Adventure Bar Story sees players taking on two seemingly disparate roles: a chef/restaurant manager and a monster-slaying adventurer. Though these two sound like they would make a questionable mix, the result is actually quite charming and addicting; the ultimate challenge for this quirky RPG is to satisfy the appetite of players.
We were rather abruptly thrown into the world of Adventure Bar, with the main menu even having given us the option to skip the opening dialogue that sets up the story; even if one skips them, these segements are simple and to the point. Our main character's tavern is under threat of buyout, and the only way to save it is for our heroine to make the bar a happening place by whipping up tasty dishes. These are cooked by using items curiously labeled as “mats" (which we can only assume is short for “materials"), which can be bought from the shop or collected in dungeons. These dungeons can only be visited once a day, and the day is ended after the menu is set and the store is opened. This system works fairly well and provides some variety in gameplay, with players splitting their time between cooking, arranging the bar's menu and exploring dungeons. The action feels snappy and we never lingered so long doing one thing that we became bored of it.
The tutorial doesn't do a terrific job of acquainting players with the game's mechanics, which is troublesome because of how much there is to learn. There are a lot of ambiguously abbreviated stats, as well as many categories of weapons, equipment and food items that we were left on our own to figure out. In addition, the game is quite menu heavy and the lack of much explanation made doing the things we wanted or needed to do somewhat difficult. Soon we got the hang of juggling all of our items, and this is the point when the gameplay really began to shine.
Managing party members and equipment in Adventure Bar Story is pretty standard RPG fare, save for one major exception: to level up your characters you'll need to eat the food you create. Eating makes characters' stats go up, while defeating enemies allows party members to learn new skills. This is an interesting and fun take on leveling, but we sometimes found that we were spreading our food too thinly across too many uses (since food is used for the bar's menu as well as levelling), which results in grinding for mats. Considering this can only be done once per “day," gathering the mats we needed to progress was at first somewhat gruelling.
When players enter the kitchen to cook they are presented with two options: “try original" and “from recipe." The former had us throwing any combination of four mats and one tool together to create something from scratch, whereas the latter provides some guidance. The somewhat frustrating aspect of this is that some recipes only contain slight hints and leave the player to guess the other ingredients. This seems like a good idea that would encourage experimentation, but the problem is that if we tried to make something by filling in the missing parts of a recipe only to be wrong, the already-scarce mats we used disappeared. Again, some guidance with regards exactly how to complete these would have been greatly appreciated. Additionally, the abundance of half-completed recipes we collected (and were reluctant to waste mats completing) proceeded to clutter up the cooking screen, which is tricky to navigate to begin with.
Despite this, cooking is still enjoyable, and on the occasion that we did manage to complete an unfinished recipe it felt terrifically rewarding. Managing the menu is quick and interesting, with dynamics such as sales forecasts and how bored customers are of particular foods challenging players to put serious thought into what to offer. At first the economy and pacing can be somewhat harsh, which makes everything feel quite difficult at the outset - fortunately the pace picks up quickly as more dungeons become available for exploring, which means more mats to collect and more recipes to try. One notable aspect of Adventure Bar's kitchen mechanics is the incredible variety of food and drink that's available to create. From tempura to salads, crispy bacon to creamy desserts, and even alcohol (vodka was a particular favourite with our kingdom), the budding chef will never be bored with the options here.
Exploring dungeons here is standard fare, to the point that they're sometimes a bit bland. We guided our heroine around the dungeon gathering mats and randomly encountering enemies to defeat in turn-based battles. The way battles shake out is relatively novel, with all units being displayed on a grid and battle order being revealed at the outset of the turn. This made battles rely more on strategy and planning rather than luck. Mashing the A button will get you through a lot of battles at the beginning, but soon we had to begin developing more nuanced strategies to take down enemies. These enemies are varied in design and mechanics, which makes grinding mats from them less of a slog than it otherwise could've been.
The various usable party members have interesting abilities and skills, which provide some degree of variety, but again adhere to standard RPG tropes. The dungeons themselves are quite uninspired visually, and not very exciting to navigate - there's the occasional hidden area or secret chest, which is much appreciated, but on the whole the maps seem too small and plain to encourage any exploration or provide replay value beyond farming for mats. One thing that does stand out, however, is the boss fights. Usually at the end of our first time through a dungeon, we were faced with an especially challenging monster to battle; these creatures are difficult to take down, but not unfairly so, and always drop great loot. It's a shame we couldn't challenge these bosses again, because they were the highlight of Adventure Bar's combat.
The presentation here is quite bare bones, and the dialogue is nothing to write home about, either. While the sprite work is clean and the music does its job of providing background noise without being overwhelming, the environment design and artwork sometimes feel as though they were an afterthought. The story is rather plain and doesn't do so great a job of reeling players in, which is forgiveable considering how Adventure Bar keeps players busy with gameplay, but this seems like a missed opportunity - as a whole this title is certainly mechanically sound, but at times it can feel soulless. That being said, Adventure Bar Story does provide plenty of game for the asking price, which is certainly a plus for players who are willing to put some time into becoming master-class chefs.
Though at first glance cooking and adventuring seem like two concepts that wouldn't mix well, they actually combine to make quite a tasty treat. Though the experience can be a bit sour at times due in part to a lack of guidance and uninspired presentation, Adventure Bar Story is a full course meal that will leave a great taste in the mouths of players patient enough to stick with it. Variety is the spice of life, and fortunately this game provides an assortment of ways to play. For those who fancy themselves a chef with an appetite for battle, Adventure Bar Story is a fun, inexpensive way to get your fill.