When it comes to genres that I confess to not knowing much about, visual novels are quite high on my list. There are all sorts of good, legitimate reasons to not play a genre – I don’t touch horrors as a rule because I don’t enjoy the sensation of being scared, and I avoid grand strategy titles because I’m incapable of thinking and planning moves in advance and I therefore lack the patience for being a conquering warlord or setting up my descendants love lives – but I don’t really have a lot of reasons not to play VNs beyond, well, plain genre ignorance, I suppose. But hey, I wanted to play something short and sweet as a palate cleanser in between big JRPGs and this game promised to be both.
Dungeons & Lesbians (PC)
Released Jul 2018 | Developed: Noeybodys | Published: FrankleWinkle
Genre: Visual Novel | HLTB: 25 mins
Now, okay, an important point out of the way first for those of you out there who might be a bit more genre savvy or carry with you some preconceptions based on how some more well-known VNs go according to the internet; no, there’s nothing smutty about this game. Get your minds out of the gutter.
Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what Dungeons & Lesbians is actually about. If you guessed that it might be about Dungeons & Dragons and women who love women – congratulations! The title tells us all we need to know!
Well, okay, there’s a little bit more to it than that, I suppose. At the outset you name your character, who is a part of a group of girls who have a little tabletop RPG pod. Naturally you engage in the typical fantasy roleplaying hijinks one might expect: very evil sorcerers loom large over a subjugated land and need to be defeated by acts of heroics (and bards), mobs with torches and pitchforks clamour and clatter, crying out for blood and waving pointy farm implements haphazardly, and there’s many a scheme hatched to get yourselves out of trouble. However, much of the game’s substantive writing really takes place during the breaks between sessions, as you explore your burgeoning friendships with your friend group and generally enjoy each other’s company.
You are, as we established using our incredible powers of deduction (i.e. reading the title), all lesbians. There’s you, who is exactly as cool and suave as in real life (not at all), the prank-obsessed and aloof Rafie, the diminutive and grumpy Gwen, and your dorky DM Lena. Oh, and there’s Jimothy, but he doesn’t count, he’s just there. The game’s blurb asks you if you’ve ever wanted to seduce your gay best friends over tabletop gaming, and so as you can no doubt guess the main thrust of the plot is a dating sim as you choose to spend time with your friends and develop a relationship with someone.
It’s an achingly adorable story; there’s no cynicism or meanness in it at all. There’s no space for that really; almost all of the writing effort is given over to making you laugh instead because this game is very, very silly and rather funny as a result of it. It’s quite internet-friendly humour; you’ve got to be quite into making fun of fantasy tropes, memes, and that very specific brand of late 2010’s tumblr humour which combines gentle LGBT-friendly jokes with the self-deprecation of an internet fandom community. It got a good chortle out of me, that’s for sure, and that’s most of the battle won. The character writing is really lovingly done, as well. Each member of our pod might at first seem to be a surface level narrative stereotype, but pursuing each of their romances reveals a lot of depth and because the game is so heart-achingly pure it works wonders at making you care for these goofballs through gentle and intelligent application of silliness and charm in equal measure.
It also achieves this result in its audience at breakneck pace. It’s a very short game, at only maybe 20-30 minutes from start to end, depending on your reading speed, but there’s 6 different endings to try and find, so you can comfortably spend a couple hours working through the game trying to find the different pathways. If you’re wondering about gameplay, well, it’s a visual novel – you read. That might sound a bit reductive, but it is largely the idea of a VN, and it’s a very popular format in certain niche corners of the internet. In practice, most VNs offer branching choices for you to pick as you read, each one sending the story off down unique tracks, and much of the joy in a good VN can come from both the sense of connection you get from the path you go down, as well as replaying it to find what you missed out on first time. As is standard for the genre, the narrative is accompanied by drawn (and sometimes animated) backgrounds to help your imagination and when you’re talking to a character a big old portrait of them will pop up. In my very, very limited experience of VNs, many are often anime-themed, but Dungeons & Lesbians opts for a gorgeous pastel hand-drawn style that uses elements of stylistic suck as it emulates notebook drawings of the DM and flashes super quick snapshots of memes across the screen to punctuate certain jokes.
I’m not sure I could sit here and tell you Dungeons & Lesbians has suddenly and amazingly opened the door to VNs for me. In truth, I genuinely did pick it up as a nice short game to break up the great JRPG journey I’m on through the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy franchises, but I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. I think a lot of that came down to its earnest charm, which provided a strong counterpoint to the goofiness of the tumblr humour. The fact that it was a short game – really a 30 minute novella – was a big draw as well; I’m not sure I would have been ready for a longer read. The game has shown up in at least one itch.io bundles now, but even so it’s only like $4 so if you’re after a cute and warming little soft romance story about bonding over TTRPGs, you can do an awful lot worse than Dungeons & Lesbians.
5/7 – GREAT.
Damn fine stuff, a game that doesn’t quite make the top echelon of games but sparkles regardless and holds the interest expertly. Make the time to give this a play.