I don’t even know what bats taste like and I’m drooling
|My newest love affair is Dragon’s Crown – a 2D dungeon-crawler that’s been on my radar since E3 2011. I’m so enamoured with it that I wanted to (no, needed to!) write a pseudo-review on it. I say “pseudo” because I won’t be talking score numbers or even about the main part of the game. While I could gush about how fun it is, the intricate combat system, Vanillaware’s hauntingly beautiful art direction and graphics or even the controversy over how women are depicted in the game…I want to talk about the 1 minute long cooking mini game.|
The cooking minigame is – as I’m sure you’ve all deduced from the name alone – a small diversion from the main game where you cook food to earn stat bonuses for the next stage. You have 1 minute to cook food, season it, and then devour it as fast as humanly possible so you can move onto the next dish. It is so addictive that I found myself going for long stretches in the dungeons just so I could make it to the next cooking section. At one point I was tackling bosses with a bag full of broken equipment that had been worn down from all the non-stop battling. This could just be my love for cooking kicking in, but Vanillaware did an outstanding job on making this seemingly “extra” function so endearing.
Allow me to try and explain what’s so alluring about this minigame so you don’t just write me off as insane (if you haven’t already). The biggest draw is the atmosphere. You are surrounded by a cornucopia of food both familiar (green peas and mushrooms) and exotic (wyvern meat and arch demon hearts) as you huddle with your comrades around weathered pots and pans. You feel relaxed and happy, cooking a hearty meal after a long day of scouring dungeons for S rank weapons. I feel like I haven’t truly bonded with my party until we all serve each other food. You can tell you’re fighting with a kind-hearted person if they put food on your plate in this minigame. Nothing can make me like someone more than if they give me food, and this applies to the virtual world as well as the real world!
The warmth almost emanates from the TV screen as soon as you see the food. The finished dishes are so drool-worthy that I couldn’t describe how delicious they look to me if I were a professional food critic. I envy my character for getting to gobble it all down. All of these little things make me enjoy the cooking minigame almost more than the actual game itself. The same amount of love that was put into the art (including all the bonus art you get from quests) is clearly put into this 1 minute minigame, and I can just feel it.
Simple…yet maddeningly tantalizing
I suspect this tenderness towards cooking is intentional on their behalf, and not just my love for the culinary world kicking in. Vanillaware is secretly full of gourmands and food lovers. I’ve noticed that every Vanillaware game I’ve played has dedicated a very important portion of the game to food or cooking. The only exception I can think of is GrimGrimoire, which I had to abandon a few hours in because I was terrible at it. I’ll never know if any cooking was involved. That one anomaly (or is it?) aside, I really love it when games put time and effort into those little details of their game.
Muramasa (recently revamped for the Vita, if you’re interested!) also dedicates a lot of care towards depicting food. When every other second of the game is outrunning ninjas and fighting foryour life, restaurants become a safe haven. It’s therapeutic, almost. Watching your character slowly eat food is soothing in a very strange way. Sure, automatically scarfing down food offscreen is great for saving time, but you don’t feel like you’ve really done anything to your character. In Muramasa, you will be presented with an appetizing plate of food, and watch as it disappears bite by bite. I’m usually an impatient person, but no matter how many times I had to go buy some soba, the act of slowly eating it never grew tedious.
You can’t even eat the stuff in the front and it’s already making my mouth water
While Muramasa has the perfect, calming atmosphere to soothe your soul from those nail-biting fights, Odin Sphere is more about the actual food aesthetics. A lot of time in Odin Sphere is already dedicated to items and crafting, so cooking food isn’t actually much of a “break” so to speak. You’ve likely already been tinkering around with alchemy in the heat of a battle, so it’s really not that different. However, the food is the most delicious food I’ve ever seen in a video game…maybe even in real life too. This was helped in part by the fact that the food combinations were a little more involved. I’m not talking combining meat and bread to make a hotdog, here. This was some fancy-ass 5 star French cuisine. Furthermore, the variety of dishes was staggering. Why put so much time and effort into a small shop if you didn’t do it out of love?
Food is almost always very important in games as a general rule, but I felt like it was the most useful in Odin Sphere. It’s one of my favourite games of all time, but I have to admit that it was pretty hard and took a lot of careful item management. This kitchen was a crucial component to increasing your health permanently and crafting food you could take “to go” that would heal far more than your typical potion. There is a lot more love in a home-cooked lambchop than a mystery potion in a bottle. No one knows what the heck a potion tastes like, but almost everyone can picture the taste of familiar items like lamb. You can just imagine the taste when you feed it to your character, and imagine how revitalized up they’ll feel after eating it. I loved how they made sure the more succulent-sounding dishes were always better than potions.
I will always prefer games that use regular food items over vague potions and powders. You don’t feel like you’re really nourishing your character. You feel like you’re pumping them with steroids or painkillers. I will always miss the cooking system in the original Paper Mario. Giving him Koopasta or Mushroom Steak just felt so much more effective than watching him magically absorb that mysterious, poisonous-looking 1-up mushroom.
Well, I guess you could say that I just really like food. I get excited when attention is paid to food in anime as well. Ghibli films are amazing at making everyday items like instant ramen (Ponyo) and pie (Kiki’s Delivery Service) look incredible. You have to have talent to make 2D food look as good as 3D food. I’ve even written about food in anime before as well, talking about the pivotal role food can have in anime. I just can’t stay away from that topic, huh? To move away from food for a bit, let me just tell you that Dragon’s Crown is an amazing game that I’d strongly recommend playing. It’s better with friends, but you can always play online if no one is willing. Heck, you can play with me if there’s no one else. My PSN connection had been a little wonky, but on good days I can say connected. Let’s cook delicious food together! …and obtain the Dragon’s Crown if we have time.