Don’t play with your food they told me. Clearly, nobody imparted this piece of advice to Elex, the team behind the absolutely manic Food Fantasy. Brought to life by the same people responsible for dress up adventure Love Nikki and base management sim Empire: Origin, Food Fantasy is an unlikely mix of management simulator and RPG card game. This free-to-play mobile fusion goes live across iOS and Android on 20 July. In anticipation of the release, we got a look at a pre-launch preview.
Food Fantasy is a Japanese culinary treat that has been ported for western audiences and it is a typically outrageous experience. Combining elements of mobile card games, side-scrolling RPGs, and management simulators, Food Fantasy puts players in the guise of a fledgling restaurant owner in a fantasy world. As a Master Attendant, you begin to build your restaurant, crafting amazing dishes and serving local customers, all with the aim of having the best eating establishment in the land. That would, however, be far too simple. In this land of milk and honey, Milk is more likely to be made manifest as a demure maiden than a tall cold glass.
Mochi More than you Expect
These foodstuffs made whole are Food Souls and they are part of a slightly outrageous theme that only a Japanese market that coined Food Wars could conceive of. They’re also the main reason it might catch your interest, taking the concept of outrageous seasonal anime and twisting it into a mobile game. Food souls exist in the game as servants, drawn through a card style summoning system. These foodstuffs are used as familiars for a variety of purposes. They can serve customers in your new restaurant, cook noodles, or help you out on adventures, battling a range of evil and mysterious Fallen Angels.
These Food Souls are dressed in a soft gradient that is consistent with the type of presentation you would expect from the team behind Love Nikki. While it some of the designs could be more inventive I still couldn’t help but occasionally be charmed by souls like Coffee. Throughout the opening menus, and maps, the game makes for similar viewing. It’s all a beautiful 2D painting that works well for the card system and is designed to appeal to the same audience that loves the way Nikki looks, all while being generally unoffensive. Heading out into adventures or toiling about the kitchens, however, is a completely different kind of world. Bright chibi creatures work the floors of your own establishment and Food Souls that accompany you out on quests are also presented as endearing 2D chibi characters.
The amalgamation of different art styles in Food Fantasy is a great analogy for the rest of the game. The mix of combat, questing, narrative, and management is a melting pot of ideas that work to varying degrees, depending on your personal preferences. Adventures are where most of the game’s action takes place. Master Attendants can draw cards using the summon system and build a team of 5 Food Souls to explore the world. Each Food Soul is brimming with its own personality. With voice acting for each team member, some solid art, a variety of card grades, an eccentric style, and a variety of stats and skills, each Food Soul has their own optimal use and accompanying team members. This is further complicated by a series of special abilities that activate when specific food combinations are paired. For example, Milk and Tea enable each other’s special skills, allowing them to add an extra heal and damage skill to your arsenal of abilities.
Littered around the bottom of the combat UI, these special skills are one of a few things that Master Attendants need to monitor. While The Food Souls and enemy angels battle each other without any significant intervention, Master Attendants can trigger a series of their own abilities, fire off food combinations, and act to interrupt enemy attacks. While it is not particularly strategic, this is just about enough action to make paying attention worthwhile. Most of the tactical choices tend to be made prior to any fight breaking out. Party make-up, food combinations, and remembering to choose a tank are all core concepts that allow Food Fantasy to support its card collection system with a relatively engaging combat dynamics.
The Main Course
Story instances play through much like adventures, with the addition of a visual novel style interludes. This is probably one of the more eccentric moments of Food Fantasy. Exploring the land, getting lost and beaten up by a Lobster, chasing Rice, and stumbling across the secrets of the Fallen Angels is one of the more bizarre narratives that I’ve encountered in any JRPG. Writing is mostly solid if not necessarily inspired and the story instances can sometimes feel like they are somewhat sparse. It is, however, quirky and seemingly knows exactly how silly the concept of fighting food is, making for an enjoyable enough romp.
Each adventure and their subsequent rewards support various other systems throughout the game. These encourage players to utilize the game’s card crafting system, upgrading their Food Souls, as well as gathering supplies for the restaurant that continues to run in the background. Restaurants are a relatively placid affair that, given the correct staffing, pretty much tend to themselves. Assign the correct Food Souls and plow your ingredients into the various food development systems and you’ll have customers happily filing through the door and making you lots of money. Gold, tips, and experience are the primary currencies that restaurants generate, allowing you to continue to build your miniature empire.
Currencies, like the various subsystems, in Food Fantasy are numerous and utterly confounding at times. Resources exist for entering adventures, leveling up, improving cooking skills, crafting cards, drawing Food Souls, buying from any of the umpteen game stores, and crafting. These are barely the currencies I can remember and subsystems exist for nearly every currency. Navigating these becomes increasingly confusing as you continue to delve further into the game, but while you go deeper the game seems to just widen out. It’s not to say that the variety of crafting, improvement, and skill systems is a bad thing. The tutorials do a fair job of introducing players to the various systems but everything seems to leave players with a huge range of systems that are all geared getting you to play, grind currencies, and return back to spend it on a huge range of simple progression systems.
No matter how much energy you have to keep grinding through Food Fantasy, you’ll find that your food souls probably will not be able to keep up with you. Food souls are gated by a freshness system that acts like a stamina bar. Performance of food souls that run out of energy can be replenished using shop items, or crafted pots. This inclusion of a simplistic stamina bar to game content is disappointing. It is something that tends to be inherent in eastern, and mobile, games synergize with the use of specific currencies to gate access to content to raise some concerns.
While I did not have too much issue with these gating and stamina implementations after I learned how to best utilize my time, my initial deep dive into Food Fantasy did flag this as a potential issue. Coupled with the daily events and promotions that occur at regular intervals, Food Fantasy might end up being the sort of game that encourages players to log in repeatedly simply to spend money to get on. Let’s not be overly pessimistic, however. The game is not out yet and many of these systems are a legacy of eastern game design. It is not unreasonable to expect that with adequate balancing, these simmering concerns are nothing but a flash in the pan.
When you sit down and appreciate it, Food Fantasy is a multi-course feast. It takes ingredients from various sources and melts them together into an unusual and quirky fusion that I certainly haven’t seen before. It can, at times, feel like the range of content in Food Fantasy is so wide that it lacks significant depth, and this can be problematic if you want something that is a little deeper. It is not going to suit everyone, and I still wince at the inclusion of an enemy called Bulimia. Still, the quirky concept, an engaging battle, and the card system make it worth a look. The RPG elements are also a fresh addition and definitely tell a unique story. Compared to many mobile counterparts, it is a fresh attempt at something unique. For that alone, it deserves a look. Food Fantasy is available on iOS and Android platforms on 20 July.