Released in early August 2021, Boyfriend Dungeon is a dating sim mixed with an isometric dungeon crawler. You play a character who has moved to a new town for the summer that’s full of attractive people who can transform into swords and weapons. Level up by battling with them in dungeons, then date them or befriend them outside of battle to explore their stories. Every weapon has a unique combat style, which can be customised as you level them up.
Now that Boyfriend Dungeon has officially released, and I’ve had a chance to play it, I’ve found the game does a lot of interesting things in terms of accessibility and representation that I’d like to spend some time highlighting.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about Boyfriend Dungeon. We’re going to talk about some of the game’s default character customisation options, the ability to opt out of messages from mum, and some of the mechanical accessibility options the game employs.
I’m going to kick off today’s discussion of Boyfriend Dungeon with a look at what I think is one of the game’s most interesting and unique accessibility features, the option to opt out of messages from “mom”.
Over the years, a surprising number of video games have featured messages from faceless characters called mom as part of gameplay progression. A recent example many of you may be aware of is Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the latest game in the village cultivation series to send you these kinds of messages.
These messages can be upsetting to receive in games for players who have trauma around their mothers, be that an upsetting relationship with a living mother, or difficult emotions about a mother who has passed away. I know friends who struggle to play Animal Crossing games for this exact reason.
When you first boot up Boyfriend Dungeon, the game warns you that while playing, there will be text messages sent to you, ostensibly by your mother. The game gives players the option to turn off these texts entirely, so that they will not appear in game. None of them contain plot critical information, they’re usually just caring interactions from a mother whose child has moved away from home for the first time.
I can’t think of another video game I have ever seen that offers the option to turn off “mom messages”, and it’s a really neat accessibility feature I would love to see become more common.
Moving on to some more traditional accessibility settings, Boyfriend Dungeon contains a feature called Goddess Mode, which will cause players to take 50% less damage during dungeon runs. There are no options for other degrees of damage reduction, but the mode’s inclusion is still appreciated.
Players can also turn off screen shaking effects, which can be useful for photosensitive players.
Additionally, before the game begins, players are given content warnings, informing them that the game will contain references to unwanted advances, stalking, and emotional manipulation. This content warning is a little misleading, as it makes it sound like these will be topics mentioned in passing rather than unavoidable prominent plot elements that will be directly experienced throughout the game by the main character. The game developer has acknowledged that the content warning does not adequately explain the intensity of these topics in the narrative, and has announced a patch will update the content warnings.
I record these episodes a little in advance of them airing, so if that patch is live when the episode goes live, I will update people in a pinned comment.
There has been some discourse online since the game launched about the fact that many players felt caught off guard by this content in Boyfriend Dungeon. The game was Kickstarted three years ago, with the promotional materials at the time presenting the game purely as a light hearted dating sim about smooching swords. In the three years since, all marketing materials have continued to present this way, as have digital storefronts at release. While the developers of the game have every right to keep the game’s stalking plotline absent from marketing, it is understandable why players who bought into a light hearted premise without being warned about this content, and in many cases such as digital Switch purchases cannot get refunds, may feel caught off guard by the nature of the narrative, not discovering the associated content warnings until after their purchase.
Moving on to some representation options in game, in Boyfriend Dungeon’s character creator, They / Them are the default pronouns offered to the player, with he /him and she / her offered as options to switch to. Dating romance options are not locked by your choice of pronouns, and you can change any aspect of your character creation, including name and pronouns, freely during the game.
A few terms in the game are tied to your choice of pronouns, such as the player being called daughter by mom if you pick she / her pronouns, but beyond that very little is tied into pronouns.
The default character creator outfit options are a generic white shirt and blue jeans, but right from the start you have the option to switch to more typically gendered outfits such as dresses, regardless of the pronouns you selected. Boyfriend Dungeon also offers religious headwear, such as a headscarf or turban, right from the start of the game, although not actively signposted.
Compared to many other dating sim titles, Boyfriend Dungeon keeps its text interactions short, sweet, and to the point. The game reduces a lot of the space filling fluff, and instead only contains text for each character’s six date scenarios, keeping the game more accessible to players with Dyslexia or ADHD, who may struggle to read long chunks of text.
Additionally, while the game is called Boyfriend Dungeon, players are not simply limited to male romance interests, or forced to make every encounter romantic to make it emotionally fulfilling. There are female romance options, non binary romance options, and even a cat to befriend in one of the more surreal plotlines.
Having played through Boyfriend Dungeon over a few lengthy play sessions, I ultimately really enjoyed my time with it. The dungeon crawling gameplay is fun, if lacking in the randomised replayability of something like Hades, and all of the characters were interesting to interact with, even if it was a bit of a shame some characters’ plotlines had railroaded endings.
Go in being aware that your player being stalked and emotionally manipulated is going to be a core plot thread, but if you’re okay with that there’s a really sweet light hearted visual novel here that stays very focused on dating content and fun combat, and makes the two mesh together really nicely.
Boyfriend Dungeon isn’t a world changing gameplay experience, but it’s a neat little experience I am glad I gave my time. It does some positive stuff with novel accessibility settings and character customisation options, and is worth playing through, with a few caveats.