Two weeks ago, I was delighted to get a review code for Little Dragons Café, which we have been covering rather extensively on n3rdabl3. It’s about two children whose half-dragon mother falls into a deep sleep because human blood and dragon blood does not mix very well. A mysterious old man approaches her children with a dragon egg, informing them that they must raise the baby dragon that hatches and run the café successfully to awaken their mother.
I’ll admit that this game had me from the news articles. It was coming from Yasuhiro Wada, the creator of the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series and seemed to have similar features, it seemed like a fun concept, and let’s face it, it looked cute as hell.
On many of these spots, Little Dragons Café delivered. As usual, I’ll start with the visuals which are Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons cute; I suspect it’s the same artist as the most recent Story of Seasons games. The world is varied with environments embodying plains, rural farmlands, deep forests, and more, with each area having their own distinctive looks and items to be acquired. The inside of the café has a cute, sort of 2D pop-up book aesthetic; it all meshes very well together.
Controls are also smooth and pretty straightforward. The game will prompt you when and how you can interact with certain situations both visually and with a text prompt, and when you learn new things they get added to a tutorial that can be accessed from the start menu. So there’s not much to memorize and there’s basically no learning curve. The only thing I really had trouble with in terms of controls was cooking, which takes the form of a rhythm minigame. No problems with the game itself: I’m just astoundingly bad at rhythm games! And, actually, the more ingredients you unlock and add to a recipe, the easier it gets.
The only downside I found with Little Dragons Café‘s controls is that sometimes it’s difficult to complete the tasks you’d like to complete when in the café. Your employees can get upset if they’re overwhelmed by work, and you need to talk to them to cheer them back up. If your cook gets upset, it’s hard to actually get to him rather than pulling up the cooking screen or the larder screen (because he is right in that area). Likewise, if your sibling or another character is too close to the café’s door when you try to talk them down, you may accidentally trigger the exit command and end up outside!
When you’re in the field with the dragon, similar things can happen, but it’s not as much of a problem because the dragon can usually figure out what you need him to do on his own or just does helpful things on his own. You may have whistled for him to cut down a fruit-bearing bush, but if he notices a hungry Zucchidon heading for you, he’ll address that first.
Like Wada’s other games, there is a farming aspect because you need to supply your own ingredients for your café dishes. It’s simplified, however, no watering or planting required, which is great for this game when you consider the adventuring/dragon raising and café running required for successful gameplay. Your garden grows on its own at a certain rate which can be decreased if you fertilize it with your dragon’s manure. You can fish but you also have a hatchery which also fills at an increased rate with manure. And you can also pick up certain wild animals for item production.
You can also find new ingredients in the field, in caves, from wild beasts, special bushes, trees, flowers, etc. The absolute best mechanic is the fact that once you find the item in the wild you can potentially harvest it in your small field, even if it’s meat or eggs. The randomness means you still have to forage for items, but it gave me enough of a bumper that I could survive reasonably well if I couldn’t forage very much on a given day.
Little Dragons Café‘s story was pretty fun as well. The main story regards raising your dragon and running the café, but you get a series of customers that have their own specific stories to complete. The stories can cover surprisingly serious subject matters, but with a light touch. Eventually, these special customers’ stories overlap, which adds depth to the narrative you build from their stories that you must go through to complete the main story.
Although the overall narrative develops well, the special customers sort of lose their pizzazz after you’ve finished their specific stories. They still visit, but they still have the same default dialogue, sometimes with little indication of character development or warmth. A big part of Wada’s other series is that element of relationship building with NPCs, so even though it isn’t overwhelmingly important to the game, it’s a bit disappointing to not have a similar element in this game, especially with such a charming and interesting cast.
Little Dragons Café‘s story develops in a somewhat simplistic way as well. As long as you keep your café running well, its rating goes up and the game will progress to the next cutscene, which can usually be triggered by simple things, like waking up in the morning or reentering the café during certain hours. The most challenging aspect came near the end of each mini-story when one must gather four recipe fragments to make the characters’ beloved dishes.
This includes making a dish for someone in the field who will give you a recipe fragment if satisfied. Although the game gives you some hints for how to progress in the story, it doesn’t always give hints for the proper dish required for the person in the field, and these were really the only times I got hung up on things. I missed having helpful NPCs in this game that give that one key hint… The main story doesn’t progress until the individual stories do, so it’s frustrating to be running the café perfectly and not gaining any needed credit for it because some dude in the woods won’t eat what you’re bringing him.
Earlier I said that the controls were simple and straightforward, and for the most part, the game handles itself well. However, around the halfway point I noticed that things got a bit glitchy. Game elements started acting a little unpredictable when I was completing Maurice’s story. To finish his quest, you need to bring a certain dish to a man in the forest just beyond a group of extra-powerful Zucchidons. It took me a long time to figure out what he wanted, and I spent some time traveling back and forth with new dishes. The Zucchidons would notice me and then glitch through the ground and surrounding elements to attack me. Even worse, it got so they would attack me while I was speaking to the man I needed to feed to get necessary recipe fragments. When they attack you, they eat one random dish—they kept on eating the dish I was trying to bring to the man! Glitches like these happened here and there. They were never game-breaking, but they would happen in clusters, which was worrisome to me. Although my game never crashed, I spent the rest of the game ready for it to happen.
Little Dragons Café also often paused before cutscenes. It would freeze on the first scene with everything sort of grayed out, like actors on a stage before the curtain raises. I was never sure if this was on purpose because the game didn’t always do this, so every single time I had that familiar feeling of all five stages of grief rolled into one. The pause would only last four seconds at the longest, but after fifteen years of Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons, it never stopped scaring the heck out of me, as even the most recent (Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns) games carry that weird freezing bug that signifies file (or at the very least, daily progress doom) on occasion. Again, the game never actually broke on me, but with these odd pauses, it certainly seemed like it would be possible.
Overall, the game was a fun, if a simplified take on many of the formulae that have proved successful in some of Wada’s other games. The game doesn’t necessarily have the deepest or longest story, but it has replay value, and it probably benefits from playing at leisure, rather than cramming it into a short amount of time. The bugs in the game didn’t ruin the experience for me, but it’s worth being aware of and prepared for them. The game saves automatically at the end of every in-game day, so even if you do trigger them and they do cause you more trouble than they did me, you shouldn’t lose too much. If you’re interested in Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons/Rune Factory but want a lighter version of the games or are interested in those series but aren’t sure where to start, this is a great pick for you.