Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)

Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Nintendo Switch

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: Little Dragons Café
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (757.9 MB)
Release Date: August 24, 2018
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: TOYBOX Inc.
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $79.99 (US), £44.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E10+
PEGI: 3
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
When I saw Little Dragons Café at E3, it seemed like a worthwhile evolution of the Harvest Moon series. Coming from the director of those games the comparison felt warranted but this one is its own little beast.

Unfortunately, the game demoed better than it plays as some of the repetitive elements do drag down my initial take on the game but a decent amount of charm helps keep it afloat.

The game stars a brother and sister (you can decide which one to play and what to name the siblings) who live with their mother in their family café. When their mother falls ill, the siblings learn that she has dragon’s blood and that they must raise a young dragon in order to save her.

Oh, and they also need to keep the family café running in her absence. As they run the café, they also learn and grow by helping their customers overcome their own problems.

The day-to-day activities of the siblings are split up into two major parts: exploring the island and running the café. Both aspects of the game fit together well, like peanut butter and jelly, as they tie into one another while also offering unique gameplay loops.

Running the café seems simple on paper, but it does come with its share of challenges. Fortunately, very early in the game the siblings gain the help of three new employees who can run some of the operations on their own. The gameplay in the café mostly just revolves around running from place to place, be it for grabbing a completed order for a customer or bussing dirty dishes. The employees will do this as well, but will occasionally slack off and you’ll have to remind them to get to work.

Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)

This part of the game starts off pretty easy but can actually get difficult, though not for the right reasons. For one, the game has NPCs take precedence in pathing, meaning if you’re walking one direction and they run into you going in another, you’ll get pushed backwards until you get out of their way.

Additionally, the propensity of the employees to slack off on the job doesn’t seem to decrease as the game progresses, at least as far as I’ve made it in the game, meaning you have to spend a lot of time prompting them. These two factors can make the café management a bit of a chore.

The other big part of running the café is managing the menu and cooking new dishes. Cooking is a pretty easy process, as you mostly just pick a few ingredients and play a quick rhythm minigame. The result of the cooking is based on the quality and types of ingredients and how well you do the minigame. For example, you can pick all salty ingredients to make a salty version of a dish or focus on sweet ingredients. Recipes can even gain additional secret ingredients to allow you to add more flavors to a dish.

Once you’ve cooked a dish, you can add that to the café’s menu for the cook to whip up for customers. The menu also has customer reviews of the dishes, allowing you to cut things that people don’t like or aren’t eating and replace them with better things.

With both the menu and serving customers, doing well can impact the shop’s reputation but the game is pretty forgiving. And since there’s no money side of things, there’s no real fail state to fear. Instead, the shop’s reputation just controls how quickly you advance the story.

Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)

However, you do have to make sure you have ingredients, both new ones for new recipes and an ample supply of old ones to go into cooked dishes, and that’s where the exploration ties in. Ingredients can be found all over the island from gathering points or from wild animals that are roaming the environments. As the story progresses, you gain more and more of the island to explore, which in turn gives access to more and more ingredients.

Exploring is pretty enjoyable, as the area around the café features a few different areas that slowly get unlocked. Again, there’s no fail state here to worry about since you can’t fall off anything and the aggressive wild animals simply take cooked dishes from you if they attack you, however the need to micromanage the shop can sometimes hurt the exploration. Some of the farther off areas take a while to get to and the only quick travel is warping back to the shop.

The NPC troubles also hurt the exploration a bit. Your dragon follows you around outside and helps you out but he’ll sometimes lag behind or stop so you’ll have to wait for him. As he gets bigger, he becomes the key to attacking monsters or getting past certain terrain features so it’d be nice if he were a little more responsive. However, you can pet and hug him, and even fly around on his back once he gets large enough all of which is endearing as it sounds.

Getting ingredients can also drag down the game at times. If the shop runs out of an ingredient for one of your menu items, you’ll have to go gather more but most gathering points give multiple ingredients. And that’s even assuming you remember which ones give you that ingredient. Fortunately, the garden outside the cafe grows ingredients for every item you’ve found at least one of, but they grow random amounts and take a while to do so unless you toss dragon fertilizer on them.

As mentioned before, all of this can get a little repetitive. The basic gameplay loop is that with each chapter a new character comes to the café, you’ll spend several days of one cutscene per day finding out that character’s problems, gain access to a new area to explore, find some new recipes, eventually figure out a solution to the character’s problem which can be solved by cooking a specific thing for them, end chapter and repeat.

Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)

Mixed together, the gameplay tastes like a family or kids game. Having no fail states and the “working through problems for customers” story feels like something aimed at a younger audience. Even the dialogue is simple and the game’s story has very clear messaging about not being biased against different cultures or learning to stand up for yourself. Some of the gameplay mechanics may seem half-baked but they serve as a solid introduction to these kinds of mechanics. And more importantly, they all work well together.

Visuals:
Little Dragons Café has pretty simple visuals, but the style makes up for any shortcomings. There’s a degree of charm in the way the characters look, partially from a filter that makes the game look like a drawing or painting and partly from the cute animations and fantastic facial expressions. Just seeing how characters react during cutscenes or watching your dragon run and interact with the world are the best parts of the visuals in the game.

This is good because there are certainly some shortcuts taken in other areas of the visual department. Pop-in is very prevalent and noticeable as you explore the outside areas. Some of the ways textures are tiled and less-than-current-gen models are used can serve as a reminder that this is a game world and not a real world. A younger audience would probably be more forgiving of these deficiencies thanks to the fantastic art styles but they do give a slightly bland aftertaste for an enfranchised game.

Audio:
The audio in the game is perfectly fine. The music is catchy enough to not get too tired of, plus it changes for different areas as you explore and as time advances. Little Dragons Café does do a good job with sound effects though as a way to notify the player of things. A charging enemy in the field or even the way each employee gets a different sound effect for when they slack off on the job goes a good way towards letting you know when to pay attention.

Probably the biggest hit against the game is that there are not any voiced lines. I wouldn’t normally consider this too strongly but it does seem like a factor worth considering in a game aimed at kids, for those who may not be a strong reader yet.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)Review: Little Dragons Café (PS4)

Conclusion:
Repetition and pacing are the biggest duds in this meal. There are flavors to love in what Little Dragons Café is offering, such as the cute art style and heartfelt plot, but getting over the slow pacing was difficult. I do enjoy playing the game but at the same time it falls short in a few categories.

For me, it has turned into a game I pick up and advance for a little bit in between other games, which is part of the reason I’ve yet to finish it. The chapter-by-chapter storylines help in this regard as it’s pretty easy to sit down, play through one character’s story then set the game aside for a little while.

I definitely feel conflicted about Little Dragons Café. I liked it a lot at E3, where I played just the first part of it and then a small slice later in the game. I think that’s because the moment-to-moment gameplay is good, it’s just that over several courses in this meal the flaws become more evident. I could see recommending this for the young or young-at-heart, if only for the endearing story, just make sure you’re aware of some of the minor issues that might bog it down.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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