Are you into Japanese RPGs with turn-based combat and slightly stilted translations? Do you crave a game that's best played with a spreadsheet and a community of other players close at hand? Do you keep buying crafting or management sims in search of something truly deep? If so, get excited. Adventure Bar Story [$0.99] fills that niche beautifully. As a big fan of games like Harvest Moon and the fabulous Recettear I consider myself among that elite crew, and I love this game, flaws and all.
While it isn't the best in its class if you look across platforms, there really aren't any quality games similar to Adventure Bar Story on iOS. There are RPGs, yes, and there are management sims (so often presented in freemium grind-fests), but a deep combination of the two has been noticeably absent before now. Rideon Japan brings us a game settles right into that gap, offering many hours of entertainment for a remarkably low price.
When our story starts, our heroine Siela and her sister Kamerina are apparently competing to see whose apathy can run the family bar into the ground first. When a buyout offer arrives, Siela is inspired to actually try to get things up and running again. Her friend Fred offers to help. Fred owns the only shop in town, so he's a good guy to have on her side. He lets Siela in on a little secret: there's a field nearby where you can literally gather cooking ingredients from the ground.
After a trip to the meadow, Siela returns to the bar to cook up a few dishes. Once she's got a few things worth selling she gives them to her sister, who opens the bar and sells the goods off-screen (no interacting with the customers for you). This is all a little silly, admittedly: icons indicating produce, meat, dairy and other supplies litter the ground of the meadow, and at first it seems there's little to do but gather them up and head back to the bar to paw through menus and create inspired dishes like "Salted Daikon" and, um, "Salted Cucumber."
But Adventure Bar Story slowly reveals itself to be atypical, even in the world of management RPGs. Everything in the game revolves around food. To level up, you eat. To earn money, you create dishes to sell. To advance the plot, you run your restaurant as well as you can. In fact, the game can be played nearly entirely as a restaurant management sim, finding the best prices for the best goods to make a self sustaining menu. Siela and her party only need to venture out into dungeons only when they're high enough level to complete them and advance the plot. Or you can play traditionally, grinding monsters and looking for hidden secrets.
After a couple days of gathering and cooking the basics, the game opens up. A new dungeon unlocks and the story moves forward. New dungeons are filled with new ingredients, and this is when the cooking sim starts to shine. Trying to discover recipes from scratch feels similar to playing something like Doodle God [$0.99]: there is a collection of ingredients and tools to work with, and you're left to discover the internal logic that drives the combinations. Once you get one recipe down, you can usually iterate on it to create other, similar things. A basic understanding of cooking helps, but if you hit a wall there are recipes to be bought. Hint recipes with a few blanks filled in open up as you discover new ingredients, too.
Each new ingredient dramatically increases the number of recipes that can be completed, so the bar really starts to hustle after a few days. Once its profile is high enough, Siela is invited to participate in local cooking contests. If she can cook something popular enough to take first place (something that can be worked out by paying attention to what sells in the bar), there will be big rewards and more interest in her bar.
I'm impressed by the depth of strategy Adventure Bar Story offers. Each day's menu takes consideration: is it better to list high-cost foods, or use them for experience? Recipes that go particularly well together unlock combos that make them hot ticket items. And since the party can only head out once per day, deciding where to go to farm which ingredients is a challenge.
While combat follows a typical turn-based, random encounter RPG formula, that doesn't mean it's dull for long. Many of the skills effect the food that drops from battle. Dispatch an enemy with "Butcher" and it will drop extra items; skills like that abound. You don't unlock them by levelling up with food, you unlock them automatically with points earned in battle.
Adventure Bar Story does contain IAP, but it's ridiculously optional. Jewels, the premium currency, were added in on top of the existing content, and they add a couple shortcuts and a few handy weapons and items. You might want to use them to solve a particularly tough recipe or to get ahead on equipment, but they're never, ever necessary.
The game doesn't particularly distinguish itself on aesthetic levels. The music is enjoyable enough without being distracting, the environments and sprites are RPG-standard. The dialog often feels forced, but generally the translation is serviceable. There are a few language and cultural gaps to watch out for when working through recipes, though, and a handful are completely lost in translation. A word of warning, while we're discussing flaws: save often. The game supports multitasking but no auto-save, so it's easy to set yourself back by switching apps and taking too long to return.
Once you get the basics down, Adventure Bar Story can get pretty rote. You unlock new characters from time to time, find secrets and improve your bar, but it all happens slowly. So goes the story, too, so most of the playtime is spent navigating long lists of items and putting together recipes. It's fun for a while if you're in it for the RPG, but it's great for a lot longer if you're the sort of person who can't resist a checklist or a spreadsheet. On the whole, this game is a steal—but only for the right sort of person. Many of them are hanging out in our forums, working on divining the game's depths. Trust me, you'll want their help.
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