boss battle post-rejection, expecting Sunder to change his mind.
It's understandable that so many fans had this reaction to Sunder. Vampires are a romance trope, from long before Twilight's boom in popularity. Maybe it's the whole eternal love thing. You don't expect the immortal Sunder to also have commitment issues. But there are reasons why this break up works for me, despite the tragedy. The tedium of real life sets in quickly and Sunder's been drenched in the mundane world for centuries. He expresses that he just wants to do what he loves: dance in the club and enjoy life. His lack of commitment comes from an emotionally true place since he can't give effort to a relationship despite his feelings. And many vampire romances don't end in (un)holy matrimony. Classic, gothic vampiric fiction is often a dangerous dance between sex, love and blood, and the game teases this when Sunder actually draws the player character's blood in a few, intimate, moments. When you think about it, vampire romances can't work in the real world. Since Boyfriend Dungeon's romances are some of the most realistic in games, there was only ever one way for Sunder's story to end.
I appreciated how Boyfriend Dungeon pushed back on me and other players. Sometimes the choices we make aren’t the healthy ones, and the world of dating doesn’t follow the same rules as an RPG. Not everyone can be wooed by throwing the correct gifts at them and picking the perfect thing to say. Sometimes things just aren’t meant to be. It’s a lesson you can just as easily learn from real life, but it hurts a lot more in the real world and you usually don’t get any good loot from it.