Wednesday, December 16, 2015

3DS Demos: Adventure Bar Story

Since demos are a nice way of previewing a game to make sure you want to buy it before you actually go and buy it, I make a point of playing demos of games periodically.  It's a shame that the Nintendo eShop is so lacking in demos, because there are games that I think I'd be interested in, but need to experience some gameplay because I'm not going to blind buy.

This brings us to the demo of Adventure Bar Story.  It's a role-playing game with the new-style retro graphics where you can still see the pixels, but they're a lot smaller.  The music fits, it works, but it feels just kinda... there.  The controls are basic turn-based RPG controls, move around and talk to people, go into environments with hostile enemies, and fight them.  The battle system shows the order everyone will be attacking (D&D nerds would call this "initiative"), so you can prolong your characters' lives by getting rid of whatever's about to attack next.

The way you level up and get skills is a bit unconventional.  You have a score in each of the basic elements.  When one or more of those scores reach predetermined values, a new skill unlocks.  However, you don't level up from fights.  The items you get are materials for cooking.  Irritatingly, the game only ever refers to them as "mats", even in character dialogue, so I was thinking of actual mats for a while until I realized the idiocy.  Through cooking, you get food, that you can either sell at your bar/tavern/restaurant-type place to get money, or eat it to get experience and level up.

Selling the food at your bar is actually the main point of the game.  There's some rich asshole who runs an over-priced, under-good restaurant in town, and he's basically got the government in his pocket.  He wants you to leave your bar so he can have the property and move his restaurant there, because your location happens to be closer to the city entrance.  You decide that the only way to prevent that from happening is to make your bar a much better eatery-type-place than his restaurant.  However, when deciding your menu, you can't just set it and forget it.  You actually have to stock the items that are on the menu, and people will begin to get tired of a dish if it's on the menu for too long.  Also, the game divides the year up into seasons, and some dishes will be more popular in certain seasons.

So, yeah.  Getting things done involves a lot of item collection and a lot of time spent in the cooking interface.  You can and should talk to random NPCs on a regular basis, as they'll give you hints that can lead you to new recipes, or lead you to ingredients for recipes you haven't yet completed.  Make sure to inspect any and all bookshelves you find, as the books can give you recipes as well.  You can experiment around and find recipes on your own, you can use these hints and guess at the missing ingredient or the proper cooking method, or you can just go to the shop and buy recipes.  You can also buy the materials, should you be short on something.

The adventure comes in when you leave town.  You go to a location and run around it picking up materials, which are strewn about on the ground.  Occasionally you'll get pulled into a battle through random encounters that most JRPG players should be intimately familiar with at this point.  Fight, win, go on.  The game is divided up into days, and you can only visit another area once per day.  Occasionally you might find a secret passage leading to some goodies, but there's zero indication of where they are, so you just have to run around bumping into every single wall to discover them.

Some of the recipes you get actually make items for use in battle, which is a neat concept.  The different foods you can make will also give you stat boosts for that day, so it's important to make food as often as possible so you have it sitting around ready for consumption.  Each character has a satiety value, handily placed next to an icon of a stomach, and they can't eat if this value is too high.

There's humor in the dialogue on occasion.  In the town you start in, there's a guy right near the entrance who tells you the name of the town.  If you keep talking to him, eventually your character will point out that he always says the same thing, and humor follows.  Also, when inspecting a bookshelf, I found a book telling the story of the Three Little Pigs, and then I proceeded to receive recipes for Pork, Ham, and Bacon.  I lol'd.

I haven't finished the demo yet, so I don't know how long it is, but it seems to be one of the more content-rich demos available on the eShop, right up there with the demos for Bravely Default and Etrian Odyssey IV.  Some demos you download and play for about five minutes, and you find yourself at the end with the "buy the full game!" screen, but not this one.

Overall, it's definitely not a game for everyone, due to the cooking system and having to manage the menu and sell things periodically while still keeping enough around that you can level up so you can handle tougher enemies in combat.  A more conventional game would have the dishes you cook be available as consumables for temporary stat boosts, that you could probably easily ignore, and give you experience from battles.  This game tries something different though, and it actually makes gameplay interesting.  The solution to being too weak to continue fighting enemies?  Gorge yourself on food!  Give the demo a shot and see what you think.

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