"...I am happy to report that Little Dragons Café is a delightful and addictive game that I feel very confident I will love come release time on August 24th."
For over 20 years, Yasuhiro Wada has entertained fans around the world with Harvest Moon, always building upon the same formula of living the simple farm life. Now, he has a new project: how to raise a dragon alongside building up a restaurant. Welcome to Little Dragons Café, Wada's latest work.
During E3, I got to have some uninterrupted hands-on time with the game, and I am happy to report that Little Dragons Café is a delightful and addictive game that I feel very confident I will love come release time on August 24th.
You play as Rin or Ren, twins that run a café with their mother. Their mother falls ill one day, and a mysterious old man hands the twins a dragon's egg, which soon hatches. The old man tells them that in order to cure their mother, they must successfully run the café and raise the dragon into adulthood. The twins are joined by other people along the way; you assist them in running the café.
Running the café is the backbone of Little Dragons Café, along with exploration and "dragon husbandry." Over the course of the game, you recruit characters that assist you with serving, ordering, and cooking the food to feed your customers. Your café is surrounded by fields for you to harvest ingredients from, and this will likely take up the bulk of your time. Your café is handled automatically, with the employees handling all of your business.
That's not to say that you're a passive owner of this establishment. You have to monitor your team, as they will occasionally slack off, or your chef might get depressed over a failure. As a good owner, it's up to you to scold them or perk them back up and get them back to working optimally. Your café has a reputation that can be affected by the attitude of your employees, so it's important to make sure you're always minimizing their distractions.
Your café is always running even if you're not taking direct control. Since you aren't doing any of the usual tasks in the café itself, it's up to you to procure the ingredients for the chef to cook with. Thankfully, the area around your café is filled with useful ingredients like salt, sugar, vegetables, and fish. You can also catch egg-laying wild animals and take down animals for meat. There isn't any combat in this game, so the way to take out some animals is to get them to run into hazards like rocks or tree stumps. Getting hit by wild animals will cause you to drop ingredients you have gathered.
As you might know, not all food is created equal. The quality of an ingredient will change how food tastes. Little Dragons Café includes ingredient quality as part of the gameplay. Customers will leave reviews on their food that will affect your café's reputation, so getting the best ingredients will be a recipe for success. Thankfully, your dragon just happens to make some pretty good manure that you can place as fertilizer on some of the various gathering sports in the wild. The manure will increase the quality of the ingredients from that spot. Your chef will work with what he is given, so make sure you're giving him the best ingredients. Naturally, he will pick the best ingredients first, so keeping a supply of high quality ingredients will make sure your customers stay happy.
Recipes are scattered throughout the world, and it's up to you to find them to make new dishes. Your chef will sometimes come up with new recipes on his own, while recipes that advance the story will be found out in the world. Since you run a café, it's important that you find the best recipes to please visitors. Cooking new food brings up a kind of rhythm game where you press buttons in order to make the food. You can do this all you want, or leave it up to the chef to make the food for you. Your chef will always make the best food that he can.
The characters in this game, like most Harvest Moon games, are expressive and more than a little bit wacky. You have the lazy Billy, the "café otaku" Ipanema, and my personal favourite, the flamboyant chef Luccola. Chemistry is always important when creating a slice of life game, and even from the short preview I got, I can tell these characters have it in spades. Ipanema and Billy have the classic "straight person, funny person" gag going on, and Luccola just adds in really funny quips to whatever is happening. Your two main characters get in on the fun too, even if they're usually more reserved.
The dragon (which you can name), also plays a big gameplay role. Your dragon is integral to getting ingredients on the overworld, opening up new areas to explore, as well as providing you with manure to increase the quality of ingredients. When the dragon matures, you can also use it to fly around the overworld. While it's a bit of a shame that there's no combat since it would have been cool to fight alongside a dragon, Little Dragons Café puts the emphasis on bonding with your scaly companion. In the build I played, the dragon was still young, which made it all the more endearing when it responded to my whistling and having it fetch ingredients for me. The dragon does have its own stamina meter that you can restore by petting it, feeding it, or returning to the café which restores it to full. I did experiment by letting the stamina gauge drain all the way, but I didn't see any change. I presume it probably won't respond to whistling or orders to fetch ingredients.
When it comes to the graphics, it's been a bit of a sticking point for some people. Having a game built for consoles like the PS4 and Switch but still looking like an upscaled 3DS game had some people worried. The staff at Aksys Games told me this was intentional, as they wanted the game to have a unique art style with its watercolour and storybook art. I didn't get to listen to much of the sound department of the game, but the music seems to fall in line with most Harvest Moon themes. Tranquil and soft, it encapsulates the feeling of serenity that the series is known for. Like most Harvest Moon games, there's no voice acting, but I feel the game works better without it.
Aksys Games told me that this game was built for a younger audience, so consequences for not doing things probably won't be that severe. Despite this fact, I feel that Little Dragons Café will scratch a management sim itch I've been having for a while and give us a charming story that will keep me interested throughout the game. I enjoyed it a lot when I went in to get my hands-on impressions, and I am very much looking forward to the game's final release.