Boyfriend Dungeon is half a dungeon-run action game where you clear levels of a "dunj" of monsters generated by your own subconscious, and half a dating sim where you can shack up with the very weapons you use in said dungeon runs. You may have heard of it already, because the concept is, just, incredible.
However, I can sense some scepticism from you, reader, and that's natural. I have to confess, from my time with the first two hours of the game, its dungeons are probably the weaker part. But the dating bit is both absolutely joyous (each weapon gets an over-the-top, beautiful transformation video like off of anime) but also very interesting. I am not only invested in the romances, but I care about them more than with any other video game romance I've played. Not in spite of them being literal tools that I use, but because of it.
Boyfriend Dungeon is set in a world where some people can just turn into weapons. Like, that's just a thing they can do. The new health craze in town is to complete dungeon runs, which is apparently a great workout for both wielders (what you are) and weapons. The enemies in the opening mall dungeon are fun. You've got flip phones with vampire teeth, CRT tellies that spit balls of static, and rotary phones that look like angry spiders. The combat itself is a bit weightless, and probably won't satisfy fans of more single-minded roguelikes like Hades and The Binding Of Isaac. But it's pretty perfect for me, because I find dungeon-runs anxiety-inducing at the best of times. The forgiving nature of the Boyfriend Dungeon dunj lets you keep everything you find, even if you pass out, for example, and it has very easy levelling. It's ideal for me, especially when you combine it with its visual novel dating sim aspect.
The weapons all feel different to handle. The gulf between the slower swings of Sunder the talwar and the fast jabs of Valeria the dagger is pretty wide, but this is where the dating sim bit gets smart. Each weapon also has a romance level, you see, and each time you increase this romance level, you unlock a special ability. For example, Sunder applies bleeding, while Valeria has one where if you dodge out of an enemy sightlight, they get all confused. Your romance level with a weapon increases most efficiently by taking on a dunj with them. But! Once you ding a weapon's romance level, you can't progress to the next until you've gone on a date with them.
Therein lies the rub. The romance bit is explicitly tied to them being a better weapon to use. But rather than making this a cold calculus for utility, it has ended up making me feel really bad! In RPGs with romance options, like my heart's darling Dragon Age, the romance stuff is mostly coralled away from the rest of the game. Having a good relationship with your crew might convey some benefits, but it's not integral to their combat levelling. Like, if you piss off Varic he's still going to bring the arrow rain with his crossbow.
Plus, in other video game romances, many of those relationships aren't actually romantic unless you choose the dialogue option with the big flirty heart icon. Even in full blown dating sims and romance visual novels, you can kinda just go after whoever you fancy the most and not think about it. Yeah, sure. I have whatever opinions will make you like me. Whatevs.
In Boyfriend Dungeon, I have been made very aware that I could both literally and metaphorically use these people. The game hammers the connection home in other ways; one time Sunder sent me a photo of himself as in weapon form and it was treated with the same innuendo as if he'd sent me a dick pic. There's also a creepy blonde wielder dude who is your first ever date in town, and has a real thing about weapon-people not being "pure", which is tied to his attraction to you. He owns a shop selling regular, crappy swords and talks about how the ideal weapon would be one without a personality that just wanted to serve him. Boke.
It's weird! I really like Valeria as a weapon, and I also have fun with her on dates. But I also don't want to sort of trick her into opening up to me just because I like that dodge move she has and want to make it more effective. I have a similar problem with Isaac, an estoc who is pictured mid-transformation animation in the header. He's a really sweet dude! But he's started asking me to commit, and I don't know if I'm ready on several levels. It's the most realistic video game romance that I've ever played because I'm actually thinking about these fake people's feelings in relation to my own behaviour in the game.
I'd say it's weird, but it's also great. I don't think it's a bad thing at all. It has made me think very different about all sorts of video game romance things. It works the other way around, too, in that I don't particularly like Sunder. I think he's kind of a smug asshole. He won't eat ice cream, he comes off pretty manipulative, and I don't particularly like spending time with him.
I'm going to say we should just be friends at the next opportunity, but part of me also hopes I can still carry on using him in the dungeon and level him after that. It would be a relief if I could, but I'll probably have to wait until closer to the game's release to see if my plan can work. Boyfriend Dungeon still doesn't have a firm release date yet, but fingers crossed it won't be long before we can get down and dirty in its various dunjs.