Thoughts On: Discourse Dungeon

Thoughts On: Discourse Dungeon

So, I know there was an unreal amount of discourse about this game, which is truly stunning to me given how ultimately kind of benign this game is. If you somehow are here and reading this article and don’t know what I’m talking about, uh, where ya been? But seriously, I’ll get into it a bit later. Let’s talk about Kitfox's new game and what it's like to date your weapon!

Welcome to Verona Beach!

Boyfriend Dungeon is a dungeon-crawling game with Dating Sim elements. Or a dating sim with a dungeon crawling system! Up to you, really! Point is it’s a bit of column A, bit of column B. The basic premise of the game is that you’re visiting Verona Beach, a cool big city on the coast, on summer vacation. You’ve got a pad because your cousin is moving in with his partner, but his lease isn’t up, so you get to stay in his apartment for the summer! Awesome! But as seems to often be the case in dating sims, you’re not so great at interacting with people, in general. You’re so cute, but so awkward!! Don’t worry though, your cousin is great at people! And dating! So, he’s gonna help you out! He sets you up on a date tomorrow morning, actually! But you can’t spend all your time on awkward dates. Why don’t you go fight some monsters!

What? Monsters? It turns out that monsters have been appearing in Verona Beach and causing problems—mainly in the mall. But, apparently some people in town can turn into weapons, so people who can turn into weapons join up with those who don’t and go kill monsters! It’s a popular thing right now and, as it turns out, your cousin also set you up with a dude who’s into that! Cool! So, you go to the "dunj" and meet Isaac, the first weapon in your arsenal, to do some dungeon crawling. After a bit you find a second weapon, a talwar, who transforms into a very handsome, but constantly shirtless man named Sunder. Somehow or another, you leave the dunj (whether you get knocked out or leave of your own accord is immaterial).

The next morning, you have a date with a kind of intense and weird dude named Eric who owns a weapon shop and hates people who can turn into weapons? It’s weird, we’ll get back to him later. And that’s pretty much your introduction to the game! You’ve gone on a dungeon run; you’ve gone on a date! Those are the two main things you can do.

So, You’re Dating Your Sword

After your first venture into the dunj, you open up the option to date any of the weapon characters y0u have unlocked. Every time you enter the dunj, you increase your compatibility with whatever weapon you’re using. When you hit the next rank, you get to go on a date with them outside of the dungeon. As you do, you unlock new abilities that alter a bit of the play-style of the weapon: for example Isaac the Estoc’s first level ability gives you a block and parry if you time it right. As you progress in the dunj, you’ll meet new weapons until you have encountered all of them.

As you spend time in Verona beach with your weapons, you form relationships with them and text with them. A lot. Texting plays a pretty huge role in the game, honestly. And you can even give them gifts, which can alter your standing with them—after all—it is a dating sim. Each new level unlocks a new scene and date with your weapon and lets you know more about them. I’ve heard some say the characters are a bit boring but, I disagree; everyone is hot and cool. With that, let’s talk about the weapons!


Your (sword) suitors are…

Isaac the Estoc

an image of a handsome black man in a suit with a smile and textbox indicating his name is Isaac
Isaac in one of the later floors of the dungeon smiling with a little heart by his face

Isaac is the first weapon you meet and he’s an actual king. He’s a philanthropist who truly sincerely wants to help people. He runs a nonprofit when you meet him and he’s the kindest, gentlest man on earth and I haven’t given him his due in this review or in the game. I had a lot of trouble vibing with him on a mechanical level because the thrusts feel weirdly slow and restrictive. Once I got the skill that makes his parry timer more forgiving, I instantly liked playing with him more; waiting on enemies to attack me so I can parry them and then usually finish them in one more strike is pretty satisfying.

Sunder the Talwar

an image of a handsome man with long hair a jacket and no shirt with a texbox that tells you his name is Sunder

Sunder is a gorgeous asshole. Like, honestly, that’s pretty true. He’s so handsome, but you learn pretty quickly that he’s not quite the lovelorn fellow he claims to be. In fact, I’m 50/50 that he’s actually a vampire. People can turn into weapons and monsters manifest in the shape of your subconscious fears, why not add vampires to the mix? Mechanically, he’s a lot of fun to play! His level 1 affection ability is whenever you finish a combo, any enemies struck by it take bleed damage and so a lot of his other abilities are related to that.

Valeria the Dagger

an image of a woman with long brown hair and jacket

Valeria is the first weapon in the game that you meet who is guarded. When you find her in the dungeon, she reprimands you for grabbing her suddenly without permission (while she’s in dagger form). It takes a few dates for her to open up to you, but when she does, she’s honestly one of the sweetest characters, if you ask me. Play-wise, she’s a blast. Part of the reason that I found myself attached to her was because playing with her in the dunj was just so much fun! And then it turned out that her story is one that I really enjoyed, so it was a nice win-win for me.

Seven the Lightsaber

a screenshot of a handsome boy with blue hair saying and an earring with a high fashion outfit

Seven is a k-pop star who transforms into a lightsaber. Both of these things are hilarious to me, in particular, for some reason. That said, you might be shocked to find that a lightsaber is a blast to play with. Mechanically, he’s so much fun to play. On a level of narrative, I’m curious about him, but much like Valeria, he’s guarded because, well, why the hell wouldn’t a kpop star be a guarded person in reality? His story definitely parallels the main character’s in some ways, namely about branching and learning to have some confidence in yourself.

Sawyer the Glaive

a screenshot of Sawyer from their animated scene in Boyfriend Dungeon: a cute nonbinary person wearing a collared shirt and cargo shorts

Sawyer is my precious nonbinary child. I’ve known Sawyer for fifteen minutes and if anything happened to them, I’d kill everyone here and myself, etc. Whatever meme you use to talk about how much you love a character, that’s how I feel about Sawyer. Sawyer is a nonbinary college student and certified disaster. Literally on your first date, they try to buy a meal for you with sugar cubes. I am not joking. In terms of play, just a lot of fun, big heavy two-handed weapon that you can throw at enemies to stun them. I will note, as someone on my timeline has, that this is in some ways a weakness of the dating sim aspect. Your character’s age isn’t defined, so it tries to skirt past the fact that someone dating Sawyer and Isaac is weird in some way or another. That said, I adore Sawyer and the romance you have with them is the kind of cute, queer college romance I wish I could’ve had.

Pocket the Knuckle

a screenshot of a cat with the text "you find a familiar orange cat, tail flicking. You sit on a bench nearby."

Mother heckin’ kitty!!! No joke, this is the last one you encounter in the dunj and he’s a cat that turns into a pair of spiked knuckles. You wouldn’t know this about me, but my play style in games like these is pretty aggressive and the speed afforded by spiked knuckles is fantastic. As a character, he’s a cat! He’s cute as hell, always looks mischievous and takes some time to warm up to you. His owner clearly loves him and is pretty fun to text with. His story is definitely the goofiest in some ways, I would love to talk to the writers about it, but it’s fun. A+, 11/10 good cat.

Rowan the Scythe

a screenshot of a white-haired person with a white crow on their shoulder saying "our dark prisms are connected." by which they mean you have each others phone numbers

Oh, Rowan, you indiscernible weirdo. Have you met a kid who was way into Kingdom Hearts and essentially tried to dress as Riku for a large chunk of high school and always tried to talk like they were in a play? That’s Rowan. [Ed. Note: this is a personal attack on me.] They’re so serious and so intense but the fact that they have a bird on their shoulder who constantly calls you pretty and the fact that they say such weird shit makes them endearing. Trying to get them to work with you was tricky for me because they send you a code and I never figured it out. So, eventually, the bird just gave me their number. Mechanically, Rowan was the hardest for me to feel comfortable with. I like the concept immensely but it felt very slow and kind of lurching to me. YMMV, just how wielding them felt for me.

Discourse Dungeon

So, if you follow me on twitter, or probably any of the Sailers for that matter, you’re aware that this game caused an inexplicable splash in the indie game scene because of… a content warning. I’m not joking. If you’re unaware of this, I’ll give you the skinny. Here’s the content warning that appears when you start the game:

"This game may include references to unwanted advances, stalking, and other forms of emotional manipulation. Play with care."

This warns about stalking, which is good, but what it doesn’t do—and this is the crux of the matter really—is mention that this is unavoidable in the game. So, this content warning, while a good step in terms of inclusivity in gaming, is realistically not enough, which Kitfox has admitted. But that doesn't really merit some of the discourse that's sprung up. Remember that guy Eric I mentioned earlier? Yeah. He’s the problem. He ultimately serves as your villain, so there’s no getting around him. It's not that the game 'may' contain, it flat out does.

Eric is a local weapon store owner who, as I said, hates the sentient weapon thing and is, immediately, terrifyingly, uncomfortably into your character. I mean, every character you meet comments on how hot/cute you are, but Eric takes that to a creepy level. I won’t go into great detail, but speaking as someone who’s never dated a lot, he made me incredibly uncomfortable. He really tries to insinuate himself into your life, no matter how you brush him off. It’s a mixture of superiority and nice guy ™ talk and it’s skeevy as hell. But, he’s extremely well-written in that way. He’s clearly a dude with some issues and he for some reason latched onto you.

And everyone in the game recognizes that it’s weird!! At about the halfway point of the summer, your cousin invites you to a 4thof July party. Presumably based on your affection levels, you can invite one of your weapon babes with you. I invited Valeria and she was definitely pissed about Eric’s showing up and his attitude. Late in the game, your cousin texts you and says “we have to do something about this, I’m worried.” One of the weirder and sillier criticisms of this game is that by including a character like this, Kitfox Games are somehow glorifying or otherwise condoning stalking. And that’s ridiculous. Again, every other character recognizes that it’s weird. You can be nice to him, but that doesn't change the end trajectory of the story.

Without spoiling too much, Eric’s story is kind of a cautionary tale. What we eventually find out about Eric is that he tried to date all the weapons in the game (except Rowan, who is the only weapon you meet outside the dunj) and they each rebuffed him. He didn’t take it well and became closed off and weird. But, again, if you ask me, it’s pretty well-written and while the narrative never quite offers Eric complete redemption, it offers the opportunity. At the end of the story, there’s a moment where he talks about the next step and one of your dialogue options is “therapy?” which like, yeah, that's the answer, bud!

Regardless of how you feel about Eric’s inclusion in the game, it’s necessary to telling the story that Kitfox wanted to tell here. They wanted to talk about the difficulty of opening yourself up to new relationships and the potential pain you open yourself up to whenever you do. The central metaphor—bonding with people through fighting manifestations of your personal insecurities—is not exactly subtle, but it’s pretty powerful. Love and relationships aren’t easy. They take work and compassion and empathy. And that’s really the kind of message this game wants to convey. And, to me, it gets across pretty well.

Final notes

Before I finish up, I should mention that this game allows you to go the aromantic or asexual route; you can be friends with all the characters as opposed to partners! And I think that’s awesome. It is not what I did. I think because of dialogue and gift choices, I ended up being more friends than lovers with Rowan and Seven, but that was not my intention. I don’t know how much it changes character dialogue and things like that, but the fact that the option is there rules!

I feel like I should also note that I haven’t talked much about the characters outside of your weapons; there are a few, like your cousin Jesse and your mom (if you choose to include one), as well as a character who will later be a dateable weapon(!); you can’t romance any of them, but they do pop up here and there and they’re pretty cool. I also haven’t mentioned the music, which is pretty great; there are several songs with lyrics that are fantastic!

Unlike most dating sims, you’re not limited to daily activities and there really isn’t much of an internal game clock. Like, you can go run around in the dunj and then when you’re done, you head home and you can still go out on a date and it doesn’t consume a day or whatever. With the exception of whatever triggers the 4th of July event and one of the later cutscenes, there’s little indication of how much time has passed. And the game doesn’t sweat you about it either. When I triggered the conditions for the final boss, I just kind of screwed around until I’d hit max love with each weapon 'cause I just wanted to. And I love that.

Overall, I like this game a lot… but I want more. Which is maybe the highest compliment I can pay the game. I like the dungeon-crawling, as sort of bare-bones as it is, enough that I wish that there were more of it. There’s only two dungeons and the second one feels a lot less fun than the first; in the mall, you can find hidden rooms, you can access a secret shop and you can even encounter little challenge rooms! In the second dungeon, the basement of the club in town, you pretty much run around fighting monsters. Which is the point, of course! But it feels much more barren than the first. It’s certainly harder, which is good, but it becomes stale faster. I guess I have mixed feelings in that regard. But I adore the characters. Almost every one of them had a scene that made me cry for one reason or another—whether it was because of what the character was going through, or the kind of tenderness that they show to you as the player—the characters are incredibly lovable, if you ask me. Some might not be your style (I find Sunder kind of boring, to be honest with you), but you can almost certainly find one you like. And hey, it’s kind of a low bar, but it’s game that not only lets you self-identify your character as nonbinary, but you also have two romanceable nonbinary options and idgaf, that slaps.

And that’s kinda that on that. See ya, sword smoochers!


Thank you for the thoughts on Boyfriend Dungeon, Robun! You can find Robun on Twitter @lobster_writer!

mint

mint

I love writing, music, my friends, and food. FAAFO.