Little Dragons Café begins with the brother and sister team of Ren and Rin, along with their mother, in a quaint little village inn/restaurant. Strangely enough, shortly after the game begins we learn that the mother is part dragon? Or has part dragon blood? Anyway, she gets real worn out because of her internal blood conflict, lays down, and seems to go into a deep sleep…draconic coma? I’m not totally sure, just humor me a bit. Ok, once the dragon of mothers (see what I did there?) zonks out, an odd little old man named Pappy shows up with a dragon egg to help fix all the problems. Apparently, the dragon in said egg will make the mother better if properly taken care of? Pappy has big eyes, creepily just hangs out in your mom’s room a lot, and seems to float rather than walk, so might as well trust his judgment.
Shortly after this introduction is done, your pet dragon Draco hatches, and the excitement begins. Initially it is just up to the team of Ren and Rin to manage the restaurant while their mother recovers. However, not long after your restaurant management career begins, a ragtag group of characters starts to force themselves upon your little café. Starting with a “musician” named Billy caught dining-and-dashing becomes essentially your slave worker to pay back his debt, and just never leaves it seems. Based on conversation with him, he seriously hates his job and is genuinely surprised when customers like his service. Next, a customer named Ipanema tells the twins a story of how much she loves their restaurant and dreams of having one of her own one day, though her anger towards the lackadaisical Billy quickly turns her super Saiyan and she trashes the place. Logical progression? Let her join the staff to learn more about running a restaurant! And finally, to round out this…um…delightful crew, is the self-important, self-absorbed, narcissistic chef Luccola who just sort of starts cooking for you after he enjoyed his meal.
Following completing this restaurant dream team, the game switches to more restaurant management related to greeting, serving, and cleaning up after your regular customers. However, every so often (once the reputation of your café reaches a certain point actually), a new, special customer will arrive and turn your once simple restaurant and inn into a life coaching suite of culinary problem solving. Each character has their own situation that brings them into the café, though the themes of maternal issues and being a bit of an outcast seems to be consistent through most of these encounters.
The story of Little Dragons Café is not exactly mind blowing, though it is certainly endearing enough to make most players want to progress. In fact, as this style of game goes, it felt to me that the story itself was more of a draw than the gameplay. Though whether this is due to a stellar story, or poor gameplay execution, we will see in the next section.
Which brings us to the gameplay itself. Gameplay in Little Dragons Café can be broken down into three main components: serving, gathering, and cooking.
The serving aspect of gameplay is rather simply. At designated times during the day, customers come through the door and have a seat at one of the many tables or bar seats. Once they do, the process involves taking their order, dropping the order off in the kitchen, taking the cooked food to the customer, and then cleaning up their dish when they are finished. Or…you can do nothing and just watch the whole process play out through your crew. Literally, you are required to do nothing at all when a customer comes in. However, if this is the path you choose, expect dissatisfied customers due to the unpredictable, poor work ethic of your workers. If you let things go by themselves, you will constantly need to go talk to your opposite twin about cleaning at inappropriate times, stop Billy hiding in the bathroom playing his guitar, cool off Ipanema’s anger, and help Luccola get over himself. So even if you choose not to serve, you will still be running ragged just to keep everything going! That is, unless you are out in the field gathering ingredients. While there is a day and night cycle, and your poor little dragon has stamina and requires rest, there is nothing at all to stop you from just staying in the field constantly gathering resources. There are various types of nodes around the island, such as bushes with vegetables, rocks with salt/sugar/flour (what??), trees with fruit, and so on. There are also unique areas for your dragon to interact with for further resources depending on his stage of growth, fishing areas for surf sustenance, as well as random bits of rubble that have bits of recipes in them for some reason. As your locations that you can travel to expand, it becomes a lengthy process to hit all of the important sights. Luckily, there is a garden and fishing pool near the café that allows you to harvest a bit of everything you have ever harvested once growing is completed.
But all that ingredient gathering is pointless without cooking something with it. To progress in the story, you need to have recipes though. Recipes are gathered in two different ways. Either you gather four corresponding pieces of a recipe and let Pappy put them together for you, or sometimes you get lucky and are given a whole recipe when conversing with a random NPC. Once you have the recipes and the appropriate ingredients, to cook puts you through a short and playful rhythm game, your skill at which determines the quality of the finished dish. While you can’t feed these cooked dishes to the customers, the purpose for cooking each dish you unlock is to improve the quality of menu items, as well as feeding your dragon to make him grow big and strong. Speaking of which, did I tell you about the manure? By feeding your dragon different dishes you can impact what his skin color is, but the real benefit comes in the form of shiny dragon manure that he (inappropriately) leaves for you in his bed every morning following being fed the day before. This manure is used to get ingredients from your gardens faster, as well as giving you higher quality ingredients from all the other resource nodes.
The Other Bits
Perhaps it is unfair to accuse Little Dragons Café of having poorly executed gameplay. The actual gameplay mechanics are quite enjoyable on the surface. I enjoyed the variety of gameplay options that were offered depending on what my mood was at the time. The exploration and trying to find all the recipe bits were relaxing and rewarding. The serving was hectic but approachable. The rhythm game to cook was fun and pushed me to want to repeat recipes to get better results.
It is more of the repetition and implementation of these things that is the issue. For example, while you will eventually unlock new customers to expand the story for you, be prepared for MANY days of the same characters, same recipes, same gathering, and same everything. In an odd way, it almost becomes a dragon manure simulator because of how helpful the stuff is! As far as implementation goes, there are clunky bits here and there that do not necessarily break the game but are noticeable none the less. The timing of the cooking rhythm game feels a bit off at the best of times, but it is also fairly common for a slight FPS hiccup or just general slowdown for a split second to hit you when trying to nail the rhythm that just can’t be prepared for.
As much negative as I listed for this game, I still have to say that I have enjoyed playing it so far. Some of the gripes may correct themselves later in the game, though I don’t have high hopes for that at this point. In all honesty, as much as I wanted to have this game completed by the writing of this review, the tedious, repetitive nature of the game made it difficult for me to play for very extended periods of time without getting totally burnt out. Perhaps if the publishers of Little Dragons Café correct some of the technical issues of slowdown and related issues it will be a bit more pleasant, but only time will tell. That being said, I wholeheartedly intend to, and look forward to, completing this game. The characters are just bad enough that you must love them, and I am intrigued where the story ends up at its conclusion. I may just need to tackle that story a little bit at a time.