One might say that the Japanese Role Playing Game scene is in a bit of a rut. You know the drill: Youth with bizarre fashion choices who is missing ___ must set out on a quest and ally themselves with other powerful figures to fend off an impending disaster of some sort. Sure, there are some variations here and there, but many fall into the same sort of sweeping epic that tends to hit a lot of familiar notes.
And that’s where Adventure Bar Story is such a breath of fresh air. The main character is a young girl named Siela who has discovered that her sister Kamerina’s bar (set in a castle town not unlike what you’d encounter in those other RPGs) is in danger of going out of business and being sold to the antagonistic owner of a larger, more upscale restaurant who charges high prices for bland offerings. Unfortunately, things don’t look likely to turn around soon, as patrons “tend to visit more for Kamerina than for the food,” as Siela puts it. So naturally, in order to preserve their ownership of the place she grew up in, she does the only logical thing: she decides to run the place herself!
Okay, perhaps being the “most logical” thing is a bit dubious, but Kamerina doesn’t seem to mind. And besides, she has the support of Fred, who runs the supply shop and is willing to follow her out into the wilderness to find free supplies (though he won’t hesitate to sell you his own). They can only venture out once per day, however, and in the process will (randomly, ugh) encounter various animals and monsters who wish to do them harm.
Upon gaining the supplies you need, it’s cooking time. This is both the most promising part of the game and also where it falls flat.
While Adventure Bar Story does feature weapons, armor, and fighting baddies outside of town, cooking is what the game is all about. Case in point: you don’t gain experience from felling dragons, but from eating the things that you cook. The more exotic the dish, the more exponential your experience points. And you’ll need that cooking experience to create a menu, make food for customers, and participate in cooking competitions to gain fame throughout the kingdom. It’s actually a nice amount of depth for something like this, something which would likely be a throwaway feature in another game, provided it was even included at all.
A well-equipped inventory.
There are numerous recipes you can buy, as well as recipes to make ingredients for other recipes, to say nothing of choosing the right equipment, but you can also “freestyle,” if you will. That is, by experimenting, you can discover new recipes not listed among the others. Some are amazingly simple, such as adding salt to a vegetable. But it becomes more than a little frustrating to try to recreate real-world foods and waste your precious resources and only be met in failure. For some reason, something as simple as a salted potato doesn’t work. One might think that bringing pork, egg, and cheese together in a frying pan would result in an omelet, but you would be sadly mistaken.
The end result is that you don’t want to go very far outside the box, and instead grind (or pay real money for jewels to spend) for the ingredients and recipes you need to achieve success. So while it allows for experimentation, it feels like it still has a pretty rigid idea of where it wants you to go in the process of cooking. Sure, dragon steaks and dragon eggs sound interesting enough, but what if we want some hickory spices and barbecue sauce up on that thing?
Still, Adventure Bar Story is a nice little shake-up of the RPG norm and may still provide fun for fans of the genre, but feels like it comes up just short of what it could be, and what we were hoping it would be.