Game: Little Dragons Café
System: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Aksys/ Yasuhiro Wada
Age Rating: 10+ (US) | 3+ (Europe)
Price: £44.99 | €49,99 | $59.99
Release Date: 24th Aug 2018 (and in Europe Sept 21)
(Also available on PS4)
Overall feeling: I like it a lot!
Review code courtesy of Aksys
There’s never been any doubt that I love the more laid back simulation games. So when Little Dragons Café was announced for the Switch I was extremely curious.
The fact that well known game designer Yasuhiro Wada is involved has furthermore piqued my interest: he is the creator of the original Harvest Moon games. He has been part of the gaming industry for over 20 years, and stood at the cradly of many games aside from the Bokujõ Monogatari as Harvest Moon is called in Japan. Games like Rune Factory, Little Kings Story and, more recently, Happy Birthdays came are created by him.
You can see why the fact that he has teamed up with Aksys Games to make Little Dragons Café was big news to me.
This review may contains some spoilers of the first chapter.
Getting things started
The intro to the game is simply breath-taking if you like colourful and cutesy as much as I do. The lanterns beside the lanes drip with light. The landscape in various hues of green, chickens waddling around and Zucchidons shaped like food. Too cute. And for you cat-lovers out there: the game has genuine cat-birds!
The actual graphics look like they are hand drawn and coloured in, after which they are scanned to use in digital form. It makes for a very pleasing game to look at. It does seem that the Switch version suffers from a framerate that stutters a bit when you are outside of the café. I haven’t been able to check it myself, but apparently this is not the case on the PS4. But then, this might be easily resolved by an update.
You can choose to play like a girl or a boy, and if you choose to play for instance as a girl, the boy is your helper at the café. I have only seen the option to change your name, but other than that, you can’t change the appearance. Funny thing in this game is that once you leave the café you automatically change into your adventure outfit.
Enter the dragon
At first you find your way around the café by following your moms instructions. Fetching eggs outside, harvesting vegetables and even catching fish. None of these actions are strenuous: fishing is an easy affair. As soon as there are exclamation marks, press the A button and the fish is yours. Mom shows you how to help customers in the café, taking their order as well as cleaning up. None of them are more than just pressing the A button.
Cooking however is a mini-game. Based on the ingredients used, you press any of the buttons indicated at the right time, a little rhythm game. The better you do, the higher the rank of the dish is. And the better dishes you can put on your café menu.
Pretty soon things go awry and your mother is taken ill. A wizard turns up telling you that you need to raise a dragon to save her and charges you with running the café! When it comes to your dragon, there’s a theory on the internet that the kind of food you choose when your mom asks you will influence the colour of your dragon. Mine is blue, I chose fish, so maybe meat will turn him into red and vegetables with make him green. One thing is for sure, the kind of dishes you feed it can change its colour later on.
The dragon starts out small, he fits easily in his bassinet. But like dragons do, he grows in spurts, triggered by the storyline. And the bigger he gets, the more he can help you out. His first grow spurt enables him to clear up some obstacles that was blocking your path, so you can explore new areas. Also, he will take down the critters that attack you outside, even if the only damage you’re at risk from is losing a dish. I haven’t finished the game yet, but I do know that the bigger the dragon grows, the more you can do together: flying is the thing to look forward to of course!
The day to day business
I like to be surprised by a game I’m looking forward to. So my modus operandi after the initial news of release is that I don’t look too closely at trailers and I don’t search online for in-depth info. In this case, I was at a loss at first about how to proceed. I’ll tell you why.
I’d just gotten used to cooking, taking care of the dragon and gathering ingredients outside. Pretty soon a couple of special characters joined the crew at the café. Billy, who tried to bolt without paying after eating my special meal. There was nothing for it but to hire him to work in the café. Soon after Ipanema joined us too…a beautiful girl but she really has to do something about her temper. They both help when more people come in to be fed.
Soon, another special character appears. It’s a testament to the sometimes cheesy writing in the game, that this is the description that the orc-like creature had with his speech bubbles during our chat:
- Flamboyant one
- Feasible Chef
- Future Chef
- Shining One
And that is his name, Luccola. It’s the kind of humour you see in the Japanese gameshows. But, cheesy or not, it works! Don’t you agree that even without seeing him, you already know what type of character he is?
To my surprise he took over my cooking duties for café guests. I only had to cook to up the quality of the dishes and to make new dishes once I had gathered all four recipe pieces that make for a new recipe. Luckily the dragon likes my cooking!
Café Management is not what it’s about
Progressing in the story I realised that it wasn’t as much my job to man the café.
Café management consists of making sure the right dishes are on the menu, the ones the customer like. It will up the status of the café. It’s your job to make sure there are enough ingredients and from time to time you have to pay attention to your staff when their motivation wanes. Luckily, the game alerts you if they are slacking off, no matter where you are. And you’re back at the café at the push of a button. The staff has to be happy, the customers have to be happy with the service and the food.
Searching everywhere for recipe fragments is key, as well as the search for the newest ingredients. Once you have had the ingredient once, it gets even easier. Your garden grows everything from eggs and carrots to oranges and salt. And not by hard work on your part: just put dragon manure on the ground, and soon you have a full haul of all kinds of ingredients.
This game is about personal stories
There was one inkling of doubt in my mind when I first heard of this game: years ago Wada developed Home Town Story for the 3DS too as a fresh new game that would spread happiness. Taking place in the Harvest Moon universe, but a different experience nonetheless, running your own shop while you focussed on the people in your community.
That game didn’t go over too well; I played it, started out enjoying it, but I was pretty frustrated soon by the way the game wasn’t exactly clear on what was needed to progress. And I wasn’t the only one that felt that way.
It dawned on me once little Poncho walked in the door: Little Dragons Café is also about personal stories, just like in HomeTown Story. The first chapter is about his life, his need to be a fierce warrior even though he is a little kid armed with a spoon and suffering from stomach pains.
The gameplay is to progress a characters story, give him his favourite dish and solve his problems. I feel Wada is trying to do right what he failed to do in HomeTown Story.
Conclusion: did Wada get it right?
Yes, I think he did. The storyline is over the top at times, but it does a good job to make you bond with the characters. Which is a must if the game is all about the characters. Exploration is nice, adding the dragon into the mix makes it such fun. Adding a little bit of café management is nice too.
The music varies with the area you are in, and is relaxing. The graphics are beautiful, the gameplay is good. I would have liked a bit more meat to the bone for the café management and the foraging though.
I haven’t finished he game yet, but I have seen on the internet that the game is some 35 hours long with some additional gameplay once the main story ends.
Little Dragons Café can’t be compared to Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, Yonder or any of the fan favourites. You can’t farm, you can’t design patterns or even decorate a house. There is no dating and no marriage either. But then that’s not what the developers were going for.
There is a strong emphasis on exploration like in Yonder but there’s a clear goal too: to find out what each character’s personal story is and help him or her reach their goals. And they succeeded!
I can safely say I like the game a lot. Now if you will excuse me, I really want to see where the game will lead me next!
I’m glad to hear it’s good. It’s shame there doesn’t seem to be anything about an Australian release. So I might have to get an imported copy later in the year. Since the gameplay isn’t much it might be something I play a bit at a time.
Australian physical release?
Yeah, it’s a good game for relaxing. Your sister would enjoy it too I think!
There’s no physical and so far it’s not in the e-shop either, maybe in September it will pop up.
Maybe, she’s been playing a lot of Overwatch lately.
It sounds charming and relaxing.
It sounds great 😀 I will have to get this game later on.
Wow, the art is absolutely splendid. And to hear that this game is actually a polished version of Hometown Story delights me, because I really loved that game. I’m definitely gonna get Little Dragons Café at some point. ^^
Great! I did play HomeTown Story for some time too, seem to remember I got stuck due to a lack of wood… something like that anyway
Well, this game is currently on sale via the eShop for £31.49. But if you live in the UK, and live near a Argos store, then you can purchase a download code for £7.49.
I just purchased it for my daughter. Thanks for the review Yvonne!