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Little Dragons Cafe Review: How to Run a Successful Dragon

/ Oct 18th, 2018 No Comments

Little Dragons Cafe Review

The slice-of-life collectathon genre that focuses on simulation has many, many popular franchises, from the classic Story of Seasons to the the juggernaut that is Animal Crossing. There is something indelibly satisfying about doing what amounts to busy work and chores. However, what many of the games in this genre lack is a reason to do it all.

Little Dragons Cafe is different. It certainly has all the gathering aspects and simulation elements found in other games in the genre, but it makes sure you have a reason for doing it all through a compelling story. Not only that, it adds additional mechanics to bring variety to gameplay.

How to Train Your Dragon to Save Your Mother

In a small inn, boy and girl twins live peacefully with their mother where they help her cook and take care of their guests. Then one day, their mother falls ill and goes into a deep slumber. Suddenly, an old guy in a white robe shows up to inform the twins that their mother is part dragon. Say what?!

Stop me if you heard this before: To save their mother and wake her from her slumber, they have to raise a dragon and run the inn successfully.
 

Little Dragons Cafe Review

This old guy gives you a dragon and tells you your mom is a dragon! Whoa…

As the twins work together to care and nurture for the baby dragon while making sure to make the inn a welcoming place for guests, they discover neither is as easy as it may seem. Caring for a dragon takes time, patience and a lot of work.

They also learn that staffing the inn is an exercise in managing big personalities. The biggest issue might be the guests themselves, whether they are hosting a witch who detests humans, a girl suffering from a great loss, a ghost who wishes to be seen or a sensitive werewolf. The twins find out there is more to running an inn than simply providing a good meal and a comfy bed.

From its inventive premise to its colorful characters and fun, cheeky dialogue, Little Dragons Cafe’s story is full of whimsy. There is something oddly endearing about the juxtaposition of a Parisian style inn with such high fantasy characters populating it. An orc in a fancy turbin cooking ratatouille for another orc is a sight to see. While the premise is wild, the story builds more on the characters than its plot.
 

Little Dragons Cafe Review

Each of the characters that stay at the inn are looking for something they’re missing.

The cafe plays home to an eclectic staff that joins by happenstance as they come across the inn. Each of them stumbles in looking for food and a place to rest. Once they try the tasty dishes and enjoy the hospitality, they can’t help but want to stay to be part of the staff. They are inspired to help the twins on their quest to make it the best inn it can be. It helps give running the inn some extra pizzazz as each has their own quirks that liven up the place.

Structurally, the narrative is broken up between the growth of your dragon and, more importantly, by the extended stays of singular guests. These mini-narratives help you along on your larger goal to raise the profile of the inn and your dragon.

Each character comes into the inn after experiencing a major life event that leaves them needing help. Usually, they start their time there fighting with the staff, but by helping them with their problems, they come to find something deep within themselves that lets them move pass their issues. While the stories themselves are interesting character studies, it helps create a stronger narrative of the inn as this paragon of hospitality.

The Importance of Dragons in Business

The major split in gameplay is between gathering and exploration and running the actual cafe. Both play into one another in specific ways, so finding the right balance is important, even if in some instances you have to neglect one for the other to thrive.

Whether you choose to play as Ren or Rin, your time exploring is tied to the development of your dragon (and by extension your cafe). When you first start, you can only explore a small part of the world outside the cafe because your dragon is just a pup. This limits your ability to gather items to basic ingredients within a short radius of the cafe. As well, what your dragon can help you find or explore is also limited to scouting caves to find single ingredients.

As you help those staying at your inn, both your dragon and the cafe’s reputation grow. At different stages of development, the areas and distance of exploration is opened up as your dragon matures. Your dragon gains new abilities when he reaches each new stage. Eventually, the dragon will be able to tackle hostile monsters, destroy stronger and stronger barriers and fly.

Flight is the big game changer for exploration as you can start reaching new heights both figuratively and literally. There is a lot of verticality to the world. As you ascend new heights, you will find better ingredients, more aggressive enemies and additional recipe fragments.
 

Little Dragons Cafe Review

The more your dragon matures, the more it can help you.

While gathering ingredients is necessary for the longevity of your cafe’s success, recipe fragments are the most important aspect of exploration. The dishes you cook in the cafe have to be found, mainly by finding fragments in the environment. By assembling four fragments, you can restore a full recipe with the weird old man in your inn. These recipes are usually more complex and help increase your cafe’s reputation because you will be able to deliver a more sophisticated menu.

The act of gathering ingredients and finding recipes helps support the other major gameplay aspect of Little Dragons Cafe: actually running the cafe. There is a symbiosis between the two. If you aren’t exploring, finding new recipes and keeping your ingredients stocked, your cafe will atrophy. Alternatively, if you don’t make sure your cafe flourishes, you won’t be able to mature your dragon and explore more of the world.

Cooking is a major component of the game. What is a cafe without a menu, and what is a menu without some changes and updates? By finding new recipes and changing your menu regularly, you will help improve your reputation and keep your customers’ happy. While the main cooking duties belong to Luccola, the initial recipe testing and menu planning belongs to you.

The game handles cooking in a unique way. Cooking any dish requires specific ingredients from different categories: meats, veggies, cheese, etc. These raw ingredients are sometimes general in a recipe or, in the case of a German potato salad, very specific. By selecting the appropriate ingredients, you’re ready to cook.

The way cooking works is by playing a rhythm game. By pressing the necessary buttons with good timing, you’ll successfully create a dish. The less ingredient notes you miss and the better your timing is, the better the quality of the dish will be.
 

Little Dragons Cafe Review

Little Dragons Cafe has a unique cooking mechanic that has some issues, but still is novel.

However, do note that the more ingredients you use or the more challenging the recipe, the faster or longer the rhythm is. While the idea is super cool, the execution lacks in some respects with the rhythm mechanics. The inputs aren’t as tight as they should be. Regardless, it is still an inventive way to handle the act of cooking.

As exciting as cooking new dishes and updating your menu is, a cafe is nothing without customers. Naturally, you have to make sure your customers are being served with exceptional service. That’s where you and the rest of the cafe staff comes in.

Service breaks down into taking orders, serving dishes and busing tables. Taking orders timely is important because it ensures your cook gets them out as soon as possible. However, stacking too many orders without being able to get them out can cause diners to be frustrated and leave, forcing you to dispose of the dish. Pacing orders when you get busier is important.

Once an order is placed, the dish must be served, then after a patron finishes eating that dish, it must be cleaned. Cleaning a dish is important to ensure a new seat is open for a potential customer, but it is the least vital of the three. Ensuring a dish is served timely is the most vital aspect of service behind taking the order itself. There is a dance to service and mastering it will leave your customers full and happy.

When your cafe starts, it will not be very busy, but a few loyal customers will come in for a short lunch and dinner service. This leaves plenty of time to do other things. However, as you expand you menu and improve your reputation, word of mouth starts to spread and the café will get a whole lot busier. Lunch and dinner service can bleed into each other, leaving you only a short time to explore. Hell, you may even have customers coming in for breakfast when you get popular enough.

Once you’ve cultivated a notable reputation and your customer count gets into the 30-40 range, you can end up spending your entire day in the cafe. It is important to make sure you do because your staff is prone to slack off, opting to get angry, worried or just jamming on a guitar instead of serving guests. Your feedback takes a hit if you’re not tending to your guests, and you can’t progress in the game with poor feedback. A pro tip: lunch is the busiest service you’ll have. Ensuring a smooth lunch service can go a long way to making sure you keep the feedback positive.

Serving food and keeping your menu updated means you can’t solely be in the cafe. The balance between service and exploration is huge. If you neglect gathering your staple ingredients, you can easily run out of the ability to make dishes quickly, especially as you get busier and tickets increase. Making sure to dedicate specific time to gathering ingredients and finding new recipes is vital to keeping your cafe on track. Figuring out the right balance for yourself is part of the fun of Little Dragons Cafe.

Overall

Little Dragons Cafe scratches that slice-of-life/task-based simulator itch that many of us have. What it does better than most games in the genre is give a motivation and a reason for collecting resources. The exploration aspect of the game is also better than most other games in the genre thanks to your dragon. There is a lot to discover, but raising your dragon is the only way to see it all. Most of all, running your cafe, cooking dishes and managing service is much more gratifying than making cosmetic changes to your house.

If you’ve felt yourself in need of charm and an outlet for collecting things, Little Dragons Cafe is certain to win you over.

Little Dragons Cafe was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.

 

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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