It was always my understanding that describing someone as a "weapon" was a (generally benign) insult: they behave in a manner that makes them a danger to themselves or others. Recently, however, I heard a woman refer to herself as a weapon, meaning "extremely attractive", a meaning that only makes sense in the world of Boyfriend Dungeon, a dungeon battler-meets-dating sim where your love interests are both extremely attractive and literally weapons. As in swords and that.
You're spending the summer with your cousin, and he and your mum are both concerned at your total lack of any discernable game (which, ouch). He begins setting you up on dates, which mostly happen to be with weapons. These are a variety of different, preturnaturally good looking people who can turn at will into offensive items you wouldn't get through airport security. At the same time, you start exploring dungeons that appear in town, mirror universe versions of normal locations that are full of monsters manifested by your subconcious. You use the former to smash your way through the latter.
As a whole experience, Boyfriend Dungeon leans more into the dating than the dungeon clearing. The two halves are intimately linked, of course, but the relationships have a bit more nuance to them than the combat. Each weapon has a series of Love Ranks that you climb through by spending time with them in a dunj, with every new level gated off until you go on a date with that person. They also get new combat abilities with each level, so there's an ongoing reason to go to the dunj (so you can go on dates with the weapons you like) and go on dates (so you can get better at the dunj). You can even have little breaks in the dunj where you can flirt or give a gift, which you can craft at home... from recipes you find in the dunj.
The variety of love interests is impressive (though, perhaps fewer gal pals than you'd like, but more non-binary friends than you'd expect), and the writing is thoughtful, smart and interesting. One of the first weapons you meet, Sunder, is a gorgeous long-haired lothario, simultaneously emotionally needy and annoyingly distant. He can turn into a talwar, a curved sabre that was a little slow for my tastes, but had an excellent bleeding effect. I didn't like him because he was - to put it bluntly - a bit of a prick, but his story ultimately ended up being one of my favourites. Isaac the estoc is a sensitive rich boy trying to do good in the world and simultaneously impress his dad, who I didn't like much as a weapon but was just so sweet in person. And I broke my heart trying to choose between Seven (ethereal K-Pop superstar by day, laser-sword by night) and Rowan, a distant and beautiful witch somewhat obsessed with death - fitting for their scythe form.
There's a mix of genders (including non-binary pals), and everyone gets a very dynamic intro cutscene showing them transform into a person. To my relief, you can tell someone that you're not interested romantically and just be best buds. You can also forgo any actual shagging if you want - although I recommend trying at least a couple out, because they're often cool and odd and suggest sexing your partner while they're in weapon form, without getting explicit. Just fluttering mentions of blade edges and so on, binding the person and intimacy with the concept of their weapon forms.
It sounds weird, but it's not in context. In fact, the romantic threads are woven quite deftly into a larger story about mutual consent and trust, both in combat and out. It culminates in a boss fight and everything.
It's a shame that the dungeons don't have the same depth. In theory, the combat isn't treated as an add-on, and it would be nice if it were meatier in practice. I really like how the weapons feel markedly different from each other, feeding in to how you feel about them personally. My favourite, on balance, is Seven, who has a lovely chaining lightning attack and is quick enough that I feel comfortable making jabs in short enemy attack windows. I did also really like Pocket the cat, who turns into bladed knuckledusters (and for the sake of clarity I will state that you are not even presented with the option of necking him), whose heavy attacks can combo into furious leaps and swipes.
Aiming and dodging can feel a bit loosey-goosey at times, but the levels of the dunj are ultimately easy enough. You'll hit walls every so often, but you also level up absurdly quickly - this isn't aimed at hardcore bullet-hell afficionados. And I wouldn't demand that of it, in fairness. But I did feel let down when it turned out that there were only two dungeons: a mall full of snapping phones and TVs spitting static, and a nightclub basement with aggressive cocktails and speakers shooting explosive notes. I was looking forward to attacking more mal-adjusted representations of my psyche, but alas no.
I was also a bit disappointed that I didn't get dinged by anyone for romancing several different weapons to, err, completion. I maxed out a few as love interests, not friends, and each of them spoke to me like I only had eyes for them - at a farewell beach party to which they were all invited by my fool of a cousin, surely a recipe for trouble. I dunno how Rowan and Seven are going to feel when they find out that I have both inadvertently promised to bind my destiny to Rowan, and also be Seven's new band manager. I suspect it'll be awks.
That's kind of par for the course in dating sims, though, innit? You get to smooch who you like. That's the thrill! If it's a good dating sim, it'll trick you into feeling like there are consequences, and because Boyfriend Dungeon is very good at that. I also stand by my assessment that because of the additional literal layer to "using" characters, it is the most realistic video game romances have ever been) I was just sort of expecting to be called out at the end. I deserved it! And I'm a bit sad that I wasn't. It turns out that truly, the biggest weapon of all... was me. But if you like dating sims, this is a rollicking good time that offers more action and less passivity than your standard genre stuff. All I want from Boyfriend Dungeon is, basically, more of it. Better, faster, stronger. Sharper...