Game Over: Little Dragon’s Cafe

  • Time to Complete: 31 hours, 17 minutes.
  • Achievements Unlocked During Normal Play: 18/21
  • MSRP: $59.99
  • Price paid: $6.99 (for one month of Utomik)

I feel like I need to start off saying that I really enjoyed playing Little Dragon’s Cafe, because hoo boy, do I have a million nitpicks. The game worked great, it was super relaxing (even during the “stressful” busy parts), but there were a ton of things that I feel would have made the game even better.

Until now, the way I have been making games is to make the game system first, and then add in characters and all the meat of the game afterward,” he said. “For Little Dragons Café, I worked on this backward where we thought of the characters and the story and the art style first, and then decided how to turn all that into a game.

Yasuhiro Wada – from an interview with CJ Andriessen on Destructoid

I loved the art style, and mostly really liked the characters, but the one thing I can’t give Little Dragon’s Cafe any credit for whatsoever was the pacing. After the prologue, the chapters felt so very slow. And there were a lot of chapters.

It seems a little disingenuous to complain about busy work in a game that, let’s be honest, is at least 75% busy work to begin with. Scrounging around for recipe fragments and cooking ingredients was a lovely, chill experience, but it wasn’t anything exciting. But there were far too many days which served to only be a short cutscene, which added almost nothing to the story, with instructions to further the story by going to sleep.

The other thing that threw the pacing off – at least for me – was the process of raising the dragon. The first three stages of your dragon’s life happen fairly quickly, and then you’re stuck in adolescence for what seemed like forever. At that point, you did have the entirety of the island to explore (minus one small “end game” zone), but that also meant that there were blocked off recipe fragments in a lot of places, taunting you, that you couldn’t get until your dragon reached adulthood.

I feel like Little Dragon Cafe would have been a smoother experience with a couple of small tweaks. Having four rarities of about half of the ingredients made the total number of ingredients wholly unmanageable, considering there are 160 unique ones to begin with. Due to the extreme limits of the fertilizer system (only getting one per day with a max carry of 9), it was really rather useless for targeting specific higher rarity ingredients, and actually using the ingredients was just a guarantee that you’d have to change your menu often.

The relative rarity of a few certain key ingredients was also pretty annoying to deal with. Rice was used in a lot of recipes, but only came in two base varieties. The same with flour, which was used in even more recipes than rice. Early on this was fine, but as you progressed through the story, and your cafe got more famous (and therefore busier), there was no way to keep up with the demand for these ingredients, so you ended up with a rather lopsided menu that used very little of either.

Finally, while it was very handy to have a garden right outside your cafe, the fact that you had absolutely no control over what grew there made it far less useful than it otherwise could have been. The more ingredients you found in the wild, the more variety your garden produced, meaning that you basically got an insignificant amount of a lot of different ingredients.

The cooking mini-game was fine – I didn’t particular look forward to cooking new dishes, but I also didn’t struggle to get four to five stars on most anything I cooked. I am grateful that the ability to change your menu while out in the world was available, because in the latter half of the game, I sometimes found myself needing to change my menu multiple times a day as ingredients ran out. My cafe employees did a lot of slacking off, but unless I was near the end of a chapter, I found I could basically ignore it, since there was no financial incentive to make the cafe run smoothly provided you met the satisfaction metrics for a given chapter (and if you didn’t you just needed to spend a few days getting satisfaction up before the next story beat would start).

With no fail state that I could find, Little Dragon’s Cafe is a respectable low-key game that can be played in bite size chunks (frequently, I’d play two or three days in about 30 minutes). It’s a little annoying that two of the remaining three achievements I have yet to unlock require playing past the end of the story, and I’m still undecided whether I’m going to prioritize finishing those up. I suppose it depends on how much I find I miss playing.

I would recommend Little Dragon’s Cafe for fans of the genre, but the odd pacing and grindiness of the game make it hard sell (at least on PC) for the asking price.

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