In the overcrowded world of ‘cosy gaming’ - the new ‘it’ genre - it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the options. With such titans as Animal Crossing and cult classics like Stardew Valley firmly leading the market, what can a little café simulation hope to achieve? Well, Yasuhiro Wada, the creator of Little Dragons Cafe (and Harvest Moon, might I add) has a surprise for you.
Cute Café Vibes & Curious Characters
While on the surface, Little Dragons Cafe may seem like your ordinary café simulation game, I quickly realised that it had a great deal more to offer. As you begin the game, the plot slowly reveals itself - you and your twin discover that your mother is very sick and can only be cured with… a dragon? This information is relayed to you by a rather suspicious wizard - one of many slightly one-dimensional but quirky characters you will meet in this game. Much like the rest of the plot, the introduction leaves more questions than answers, but it’s something I always find quite endearing about Japanese games.
As your mother is sick, it’s now your job to manage the restaurant - enter growing, harvesting, foraging, recipe building and, most importantly, cooking! The cooking mini game itself is simple but enjoyable and collecting all the recipes presents an enticing challenge. The ingredients can be collected in various ways and as you progress through the story and unlock more areas, new ingredients and recipes become available. As a cute twist, depending on which meals you feed your dragon later on in the came, it can change colour!
As you progress through the game, your café will grow and you will need to hire some staff. Luckily, an assortment of runaways and delinquents are on hand to help you! Throughout the game you will meet various characters with (you guessed it) a problem to solve. They all have varying work ethics, but it’s safe to say it’s best not to leave them alone during the lunchtime or dinner rush if you value the reputation of your café! Café reputation is a mechanic based on how well you can manage the café. A healthy balance of exploring the island searching for new recipes and ingredients has to be weighed against helping the staff serve customers. I often explore the island in the mornings and afternoons and before returning when the indicator helpfully advises me of slacking staff. Thankfully, you can fast travel back to the café from anywhere on the island. One warning I would give is that the translation from the original Japanese results in some… peculiar dialogue. For the most part, it makes sense, but in places there are English words that may be deemed inappropriate for younger players.
So Which Genre Is It Then?
Well, it takes elements from a few different genres, actually. To start with, it feels like an open sandbox, but with the character-driven features of an RPG. The world itself is beautiful - the hand drawn art making you feel somehow safe in this potentially hazardous environment. Soon you discover the fun of cooking with a rhythm mini-game (although this works better handheld than it does docked to the TV, for reasons I can’t quite work out.)
As well as the asset management of ingredient sourcing and cooking, there’s an adventure element as well. You see, your dragon isn’t the only beast out there, the charming little world is overflowing with hostile creatures which will can be attacked with your loyal companion to reap yet more ingredients. Be careful, though, some of them will be much stronger than you, and your dragon will need to grow a little before taking them on. Now, let’s move onto the star of the game in question…
Enter The Dragon
Don’t ask me how raising a dragon helps heal a sick woman, but let me tell you why the dragon makes this game. It is drawn beautifully (much like the rest of the game) with endearing features. It starts off as a cute little pet, running around, demanding your attention and most importantly, food. You need to put time and effort into guiding its progress, and in return it will help you complete your tasks. It aids you in foraging and provides adorable cutscenes that make the challenge of steering him worth it. As the days pass (as long as you feed it!) your dragon grows large enough to fly, unlocking previously inaccessible areas of the island. It is also capable of defeating larger monsters.
Think of the dragon as this game not so much as a ‘pet’ mechanic but as its own character. It grows and learns new skills along with you and is vital to the progression of the plot.
Little Dragons Cafe is a relatively quiet addition to the cosy gaming market but I don’t know why - its charm and aesthetic appeal to both young and adult gamers alike with enough characters and genre-defying elements for repeat gameplay. The issues with the controls when the Switch is docked are annoying but only real.9oly apply in specific situations such as the cooking mini-game. Besides, the cute graphics and lovable misfit characters more than make up for this. If you’re looking for a relaxing, quirky gaming experience, then you should definitely give this hidden gem a go - you won’t regret it.