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‘Resident Evil 4’ Remains a Genuine Classic of the Genre ‘Resident Evil 4’ Remains a Genuine Classic of the Genre

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15 Years Ago, ‘Resident Evil 4’ Blew My Mind

15 Years Later

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Resident Evil 4 is a Genuine Classic

On January 11, 2005, Resident Evil 4 was released for the Nintendo Gamecube. Fifteen years later, age has not dimmed the shock value of this seminal classic. The fourth entry in Capcom’s long-running pivotal survival horror series remains a punishing, unrelenting nightmare that never allows players even a moment of security and no matter how many developers over the years have attempted to recreate the all-out insanity of Resident Evil 4, very few have come close to matching its brilliance. Let’s just get this out of the way; Resident Evil 4 is one of the best games of the 2000s— arguably the best game released in 2005, and one of the greatest horror games ever made. Fifteen years ago, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer genius of what is the best Resident Evil yet.

There are many reasons why fans such as myself consider Resident Evil 4 to be the pinnacle of the franchise. Simply put, Resident Evil 4 was a different beast than what had come before it, introducing fans to a new sort of evil, all while reinventing the wheel. It was a bold move and a huge gamble For Capcom considering that anything could have gone horribly wrong. Fortunately, Capcom nailed it, creating one of the most influential video games to date. Survivor action-horror games don’t get much better than this.

Resident Evil 4 HD Review

The Opening of RE4 is a Masterclass in Building Suspense

The story marked the return of Resident Evil 2 protagonist Leon S. Kennedy who six years after the events of the second installment is hired as a secret service agent for the U.S. federal government and assigned to rescue the president’s daughter, Ashley, from the clutches of a sinister cult. The opening prologue perfectly sets the stage for some of the most prolonged scenes of sustained panic ever captured in a game— all while providing just enough backstory to fill you in on what’s happened to Leon since we last saw him and what his mission is. After Leon makes his way through an eerie forest on foot in search of his missing team, he is quickly briefed by agent Ingrid Hannigan before being dropped at the edge of a rural Spanish village where he’s left to defend himself against a group of hostile villagers who after becoming infected by a mind-controlling parasite known as Las Plagas, pledge their lives to Los Illuminados.

Dr. Salvador and the Mad Villagers

It was immediately clear from the opening minutes of the game that Resident Evil 4 was a departure from the tight passageways and narrow city streets we came to expect from previous installments. I’ll never forget the first time hearing the church bells ring and watching the villagers retreat into the seedy chapel leaving Leon standing alone and confused. Resident Evil 4 immediately established itself as a game coated in an oppressive atmosphere from which there can be no real escape. With a thick, thick air of intense paranoia and jaw-dropping monsters, Resident Evil 4 quickly became the game that my friends and I couldn’t stop playing nor talking about. It was and still is, exciting, horrifying, and utterly engaging from the first frame to the last.

Resident Evil 4

Every Chapter Feels Fresh

What’s great about Resident Evil 4 is how it feels like a different horror movie with each new chapter. At times, it’s graphically violent, gory, grisly, and frightening— and other times, it’s also wild, gruesome and outrageous that the gore is almost campy. The first chunk of Resident Evil 4 replaces the series’ omnipresent zombies with Los Ganados, a refreshing change of pace from dispatching zombies in the previous five games. The second half, however, feels like an over-the-top action B-horror film directed by John Carpenter. Over the course of a roughly twelve-hour journey, you’ll venture through the European village and fight crowds of pitchfork-wielding maniacs; infiltrate Ramon Salazar’s labyrinthine castle; make your way through dusty mines; explore underground sewers, and take a boat ride through a swamp-like lake where you’ll square off against a giant mutated crocodile before moving on to a military compound to take on an entire army.

Resident Evil 4 Crocodile

Each location in Resident Evil 4 is substantially different from the last in terms of environments and tone and yet every area creates a constant feeling of horror and isolation. In the midst of all the blood splatter and gore, it is ultimately about the psychological impact of a high-stress situation. And to help weave these chapters together are well-directed cinematic cutscenes that help flesh out the story and provide insight on the cast of eccentric characters you meet along the way. Nowadays, gamers will take such things for granted but back in 2005, there were few video games that could match the exquisite visuals and meticulous sound design of Resident Evil 4.

I’ve always loved the lesser-spoken-about moments too— such as the cinematic interlude in which Leon meets Luis Sera for the first time and we learn a bit about the Spaniard who was a trusted servant of Osmund Saddler before he was locked up for betrayal. Another one of my personal favourite scenes unfolds roughly a third of the way through as Leon, Ashley, and Luis, are beset by the angry villagers from all sides while trapped in a small cabin. Given no other choice, you’re forced to hold off the attackers as they storm in from multiple entrances of the two-floor cottage. Unlike the masterful opening chapter in the village which offered a relative amount of open space to move around, this ambush puts you in a confined space with no escape and no choice but to do your best and shoot the infected townsfolk while making sure you don’t waste a single bullet from Leon’s limited arsenal.

El Gigante Resident Evil 4

So Many Great Boss Fights

Resident Evil 4 was the invigorating semi-reboot the series drastically needed in 2005 and in 2005, I couldn’t help but marvel at the many bosses featured in the game. I think it’s safe to say, RE4 definitely has more boss fights than most Resident Evil games and for my money, RE4 has some of the very best. Saddler, for instance, makes good use of the game’s core mechanics while El Gigante uses his size and strength to whip Leon around a makeshift arena. The mutating Jack Krauser forces you to abandon your guns and fight with your knife, while U-3 (a horrifying amalgamation of many beings all fused imperfectly into a single monstrosity) provides an incredible fight that has Leon jumping across three suspended rigs set to a timer before they each collapse. Then there is the Napoleon-wannabe Ramon Salazar who looks harmless but proves to be one of the hardest enemies to kill due to his one-hit, near-death attacks. And while not a boss fight, who could forget Dr. Salvador, the saw-wielding maniac who sneaks up on you, unannounced, in the thick of the village siege. Dr. Salvador surely left a lasting impression and holds a special place in the heart of every fan of Resident Evil 4. No matter how many times I replay RE4, I’m never prepared for his attack, even if I can hear the distant rumble of his chainsaw slowly approaching. All in all, Resident Evil 4 is a magnificent cabinet of grotesqueries, featuring some truly memorable villains and some of the genre’s greatest scenes.

Jack Krauser Resident Evil 4

Bitores Mendez and Verdugo

It’s hard to decide just who the best baddie is in Resident Evil 4 but the village chief Bitores Mendez and the monstrous Verdugo would have to be at the top of my list. Known as Salazar’s right hand, Verdugo (Spanish for executioner) is fast and stealthy and quick to make itself unseen, forcing you to react with split-second reflexes in order to avoid getting hit, if not outright decimated. Needless to say, it takes a lot of precious ammo to bring it down (not to mention the only way to slow it down is by freezing it first with nitroglycerin canisters).

The Resident Evil franchise has a rich history of boss characters going all the way back to the first game, and Mendez stands easily among the very best. The former Catholic priest first appears as a hulking brute with an imposing stature, a dusty trench coat; an artificial left eye and an extraordinary resistance to firearms. With his superhuman strength, he is able to toss you across the room, choke you to death and basically tear you apart, limb by limb. To say he’s intimidating, would be an understatement and yet the first couple of encounters with the fiend won’t prepare you for what lies ahead. By the time Mendez reveals his final form and his body contorts into an abomination, you’ll find yourself in full panic mode. As our very own Mike Worby wrote, “with skin-crawling music, a truly terrifying adversary, and atmosphere to spare, the skin-searing, heart-stopping duel with Bitores Mendez is one that few gamers will ever forget”.qwa

Bitores Mendez Resident Evil 4 Boss Fight

Reinvigorating the Genre

While the boss battles make for stunning set pieces, what makes Resident Evil 4 so great is the blend of action, survival combat, and the tense, almost psychologically upsetting horror of it all. Resident Evil 4 basically nails the delicate balance required to ensure a survival horror game works by constantly making you feel helpless. Bullets are scarce, so you always found yourself counting your shots and conserving your weapons for a later time, and it doesn’t help that Leon’s unsteady aim only further escalates the tension in battle. And with limited ammunition, players will often have to rely on Leon delivering a swift bicycle kick or make use of his short-ranged, but deadly knife. Needless to say, the makers of RE4 understood how to build tension by slowly stripping players of their weapons and ammo, but the game is also more than fair, giving you just the right number of tools that you need to survive.

Much has been written about the look of Resident Evil 4 and with good reason. While the previous Resident Evil entries were survival horror games with fixed camera angles, RE4 was the first game to adopt the over-the-shoulder perspective in a third-person action game. By ditching the static camera angles of previous installments, Resident Evil 4 reinvigorated the genre with its new perspective, as well as the quick-time events which further heightened the tension. Not since Shenmue had a video game experimented with these timed button presses in order to encourage the player to keep the controller in their hands. The quick-time events also provided a blueprint for how the cinematic cutscenes could be handled by simply integrating these scenes into the actual gameplay— and for better or worse, forever changing the way many developers integrated cinematics moving forward.

Resident Evil 4 is a hybrid of action, adventure, and horror and as an action game, it rarely slows down, never allowing Leon a minute to stop and catch his breath. The game is so action-packed in fact, that even some of the cinematic cutscenes require fast reflexes on your part, meaning you don’t want to put down the controller. And unlike most third-person shooters which allow players to use one analog stick to move and the other to aim, Resident Evil 4 forces players to stop dead in their tracks in order to aim and shoot. This coupled with the fact that players can’t see what’s lurking behind them, makes you feel extra claustrophobic and paranoid at all times. Of course, it helps that at the time of its release, Resident Evil 4—and all its cinematic widescreen glory— was one of the best-looking games ever made. In short, Resident Evil 4 did for the action-horror genre what Super Mario 64 did for 3D platformers, paving the way for other games that followed such as Gears of War, Uncharted and Dead Space, to name a few.

Misao Senbongi and Shusaku Uchiyama’s Soundtrack

Complimenting the look is the unsettling soundscapes and textural ambiance courtesy of Misao Senbongi and Shusaku Uchiyama who composed one of the best soundtracks of the entire series. What’s noteworthy about the two-disk soundtrack is that unlike other Resident Evil games, the soundtrack is comprised of all-new material— that means it has absolutely no ties to the other soundtracks. Resident Evil 4 has such a foreboding atmosphere that even backtracking through areas you cleared is unsettling due to the audio which evokes a sense of dread and suspense with every step you take. From the chilling ambient noise, you’ll frequently hear to the roar of a chainsaw, to the perfectly placed musical cues, the soundtrack perfectly amps up the mood at all the right moments. Needless to say, the soundtrack is worthy of an award on its own, and without it, the game just won’t be the same. Don’t believe me, try playing it with the sound turned off.

Horror Movie Influences

Horror films have exerted a major influence on the Resident Evil series and with Resident Evil 4, creator Shinji Mikami looked away from the George Romero’s zombie films which served as his primary inspiration for the earlier Resident Evil games, and instead took inspiration from other filmmakers such as Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Steven Spielberg, and John Carpenter. The most obvious reference is the aforementioned Dr. Salvador who is clearly modeled after Leatherface from Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and wears a burlap sack over his head; identical to the one worn by Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th. Meanwhile, the killer crocodile, Del Lago, could have been inspired by any one of the many killer-croc films including Hooper’s lesser-known thriller, Eaten Alive (although, more likely, Steve Miner’s Lake Placid). And if you look closely, you’ll also notice that the section in which Leon rides the mine cart bears a resemblance to the famous mine cart chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and just like in that movie, Leon is chased by a boulder at the start of the game. Meanwhile, many of the games’ monstrous creations (including Bitores Mendez), clearly took inspiration from John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, The Thing— more specifically, the special effects by legendary effects artist, Rob Bottin. As for its plot, Resident Evil 4 borrows heavily from Stuart Gordon’s Dagon, a low-budget horror film based on H. P. Lovecraft’s mythos. Like Dagon, Resident Evil 4 takes place somewhere in a Spanish seaside fishing town where the protagonist discovers that the creepy locals belong to a secret society/religious cult before they turn against the hero with pitchforks and machetes in hand. All in all, there’s a fair number of other movie references from Ridley Scott’s Alien to Akira to Dirty Harry and yet despite most of these borrowed elements being wildly different from one another, Shinji Mikami and his team managed to weave them together in brilliant fashion.

Resident Evil 4 Anniversary Retrospective

Resident Evil 4 Left Quite a Legacy

The original Resident Evil is credited with bringing the survival horror genre to the masses and ushering in a golden age of truly terrifying video games. Originally conceived as a remake of Capcom’s earlier horror-themed game Sweet Home, Shinji Mikami, took gameplay design cues from Alone in the Dark and established a formula that has proven successful time and time again. Nearly a decade later, Capcom would almost tear apart the very genre they had popularized by creating the first truly great modern third-person survival horror game. Resident Evil 4 didn’t just change the series— it changed things for video games in general.

More importantly, Resident Evil 4 stands the test of time. There are few games that age like wine; instead, most are almost unplayable by modern standards and that includes some of the most seminal games ever made— but not RE4. Resident Evil 4 loses none of its intensity as the years go by and perhaps, its greatest achievement is in how fresh and vital it is, 15 years later.

Resident Evil 4 Ada Wong

Fifteen years later, Resident Evil 4 stands as one of the best action-horror games and continues to resonate and inspire video game developers and leave an imprinting effect on a new generation of gamers. It’s a cutthroat, unendingly bleak masterpiece of relentless suspense, retina-wrecking visual excess and outright, nihilistic terror—and while it may not be a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination (what is?), RE4 is an embarrassment of riches that puts other games to shame. Fifteen years later, Resident Evil 4 is still one of my ten favourite games of all time.

  • Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Harry Morris

    January 11, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    I 100% agree! Resident Evil 4 is a masterpiece through and through! <3

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‘Atelier Ryza’ Warms the Heart No Matter the Season

Atelier Ryza excels at creating a sense of warmth and familiarity, and could be just what you need during the winter months.

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atelier ryza

The Atelier series is something of a unicorn in the JRPG genre. It isn’t known for its world-ending calamities or continent-spanning journeys; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The small-town feel and more intimate storytelling of Atelier games has made them some of the most consistently cozy experiences in gaming, and Ryza is no exception. No matter if it’s this winter or next, here’s why Atelier Ryza is the perfect type of RPG to warm your heart this winter.

Ryza starting her alchemy journey.

Like a Warm Blanket

Unlike protagonists from other entries in the franchise, Reisalin Stout (or Ryza for short) has never stepped foot in an atelier or even heard of alchemy at the start of her game. Instead, she’s just a fun-loving and mischevious girl from the country who spends her days in search of adventure with her childhood pals Lent and Tao. It’s this thrill-seeking that eventually leads the trio to meet a mysterious wandering alchemist and learn the tricks of the trade.

The entirety of Atelier Ryza takes place during summer, and it’s clear that the visual design team at Gust had a field day with this theme. In-game mornings are brought to life through warm reds, yellows, and oranges, while the bright summer sun beams down incessantly in the afternoon and gives way to cool evenings flooded by shades of blue and the soft glow of lanterns. Ryza’s visual prowess is perhaps most noticeable in the lighting on its character models, which are often given a warm glow dependent on the time of day.

The cozy sensibilities of the countryside can be felt elsewhere as well. The farm Ryza’s family lives on aside, the majority of environments are lush with all manner of plant life, dirt roads, and rustic architecture. Menus feature lovely wooden and papercraft finishes that simulate notepads or photos on a desk. Townspeople will even stop Ryza to remark on how much she’s grown and ask about buying some of her father’s crops. Everything just excels at feeling down-to-earth homey.

The titular Atelier Ryza.

An Intimate Take on Storytelling

Kurken Island and the surrounding mainland feel expansive as a whole but intimate in their design. This is partially due to the readily-accessible fast travel system that Atelier Ryza employs; instead of a seamless open world, most players will find themselves jumping from location to location to carry out quests and harvest ingredients for alchemy. However, there’s still strong incentive to explore the nearby town thanks to tons of random side quests and little cutscenes that trigger as players progress through the main story.

It’s an interesting way to tackle world-building. Instead of relying on intricate dialogue like The Outer Worlds or massive cinematic cutscenes like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Atelier Ryza lets players get a feel for its world rather naturally through everyday conversations. These scenes run the gamut from Ryza’s parents yelling at her to help more around the farm to running into and catching up with old friends who’d moved overseas. They’re unobtrusive and brief, but the sheer number of them gradually establishes a cast that feels alive and familiar.

The town drunk and Lent's father, Samuel.

Of course, post-holidays winter is also the season for more somber tales. The relationship between Lent and his alcoholic father is striking in its realistic depiction of how strained some father-son relationships can become.

The narrative escalates subtly: An early cutscene shows Mr. Marslink stumbling onto Ryza’s front lawn thinking it’s his. Then an event triggers where the neighborhood jerks tease Lent about being the son of the town drunk. Lent’s house is a small shack pulled back from the rest of the town, and visiting it triggers one of the few scenes where Ryza can actually talk to Mr. Marslink himself. The situation eventually reveals itself to be so bad that it completely explains why Lent is gung-ho about being out of the house whenever he can.

Though Lent’s general character motivation is wanting to get stronger and protect the town, it’s the heartfelt insights like these that make him much more relatable as a party member. Atelier Ryza features no grand theatrics or endless bits of exposition, but instead favors highlighting interpersonal conversations as Ryza continues to learn more about the people and world around her.

Atelier Ryza

Cozy games rarely get enough credit. Just like the Animal Crossing series or Pokemon: Let’s Go provides players with a warmth that can stave off the harshest of winters, Atelier Ryza succeeds in being the lighthearted, touching JRPG fans wanted. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and heartwarming in the way it builds out its world and cast of characters, and seeing Ryza gradually grow more confident and capable is a joy unto itself. If you’re in need of a blanket until Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out in March, you can’t go wrong here.

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PAX South 2020 Hands On: ‘The Artful Escape,’ ‘Foregone,’ and ‘Tunic’

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PAX South

This past weekend, PAX South 2020 brought a huge variety of promising indie games to the show floor in San Antonio. Here are just a few of the most remarkable games I got to try, including a hardcore action game, a classic adventure, and an experience that can only be described as dreamlike.

Tunic

Simply put, Tunic is a Zelda game, but foxier. Tunic takes significant inspiration from the classic Zelda formula, complete with an overworld to explore, puzzles to solve, enemies to fight, and a protagonist clad in green. My demo even began by leaving me weaponless and forcing me to venture into a nearby cave in order to discover my first weapon.

Yet there’s nothing wrong with following such a traditional formula. At a time when Nintendo has largely stopped creating new games in the style of its classic Zeldas, it’s left up to other developers to rediscover the magic of the original gameplay style. Based on my time with the game, Tunic achieves exactly that, reimagining the charm of A Link to the Past for the current generation with gorgeous visuals and modern design sensibilities. The biggest difference from its predecessors is its green-clad hero is a fox, and not a Kokiri.

All, that is to say, is that if you’ve ever played a 2D Zelda, then you’ll know exactly what to expect from Tunic. It starts by dropping the foxy little player character into a vibrant, sunny overworld, and true to form, your inventory is completely empty and the environment is full of roadblocks to progress. Simple enemies abound, and although its greatest Zelda inspirations lie with those from the 2D era, it also includes an element from the 3D games due to its inclusion of a targeting system in order to lock onto specific opponents. What followed next was a linear, straightforward dungeon that focused on teaching the basics of exploration and item usage. It was extremely simple but hinted at plenty of potential for the full game later.

Tunic’s gameplay may hearken back to the games of old, but its visual presentation is cutting edge. It features gorgeous polygonal 3D visuals, loaded with striking graphical and lighting effects, making its quaint isometric world truly pop to life. My demo didn’t last very long, but the little bit I played left me excited for Tunic’s eventual release on Xbox One and PC. It could be the brand-new classic Zelda experience that fans like myself have long waited for.

Foregone

Foregone

These days, nearly every other indie game is either a roguelike or a Metroivdvania. Just by looking at Foregone, I immediately assumed that it must be one of the two based on appearances alone. Yet when I shared those assumptions with the developers, Big Blue Bubble, the response in both cases was a resounding, “No.”

Foregone may look like it could be procedurally generated or feature a sprawling interconnected world, but that simply isn’t the case. The developers insisted that every aspect of the game world was intentionally crafted by hand, and it will remain that way in each playthrough. Likewise, although there is some optional backtracking at certain points in the game, Foregone is a largely linear experience, all about going from one point to another and adapting your strategy along the way. In a generation where nonlinearity reigns supreme, such straightforward design is refreshing to see.

If there’s any game that seems like an accurate comparison to Foregone, it would have to be Dark Souls. From the very start of the demo, the world of Foregone is inhabited with fearsome enemies that don’t hold back. If you don’t watch what you’re doing, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and fall under the pressure. Thankfully, there’s a broad assortment of abilities at your disposal, such as a wide area of effect move that can stun enemies within a wide radius, and a powerful shield that can block many attacks. I fell many times during my time with the game, but it never felt unfair. Rather, it merely felt like I wasn’t being smart enough with my own ability usage, and I was encouraged to keep jumping back into the world for just one more run, this time armed with better knowledge of my own abilities and potential strategies.

And it’s a beautiful game too. Rather than featuring the typical pixelated aesthetics often associated with platformers, the world is actually built-in 3D with a pixelated filter applied on top of it. This allows for a uniquely detailed environment and distinctly fluid animations. Foregone looks to be a worthwhile action game that should be worth checking out when it hits early access via the Epic Games Store in February, with a full release on console and PC to follow later this year.

The Artful Escape

Bursting with visual and auditory splendor, The Artful Escape is easily the most surreal game I played at PAX South. The demo may have only lasted about ten minutes, yet those ten minutes were dreamlike, transportation from the crowded convention to a world of color, music, and spirit.

As its name would suggest, The Artful Escape is an otherworldly escape from reality. Its luscious 3D environments are populated with 2D paper cutout characters, its dialogue leans heavily into the mystical (the player character describes his surroundings with phrases like “a Tchaikovsky cannonade” and “a rapid glittering of the eyes”), and its music often neglects strong melodies in favor of broad, ambient background themes. This all combines to create a mystical, almost meditative atmosphere.

It only helps that the platforming gameplay itself is understated, not requiring very much of you but to run forward, leap over a few chasms, or occasionally play your guitar to complete basic rhythm games. This gameplay style may not be the most involved or exciting, but it allows you to focus primarily on the overwhelming aesthetic majesty, marching forward through the world while shredding on your guitar all the while.

This Zenlike feel to the game is punctuated with occasional spectacular moments. At one point, a gargantuan, crystalline krill called the Wonderkrill burst onto the screen and regaled me with mystic dialogue, while at another point, I silently wandered into a herd of strange oxen-like creatures grazing in a barren field as the music began to swell. The demo was filled with such memorable moments, constantly leaving my jaw dropped.

For those who think that games should be entertaining above all else, The Artful Escape might not be so enthralling. Its platforming is extremely basic and its rhythm minigames are shallow at best. For players who think that games can be more than fun, however, The Artful Escape is set to provide an emotional, unforgettable experience, an escape that I can’t wait to endeavor.

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PAX South Hands On: ‘Boyfriend Dungeon’ Wields Weapons of Love

A weapon is an adventurer’s best friend, and Boyfriend Dungeon is focused on deepening that relationship.

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Boyfriend Dungeon

In most games, weapons are straightforward objects. Sometimes they can be upgraded or personalized, but at the end of the day, they function as little more than tools for a single purpose: to cut down enemies and make progress in the game. Boyfriend Dungeon, however, proposes a different relationship with your weapons. They’re more than just objects. Instead, they’re eligible bachelors and bachelorettes that are ready to mingle.

Boyfriend Dungeon is a dungeon crawler and dating sim hybrid all about forging an intimate bond with your weapons and, after demoing it at PAX South, this unique mix seems to be paying off.

There are two main activities in Boyfriend Dungeon: exploring the loot-filled dungeons (referred to as “The Dunj”) and romancing the human forms of your weapons. There’s been plenty of great dungeon crawlers in recent years, but Boyfriend Dungeon sets itself apart by humanizing its weaponry. This concept may sound strange on paper, but Kitfox games director and lead designer Tanya X. Short is confident that players have long been ready for a game just like this.

“A weapon is an adventurer’s best friend,” and Boyfriend Dungeon is focused on deepening that relationship.

“I think the fans of Boyfriend Dungeon have been out there for years, waiting. I remember when I was in university ages ago, I was sure someone would have made a game like this already… but I guess I needed to make it myself!” She adds that “A weapon is an adventurer’s best friend,” and Boyfriend Dungeon is focused on deepening that relationship.

Boyfriend Dungeon

My demo with Boyfriend Dungeon began simply enough. After a brief character creation phase where I chose my appearance and my pronouns (he/him, she/her, or they/them), I was dropped into the stylish, top-down hub world of Verona Beach. Here I could explore the town and choose where to date my chosen weapon. I decided to head to the public park to meet Valeria, a swift and slender dagger.

“Today I’m writing dates with a scythe, and that’s beautiful.”

Upon reaching the park, I discovered Valeria in her dagger form. When I picked up the weapon, a beautiful anime-style animation commenced in which she transformed into her human form. What followed was a visual novel-style date sequence complete with detailed character art and plenty of dialogue options to help romance your date.

The dialogue is full of witty, self-aware humor and charm – there were more than a few jokes about axe murderers along with other weapon-related puns, for example. Short herself put plenty of love into the writing. “Writing dates with weapons is a joy I never knew could be part of my job, but here we are. Today I’m writing dates with a scythe, and that’s beautiful.”

Boyfriend Dungeon

I loved my date with Valeria, but she’s not the only potential mate in Boyfriend Dungeon. Rather, there’s a cast of five potential partners in the game, each of them hailing from distinct backgrounds and identities. “When I was coming up with the cast for Boyfriend Dungeon, I tried to imagine as many kinds of people and personalities that I could be attracted to as possible.”

Short drew from her own personal experiences in creating the cast. “I was very lucky to meet my partner many years ago, so I haven’t actually dated many people in my life, but I become fascinated with people I meet very easily, and they can provide inspiration. Whether they’re upbeat and reckless, or brooding and poetic, or gentle and refined…there’re so many kinds of intriguing people out there. And in Boyfriend Dungeon, I hope.”

After building up this bond during dialogue, it was time to put it to the test by exploring the Dunj. Of course, this isn’t the typically dreary dungeon found in most other dungeon crawlers. Instead, it’s an abandoned shopping mall overrun with monsters to slay and loot to discover with your partner weapon.  

Boyfriend Dungeon

Combat is easy to grasp, focusing on alternating between light and heavy attacks and creating simple combos out of them. Just like how the dating content aims to be inclusive for people of different backgrounds, Short hopes for the combat to be accessible for players of different levels of experience as well. “Hopefully the dungeon combat can be approachable enough for less experienced action RPG players, but still have enough challenge for the people that want to find it.”

Based off the demo, Boyfriend Dungeon seems to achieve this goal. I loved learning simpler moves and discovering new combos with them. Movement is fast, fluid, and intuitive, making it a pleasure to explore the Dunj. Succeeding in dungeons will also result in a stronger relationship with your weapons, so it’s in your best interest to perform well during combat. Of course, your weapons don’t simply level up – instead, their love power increases.

An arcade environment

“Our approach has been that the point isn’t the destination — it’s the journey you take, and who you choose to take it with.”

Fighting and dating may seem like two disparate concepts, but in practice, they manage to mesh surprisingly well. “The game is mostly about switching from one [gameplay style] to the other,” Short says, “and it’s nice for pacing, since you often want a breather from the action or get restless if there’s too much reading.”

The overarching story and general experience remain relatively firm throughout the whole game regardless of your decisions, but Short encourages players to enjoy the ride they take with the weapon they choose. “Our approach has been that the point isn’t the destination — it’s the journey you take, and who you choose to take it with.”

In Boyfriend Dungeon, your weapons can wage more than just war. Rather, they can spread love and lead to deeply fulfilling relationships. Boyfriend Dungeon is one of the most refreshing games I played at PAX thanks to its engaging dungeon exploration and combat and its surprisingly positive view of weaponry. That’s the mission of peace that Short had in mind with the game: “It feels like a difficult time in the world right now, but that’s when we most need to find love and compassion. Let’s try our hardest to be kind.”

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