|Release Date||August 24th, 2018|
|Platforms||Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch|
Little Dragons Cafe presents itself as a charming game about tending to a cafe and raising a dragon. Coming from the creator of the original Harvest Moon, Yasuhiro Wada, one would hope for the same cute charm and captivating management that comes with it. In Little Dragon’s Cafe, you play either a boy or a girl, and you learn how to tend your small cafe from your mother, who teaches you the ins and outs of cooking a dish, serving, and cleaning up when customers are done, as well as gathering ingredients for dishes.
Soon after, your mother falls into a mysterious coma, and you’re greeted by a tiny old man named Pappy who tells you that to save her, you have to raise a dragon! This is all news to you kids, who now suddenly have to run the entire cafe as well as keep it stocked, on top of cooking dishes to keep the dragon fed. Thankfully, the mechanics are pretty easy, and you’re set off on your adventure.
Once you’re pretty much set loose, one of the most glaring problems about Little Dragons Cafe came to light. This could have been a Switch issue exclusively, but the frame rate seemed to be capped at 30FPS. This isn’t usually a huge problem for many games, but every time the camera is turned while the character is moving, it stutters pretty badly. Since a core mechanic of the game is gathering ingredients, it’s obvious in almost every overworld moment.
To make sure you have enough ingredients for the cafe, Little Dragons Cafe allows the player to explore and scavenge for resources in bushes, trees, rocks, and small caves, as well as from wandering harmful animals across the landscape. These areas are easy to find, as they glow and have butterflies around them, but I found that sometimes they’ll glow from far away, but when the player is closer, those indicators disappear, and the resource isn’t ready to be collected. The field of view is quite large, so this can be frustrating if you’re running out of some specific resources. There are two areas, a little farm plot and a small fishing area, where the player can collect ingredients that you’ve gotten at least once before, in bulk. These take significantly more time to mature before collecting, and the player can use your dragon’s poop as manure to speed up the process. This was interesting, but the only way to collect dragon manure… was from the dragon’s bed in the house. That could have been thought out a little better, to be frank.
Recipe fragments are often randomly scattered around the island, some accessible immediately and some not, as well as certain NPCs giving them to you at random. You need four pieces of a specific recipe to restore it and use it in the cafe, but finding four pieces can sometimes be a struggle. At one point, I was story locked by a specific piece of a recipe, and I spent hours trying to find it, only to find out that I had to talk to an NPC to get it. This was never made obvious before, and was frustrating when I finally got the piece. The inclusion of a minimap in the game would help this immensely – giving the player a general area to search for specific fragments would really cut down time searching, especially for a story-locked fragment or ingredient.
Cooking from the recipes themselves was a fun little minigame timed to small musical scores, where you have to press a direction of the D-pad matching the ingredient while timed to the music. Correctly matching the direction and tempo will make a higher quality dish. Using higher-quality ingredients will also raise the quality of the dish, but those are rare. Using those ingredients didn’t seem very beneficial, as the lower-quality ingredients were significantly more plentiful.
As players progress the story, your dragon grows into different phases of life. As a baby, it can’t do much to help you, but it is pretty dang cute. As it grows into a child, teen, or adult, it can start destroying obstacles in your path (or those hiding ingredient fragments), push rocks to let you progress to other areas, and even flying to inaccessible areas for recipe fragments. Little Dragons Cafe is good about making these changes known as your dragon grows, and the newly-accessible areas are often very obvious to you as you explore. However, it does not make it obvious which obstacles your dragon can’t yet conquer that are similar to others that it can, like a brush pile. As each action you ask of your dragon takes stamina, trying to destroy an obstacle your dragon can’t wastes time and stamina. Restoring it is as simple as feeding or petting the dragon, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
As the reality sets in that two children are running a cafe, a few helpers come to your aid. While this seems to mean that you’re free to explore and collect and unlock more of the world, it really means that they’re extremely lazy and you have to nag them at every turn to return to their work. Running the cafe and gaining reputation with the island’s inhabitants is the only way to progress the story, so your cafe workers slacking and not serving customers severely impacts any potential progress.
The story of Little Dragons Cafe is cute, but quickly becomes extremely repetitive, as the game focuses around the specific times of running the cafe, usually the lunch rush at about noon and the dinner rush about 6pm. Waking up at 6am means the player can explore for a few hours before lunch (to make sure your workers aren’t loafing around), and can quickly gather closer resources between lunch and dinner, but there’s no penalty in the game for choosing not to sleep. As the resources refill every day, it’s easy to make a few laps over the course of the day without sleeping, which leaves the player without anything to do. Going to sleep is the only option besides putting the controller down and waiting, which means missing out on a day of cafe customers and potential story progression. A stuck-in-stone routine makes the game lose its charm and quickly become boring.
Little Dragons Cafe is a very cute, fun game with very unfortunate caveats. There was very little depth in the story, but it was still enjoyable to learn about the different NPCs in the story and solve their problems by running the cafe and turning it into a bustling area for you to be proud of. Had the story not been as linear as it was, with the choice to do multiple things at once, it would have been a much more fun experience and maybe not have felt like a slog to keep going through the motions over and over. I did pick up the special edition of the game purely for the adorable baby dragon, but the full-price tag wasn’t something I think I would have paid for the base game.
|Cute art style||Story drags on with no drive|
|Fun, different cooking mechanic||Repetitive gameplay|