I found it difficult to sum up my thoughts about Little Dragon’s Cafe. Leading up to its release, it had a lot of people excited, due it being worked on by the makers of the beloved Harvest Moon series. Yet, a lack of promotion had others worried.
After spending about a week with the game, experiencing just about everything it has to offer, and taking some time to let my thoughts settle, I found a fundamentally flawed yet charming game that should please those looking for a casually fun time.
Lots of Story
Little Dragon’s Cafe begins with your player and their twin sibling having a conversation with their mom, who runs the titular cafe. After she suddenly falls asleep with no signs of waking up, a random wizard pops up and tells the kids that their mother is half dragon (despite looking completely human). He further explains that the only way to wake her up is by raising another dragon to adulthood, and then proceeds to give them a dragon egg. While the kids are raising the dragon, they also have to keep the cafe afloat, learning how to cook and serve just like their mother did.
That’s all the setup there is to Little Dragon’s Cafe. After that, you get hard to work managing the cafe. The first few customers you meet are characters who will end up working in the cafe to help it stay afloat. The frequency of cutscenes dragged on for far too long and I definitely would’ve liked these additions to happen more slowly, but it was at least nice to get that out of the way first.
However, this is where I was lukewarm on Little Dragon’s Cafe. Special customers will come to the cafe and stay there for a few days while they complete their own “stories” and eventually leave. These stories often have little bearing on the overall plot, but they take up so much of the game’s attention, that it’s easy to forget what your actual goal is.
That also bleeds over into how the dragon is handled in the story. The game proceeds normally, taking very few breaks in between to deal with the growth of the dragon. It’s something that’s handled more like Pokémon evolution than an animal growing from a child to an adult. It also feels like a subplot despite being one of the selling points of the game.
Those are a lot of negatives, but I do want to point out that the dialogue can be quite smart at times, as well as the character designs all being great. Each individual feels distinct from the rest, and there was an initial joy in seeing new characters enter the cafe.
Cooking and Exploring
The gameplay in Little Dragon’s Cafe can be split into two parts: managing the cafe and exploring the world. You will spend a good chunk of your time each day helping out at the cafe, making sure that all of the workers are doing their jobs, and even serving customers. This all works about as well as you might think, the only problem being that you can’t cook for the customers. That job is specifically reserved for an NPC, which I thought was an odd choice. It’s a shame too, because the process of cooking food is quite fun, throwing you into a rhythm-based mini-game where your performance directly affects the quality of the food.
While you can spend a decent amount of time helping run the cafe, you certainly don’t need to. The employees might slack off, but the game always lets you know, and you can immediately return to the cafe at any time to set things straight.
The other half of the game will be spent exploring the world. While it might sound like an adventure, it’s more of a collect-a-thon. You just venture out into the wild to gain ingredients for the cafe. Different areas provide access to different ingredients and so forth. While the world is pleasant to look at and the soundtrack is top-notch, it can get tedious taking most of the day just traveling to far-off areas.
Both of these actions also go hand-in-hand to help you take care of the dragon. Gather ingredients to cook food and give them to the critter. This was the most charming part of the game, as different foods impacted what color the dragon became. On top of that, you can pet the dragon to fill its stamina bar and keep it happy, which had some adorable animations. The dragon then travels with you as you explore to help you tackle wild beasts and grab new ingredients.
Full of Love and Bugs
As I played Little Dragon’s Cafe, it was clear that the developers wanted to invoke a warm feeling with how adorably creative the world was. The visuals and the soundtrack both worked together to paint a cute picture that had me captivated when I booted up the game. Unfortunately, the game could’ve spent some more time in the oven, as there are a few bugs that hurt it for me.
The dragon could often glitch and not properly follow me as I traveled, and the visuals would frequently become dim out of nowhere (as if I left my computer screen on for too long and it was getting ready to hibernate). Then there are moments where I went to jump, but because I was right against a ledge, I couldn’t get to higher sections.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Little Dragon’s Cafe was provided by MMPR.