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‘A bunch of losers’ and a dragon set Harvest Moon creator’s latest apart

Restaurant adventure Little Dragon’s Cafe is really just about “a no good bunch of losers”

little dragons cafe — the little dragon TOYBOX Inc./Aksys Games

It may be easy to compare Little Dragons Cafe to the first Harvest Moon. But Yasuhiro Wada, who directed both, insists what’s coming to Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 is unlike anything we’ve played.

“Many games are based off the battles and the combat and the adventure, and that’s great,” Wada told me during a Game Developers Conference meetup, where I got to check out his upcoming project, a dragon-and-restaurant management sim that closely resembles its farming forebear. “But I believe that there aren’t many games that go into the personalities of the characters and go deeper into [them].

“In that sense, I believe this is a game that doesn’t exist,” Wada said.

It’s hard to gauge whether that’s quite the case, since my time with Little Dragons Cafe was brief. Here’s what I picked up on from the demo: Players choose between a boy or a girl, who are twin siblings, and whose mother shows them the ropes of running the family cafe. That includes fetching ingredients found in a tiny backyard, playing a breezy rhythm game to cook the dishes and then serving them to customers, Diner Dash-style.

The twins also have a friendly, tiny pet dragon for some reason. It’s a cutie.

little dragons cafe screen - meeting a dragon
Girl, me too.
TOYBOX Inc./Aksys Games

On the surface, Little Dragons Cafe sounds like a hodgepodge of familiar gameplay styles, which make for an interesting combination. (A rhythm game is not something I’d ever expected to find in a life sim, but it was a nice surprise.) Wada promises a storyline with a complete ending too, straddling simulation and fantasy adventure game.

That’s a core difference from Harvest Moon (now known as Story of Seasons in the West), as the director tells it.

“In the case of Harvest Moon, it started as a harvesting, farming game,” said Wada, who worked on the first game until he departed Marvelous Interactive in 2010. “And from that I built upon that element and started building upon it from there, and that was how the game was made.

Little Dragons Cafe is a bit different, in that I made the characters and world first and then built from there,” he said.

Those characters still have the same cute smiles and big heads as the Harvest Moon casts, which were designed by the same artist. The game is also combat-free and much more focused on kindling friendships and maintaining the family business, another similarity. The charming breeziness makes Little Dragons Cafe feel a bit like a novelty in the fantasy genre it leans into, but after 20 years of Harvest Moon games, I couldn’t see how this game innovates beyond that franchise.

little dragons cafe — talking to pappy
I’ll hold my tongue, Pappy.
TOYBOX Inc./Aksys Games

But I like Wada’s strongest case for why Little Dragons Cafe isn’t the Harvest Moon-like it seems to be: Everyone in the game is “a loser” — his words, and something he spoke passionately about.

“All the characters that appear in this game are just a bunch of losers and a no-good bunch of dorks,” he said, laughing. “We’re all human — there are some good parts and bad parts about us. What the player feels from playing this game is, when they see this bunch of losers, what they’ll think is, ‘I’m better than these guys.’”

I can’t recall quite feeling that way about the hard-working, good-hearted folks from the Harvest Moon franchise. (You could argue that most of the people in Wii cult classic Little King’s Story, for which Wada was executive producer, fit the “loser” bill, but that’s an edge case.) In the context of these breezy life sims, where the point seems to be more to relax with townspeople instead of stress about arrogant villains, hanging with “dorks” is certainly unique.

It’s still hard to say if Little Dragons Cafe is a twist on a familiar formula or something else, something that’s not so derivative of the Wada catalog. We’ll see for sure on Aug. 24.

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