I’ll never forget the first time I heard about the game Harvest Moon—because the idea made absolutely no sense to me at the time. As news was coming out through Japanese gaming publications about the new project, it was explained as a “farming RPG,” and those words held little tangible meaning in a world where such games had never existed before.
However, the more you get to know Japanese developer, game creator, and Toybox CEO Yasuhiro Wada, the more you learn that coming up with the unexpected or unexplainable runs in his blood. The man who helped launch an entirely new genre of games has gone on to either develop or produce a wide variety of genre-bending work, leading up to his latest, Little Dragons Café.
Little Dragons Café‘s premise offers a sense of familiarity to some of Wada’s previous works such as Hometown Story. The game begins with a pair of twins—brother and sister—learning the ropes of helping their mother manage the family cafe. Their duties initially start simple: gather ingredients, assist their mother in making simple dished, lend a hand in attending to the customers.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Yasuhiro Wada game if there wasn’t something deeper than that, and those elements begin when the twins’ mother falls into a deep and mysterious sleep. They’re told that, in other for their mother to awaken once again, the pair must help raise a baby dragon while also keeping the cafe running smoothly. This sets up a number of more traditional gameplay systems and ideas that we’ve seen before from Wada, such as store management, cooking, and pet raising.
Don’t get the idea that you’ll just be doing all the same things you’ve already done before in his previous games, however.
“Games like Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons, those games already exist and can continue on with ideas like farming, dating, and marriage,” Wada explained to me at a recent preview event for Little Dragons Café. “I asked myself what I could make that wouldn’t have either farming or fighting in it that people could enjoy. There are a lot of games that are story driven, but they tell very ‘video game’ types of stories. I wanted to make something that would feel different than that, so that’s the reason I first came up with the idea of Little Dragons Café.”
One of the ways in which this story will feel less like your traditional video game narrative is that there will be no concept here of one young lad (or lass) rising up to save their mother from doom through their strengths and smarts alone.
“I really wanted to focus on the human relationships, together with having players realize that, even with weaknesses, you can still be a hero by joining efforts with others,” Wada said. “There’s a lot of things you can’t do alone, but joining together as a group effort, there’s many things that can be overcome.”
One of the most important paths to success here will be through something that’s often an afterthought: your customers. As opposed to other games where patrons exist to provide a challenge of speed and/or skill, source of money, or simply be seen as busywork, the people who walk through your door in Little Dragons Café will be people you’ll grow to depend upon.
First, however, you’ll have to grow to actually like them.
“All of the customers and guests you see come to the cafe are misfits, or have some sort of issues. From the moment you meet your very first guest, they’re very unlikable,” Wada admitted with a sense of glee. “But, as you progress through the game, your emotions will change, and you’ll want to hug all of the characters. You’ll see that a lot of them do have weaknesses, but by coming together and combining their abilities they’ll be able to help save the twins’ mom.”
As Wada spoke about Little Dragons Café‘s characters, I could see the sincerity in his face and hear it in his voice. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about his games—even in examples like Hometown Story, where I personally found the gameplay itself lacking—is that you can tell Wada puts his heart into everything he does.
That personal connection lead me to one of the most important elements to Little Dragons Café: its twin protagonists. When I first started up my brief hands-on with the game, I assumed what I’m sure many will—that there are two characters, boy and girl, to facilitate players choosing the gender of their playable character.
Talking to Wada, though, I felt that there was more to the idea than just that. At the same time, the brother and sister pair seem to be both completely separate individuals and also one singular entity. Each is a character unto themselves, having to deal with the sudden loss (of sorts) of their mother, the pressures of keeping the family business alive, and the unexpected task of raising a dragon. And yet, they’re in all of those situations together, working to solve problems and overcome obstacles together—even if it won’t be easy.
“Within human relationships, I feel that the mother and child bond is the strongest bond of all,” Wada explained. “The story starts off with a mother and her two kids, but once the mother is gone, the kids can’t really do anything for themselves. They realize how weak they are, but when people think they are weak, it’s actually not true that they can’t do anything. It’s just that sometimes there will be obstacles that you can’t overcome by yourself, or even as a pair, that you can maybe overcome with other people.”
There was one other question that I wanted to ask Wada about his design philosophy for both Little Dragons Café and his library of titles overall, and it stemmed from a connection I happen to have to those two main characters.
Nine months ago, my own twins were born, and ever since becoming a parent, I’ve at times looked a video games in a way I’d never done before. I still enjoy all different types of “mature” experiences—from the violent, to the gory, to the terrifying, to the sexy—but I’ve actually starting giving consideration to what kinds of games my daughters might play when they’re old enough. It’s easy to never wonder if good games are being made for younger audiences, because too often we seems to have the attitude that kids will just play whatever game you put into their hands.
So, after explaining my own situation to Wada, I asked a simple question: Why does he make the kinds of games that he makes?
“I too am a gamer. I do play violent games, or shooting games, or racing games,” Wada said with a laugh. “But there are plenty of good games in all of those genres. I love video games, and because of that, I want more and more people to play them. So, I wanted to make games that people who didn’t want to shoot or race or compete would want to play.”
Little Dragons Café launches for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch on August 24th.