Little Dragons Cafe Review
After a certain point in Little Dragons Cafe, customers will rapidly fill up your cafe, leaving you and your fellow workers scrambling to serve them their orders. They’ll eat their meals and quickly leave, having little desire to stick around. The next day, nothing will change; they’ll maybe order a different meal, but nothing on the menu will make them stick around. My time with this game is all too similar to the customers’ time in my cafe - there may be a change every now and then, but almost every day is the same, and nothing the game offers made me want to stay longer than necessary.
Little Dragons Cafe tells the story of two siblings whose mother, due to story-specific reasons, suddenly falls into a deep sleep. As one of the siblings, you must raise and take care of a dragon while balancing the family’s cafe with the help of a few friends in order to wake your mother up. While the premise is a bit somber, the siblings take things rather well because this isn’t meant to be a sad or stressful game.
It only feels right to discuss what you’ll immediately notice: the game has a gorgeous and distinct art style. From the moment I started up the game, I felt like I was transported into a storybook. It’s an interesting mix of a 2D and 3D style while incorporating saturated colors that make everything seem like a moving illustration. This game is a joy to look at - something that certainly enhances the game’s light-hearted atmosphere and gives it personality.
That personality is further established by the main cast. The characters are quirky, often engaging in banter that leads to scenes full of hysterics. But the game doesn’t forsake emotional depth in its writing, either. The story of Little Dragons Cafe progresses when a new main character visits the cafe. This person, due to a personal dilemma, decides to stay at the cafe (which later turns into a cafe-inn hybrid). By getting to know them and cooking them meals, the crew at the cafe is able to help them leave the cafe resolved to tackle their problems head-on. These character arcs are short but satisfying. From tackling toxic masculinity and prejudice to the importance of empathy, these arcs touch on important themes that transform their respective characters into more than just the tropes they are founded on.
On the other hand, the background characters that frequent the cafe are not afforded anything close to those arcs. The game, unfortunately, has no central hub or village where you can chat with regulars at the cafe and get to know them, and when they do visit the cafe, they offer little of interest. They will sit down, wait for their orders and quickly leave after they get them; trying to talk to them will offer little more than a general comment on the menu. Sometimes, they’ll bring you a common item that you can easily get on your own - but none of them have names or anything that makes them feel like individuals who make you look forward to hosting at your business.
This is contrasted by my precious dragon child. While it has no lines of dialogue, it was ridiculously adorable - it let me ride it to reach great heights, relied on me to feed it so that it could grow into a majestic adult dragon, and changed colors depending on the food I fed it. It also cheered me on when I caught a fish (which is super easy, but that isn’t the point). Oh, and you can pet it as much as you want.
But sadly, my cute dragon child isn’t nearly enough to make up for the game’s flaws, particularly its greatest flaw, which is the extremely slow pacing. The cafe’s peak hours are at noon and at 7 p.m., which means you have all the time in between to dedicate towards going out into the world to fetch ingredients. But there’s honestly not much to do in this game. There are few activities besides cooking (which has you play a rhythm style mini-game that is fun at first but becomes dull very quickly), fishing, flying, and walking around for you to sink your time into. There are no customers who stay at the inn and whom you could get to know during their stay aside from the story NPCs, and while the game’s world is already small, other areas are only unlocked when you reach a certain point in the story.
It took nine hours for the pace to pick up a bit more, for the cafe to get more than four customers to come in per shift. A little afterward, the cafe starts to get pretty busy. But until then, there isn’t even a demanding shift at the cafe to break up the monotony of getting ingredients in the time between the cafe’s rush hours.
Routines can be relaxing and even fulfilling in video games. After all, games like Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and Animal Crossing have been wildly popular and successful. But the difference between those games and Little Dragons Cafe is that those titles sometimes feel limitless in the things you could do, while here you’re constantly aware of what you can’t do. Those series may have worlds that are relatively tight in scope, but there are so many things you can do that you can look forward to completing the tasks you didn’t get to finish when your character wakes up the next day, in addition to whatever surprises await.
In Little Dragons Cafe, I simply struggled to find something to do to pass the time, and often resorted on listening to some of my own music in the background to make it a bit more exciting. Finishing the main story can take anywhere from 30 to 50 hours, a quarter of which has to be the all-too-frequent and lengthy loading times. As such, there's a lot of time spent just waiting around - a bit too long for a game that could and probably should be much shorter.
Little Dragons Cafe is a charming game that has all the ingredients to be an ideal game to play when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, but it doesn’t manage to be fun enough to make you want to commit to it. It would benefit from a pace that isn’t abysmally slow and having more activities to partake in. Even with my adorable dragon child following me around and the game’s visual charms, the overall experience lacks the substance to make me want to stay much longer than the customers who visited my cafe.