Little Dragons Cafe is the newest creation by renowned game designer Yasuhiro Wada, who most gamers know as the creator of the Bokuj? Monogatari (Harvest Moon) series. He also had a part in the development of Hometown Story, Birthdays the Beginning, Little King’s Story, Rune Factory, and Deadly Premonition to name a few.
The story begins with a twin brother and sister learning to cook and manage the small cafe that their mother owns. The next morning the awake to find that their Mother has not opened the cafe nor made them breakfast as she promised. They begin to worry and eventually find her still sleeping in her bed, they call out to her and try to wake her up with no success. Suddenly a strange little old man appears before them and tells them that their mother is actually part human and part dragon. Due to this development, her blood is not mixing well and it has caused her to fall into a deep sleep. He informs you that you must raise a dragon and manage the cafe in order to save her. Now it’s up to you, your sibling, and three quirky employees to find a way to keep the cafe running smoothly, while raising a dragon, and finding a way to save your Mother.
When you begin the game you will be prompted to choose which twin you will play the game as while the other will become your helper. You can also change their names or just stay with the default ones if you so choose. They beginning of the game acts as a tutorial and has you learning the basics for fishing, gathering ingredients, and cooking. Once you reach the point in the story where you must manage the cafe and have hatched your dragon, you will get pop ups with a brief text tutorial on what the new features do and how to use them. As you progress through the story more areas to explore and more things to do will become available to you.
So how does Little Dragons Cafe fare? Overall the story is what really keeps the game enjoyable. From the main story of having to save your mother to the individuals you meet in each chapter you will be hit with a dozen life lessons. From learning to be strong, to loneliness, to empathy, and so much more, you will help each character that comes to your little cafe solve their problems and possibly turn over a new leaf.
Everything else about the game is what really drags it down. Time moves way too fast and trying to manage everything you have to do in a day becomes to feel like an actual job instead of being fun and enjoyable. Finding ingredients for recipes is way too random and you find yourself running out of things that you don’t know when or where it may spawn again in the various harvesting nodes. For instance, outside your cafe is a node that when harvested can contain sugar and salt, but it’s never a guarantee on what it will have that day. I found days where every time I harvested that node, the only ingredient I got was sugar. I could go for days at a time before salt would appear again. The other thing that makes this an issue is all the harvesting nodes look the same. Bushes contain various types of vegetables and as you progress through the game to more areas you will find more varieties, but the bush looks the same as every other bush. Condiment nodes contain a variety of things from salt to pepper to things such as soy sauce and ketchup. Trees contain various kinds of fruit, but again all the trees look the same so you can’t go to a particular tree and know that it’s the one to find apples. With the randomness of the way ingredients spawn it really sucks when you have a full stack of 100 and can’t hold anymore, but that ingredient is the one that keeps spawning day after day. I have to say in the early parts of the game sugar, carrots, and onions are the biggest culprits.
One issue that can be extremely frustrating is the long loading times, I noticed at times that I am still trying to exit my cafe and my dragon is already outside screaming at me about something that I can’t see yet. The game also seems to suffer from framerate issues and lag at times when you least expect it to. Your staff can be rather frustrating at times because it seems that they never get any better as the story progresses. No matter how much you talk to them or how long they work at the cafe, they never seem to improve their skills. They seem to slack off even more when you are busier or even decide to do minor tasks over the more important ones. With this being the case it makes it harder to find time to explore and gather ingredients or recipe fragments since you have to make sure you are back in time for the lunch or dinner rush.
Now I am not saying the game is bad! One of the more enjoyable features is the cooking. Cooking is a rhythm based mini game that actually has some rather enjoyable beats to it. Most recipes start out easy but as you progress in the story you can add extra ingredients and even unlock a secret ingredient slot. As I mentioned before, the story is really the core of the game, but the characters is what helps make the story delightful. Every character in the game has a great personality and the relationships between the core characters and even the visiting characters is such a delight to experience. The writing is so good that even without voices you will experience the sadness, joy, and accomplishment that these characters go through. Another aspect that helps bring out the story and characters is the choice of music and the art style of the game. The world of the game is beautiful and the colors are so vibrant. Dawn offers a breathtaking view of the island, while the lighting and weather elements create spectacular scenes throughout the story.
Your dragon raising experience is fun and seeing your little companion go from an egg to an adult dragon is adorable. Feeding your dragon, using his abilities, and changing his color is all parts of what makes raising a dragon, FUN! Your dragons growth spurts seem to take a long time especially when you want to adventure to places you can’t reach yet. It takes about 3 chapters to reach the next growth stage, but once your dragon companion reaches adulthood, the skies and island are yours to explore!
Overall Little Dragons Cafe is a delightful time management simulation game that is weighed down by its gameplay making it boring at times. In all honesty I would compare its shortcomings to those same issues that Hometown Story seemed to suffer from when it launched. The game itself is not something that your average gamer is going to pick up to play, but fans of games like Harvest Moon, Cooking Mama, or even mobile games will enjoy Little Dragons Cafe. When the game was announced I was excited to get my hands on this one, but at the end of the day, the $60 price tag is a bit much.
At its best, Little Dragons Cafe is endearing, charming, addictive, and witty, but at its worse it’s frustrating, boring and somewhat broken at times. Honestly I was hoping for a more interactive simulation game like Harvest Moon with lots of things to do. I am keeping my fingers crossed that TOYBOX will release a patch fixing a bunch of the issues encountered in the game.
My final score on this one is a 6/10! Wait for the price to drop to $20 before picking this one up.