One of the best indie games of the year, Boyfriend Dungeon, has delighted fans of the dating sim genre with its mix of relatable characters and dungeon crawling gameplay. Its inclusion of many LGBTQ+ characters struggling with their inner demons and continuing forward is simply a breath of fresh air, despite some obsessive issues with one of the game’s antagonists that a few players have critiqued. We spoke with Tanya X, the Producer, Lead Designer, and Writer of Boyfriend Dungeon to find out more about her game and the process of making it.
RetroWare: Can you please give us your elevator pitch for Boyfriend Dungeon?
Tanya X: Sure! It’s a dungeon crawler, but when you find weapons, they turn into beautiful people and you date them to level them up.
RW: What inspired you to make a dating game with weapons? Did you know at first it was going to be a dungeon crawler hybrid?
TX: Yeah, we actually knew it was a dungeon crawler/action RPG before we knew the romantic interests were weapons! At first, we just wanted to make an RPG with dating components, but then we realized sword-people were hotter than regular people, so the switch was a no-brainer.
RW: What games did you grow up with? Also, which dating sims and dungeon crawlers have inspired Boyfriend Dungeon?
TX: I sat on my dad’s lap while he played some old-school PC games, but when I played, I was mostly a console gamer, starting with an NES and a GameBoy. I would always beg my mom to take me to Blockbuster so I could rent a new game and play it for a week straight… I guess in her mind, it was cheaper than buying one, but I must have rented Secret of Mana 100 times, so, was it actually cheaper, Mom??? As for which media (games or otherwise) inspired Boyfriend Dungeon, I’d rather hear what players think when they try it.
RW: Are the stories told in Boyfriend Dungeon from personal experiences with dating?
TX: Mostly not, because I only dated a few people in my life and found my life partner when I was still a teen. But I’ve certainly experienced unwanted advances, heartbreaks, and crushes, so I used those as inspiration for many of the characters.
RW: What is your process for creating a character? How do you form the personality and their backstory? Is the cast inspired by people you know in real life?
TX: All resemblance to real people is entirely coincidental! And we literally had a list of cool weapons and character archetypes to mix and match for the diversity of the cast. But, I do think about traits I’ve adored in various people in my life, and try to infuse that into characters to make them likable. Then it’s a matter of figuring out what an interesting conflict or challenge for them to overcome would be.
RW: Who are your favorite characters to date in the game? Who are your favorite characters to play as in the dunj?
TX: You know, mostly it’s miserable to work on a game for four years, but there were definitely silver linings. For example, if I focus on one character at a time as I work through the cast, it might be 6-8 months between playing a certain character, and it’s much more refreshing, as I can see them with rested eyes, and fall in love with them again. It’s really fun coming back to each of them, but I always have a special fondness for the cat, Pocket the Brass Knuckles because he was the character that gave me the least trouble when I wrote him.
RW: During my playthrough, I found it refreshing to have both romantic and platonic relationships. Was it tough to implement that into the game?
TX: Yeah, it’s mostly difficult to juggle certain scenes where we don’t want it to end prematurely just because it’d be sexy to have an opportunity here and you’re “only” best friends — if anything, best friends sometimes have MORE to say to and do with each other! I think there’s maybe still a bug here and there where I am checking for the wrong romantic or platonic flags, too. I hope I can fix all of them soon.
RW: What happened to Jonah? Was he originally going to be a date in the game? Will he return in DLC later down the line?
TX: We promised Jonah the Axe (and Leah the Hammer!) as Kickstarter stretch goals, so they’ll definitely be in the game as DLC. I think they’ll both be fan favorites, too.
RW: Why do you think dating sims are so popular? Is it the storytelling possibilities with the characters or something else?
TX: I think it’s natural to enjoy meeting someone new when they’re pleasant and interesting, and dating sims give a bit of that taste. Not to mention flirting in real life can be awkward or even dangerous, but it’s relatively safe in a dating sim. It’s less of a power fantasy and more of a connection fantasy, at least in my case, and I think that can be appealing even if you’re fulfilled in your real-life relationships, just like leveling up in an RPG can be appealing even if you’re fulfilled at your real-life job.
RW: Is there any sex in Boyfriend Dungeon? Would it be awkward if my mother walked in? The relationships I had in the game didn’t have any.
TX: Yeah, I hope this isn’t disappointing to you, but you can have sex with each and every weapon (Writer’s Note: except the cat). But it’s pretty classy and all intimacy is text-based, so as long as your mom isn’t a speed-reader you should be safe. I guess Talwar takes off his shirt at one point, but that’s the most graphic imagery. Maybe your mom would like to see it, actually.
RW: How did you design the dungeons around the fear of intimacy and communication? Was that a challenge to figure out? Also, were you inspired by Persona 5’s Mementos system?
TX: You can see in our initial announcement and Kickstarter trailers that we initially just had monsters in there… bugs, flying jellyfish, that kind of thing. But it didn’t feel meaningful, so we revised it at some point to have more of a psychological component, and that seemed to make more sense in the world and go along with the themes better.
RW: Is there any possibility of a sequel that takes place one year after? We’d love to see if Sawyer becomes a great cook and how Seven’s music career proceeds.
TX: That sounds like a nice idea.
RW: Eric has been a controversial character for many. Is it challenging to tackle themes that some would find uncomfortable or triggering? Is it important to challenge the gaming audience this way or after your experience online, should we stick to the status quo?
TX: If we stopped making art every time someone grumbled somewhere on the internet, we’d have a hard time making anything at all. A lot of people have found the game fun, moving, and even cathartic, so I try to focus on that and stay creatively courageous. I want to keep learning and getting better, though.
RW: Do you have any advice for any budding indie studios out there?
TX: Focus on how to survive to finish your second game — both in terms of funds (assuming your first game sells very poorly) and in terms of sustainable work practices. Most studios fail before shipping their second game, but if you can find a way to get there, you can find a way to get to your fifth. I believe in you.
RW: Is there a possibility of Boyfriend Dungeon coming to other platforms like the PS4, PS5, and Google Stadia?
TX: Maybe! We’ll have to see what the future holds, but we have no new announcements right now.