I was drawn to this one the second I saw the store description. I'm a big fan of RPGs, always have been, and I've also recently developed a fondness for business management games. Naturally, when I saw this JRPG about running a Tavern, I had to take a look! From the same devs that created "Adventure Bar Story", their recent release, "Marenian Tavern Story" has recently been ported from mobile to all the consoles, and this time it's the turn of the Xbox. So, is this mixture of JRPG and store management going to be a recipe for success? Let's find out shall we?
Firstly though, let's set the scene.
You take the role of the titular Patty. She's a happy girl and the daughter of a world famous cook. She lives a comfortable life, with a butler, servants and a stately home. One day while out walking, her brother Gino, with his head in a book, walks into an ancient stone monument, knocking it over and smashing it to smithereens. Sealed inside for hundreds of years, but now finally freed, is a cute, fluffy little creature that Gino quickly befriends by feeding him a cookie. This lovely little guy is called Coco and he is charming and lovely. Unfortunately, he is also a God of Poverty, and has now been spiritually bonded to Gino.
And that's when things start to go horribly wrong. Within one day, the family loses everything. Their father disappears, their bank accounts are frozen, and their home and business seized. Luckily, the Town Mayor sets the siblings up with an old, rundown tavern, where with the help of the townsfolk, they plan to clear their debt, and break the curse.
And how will they do that? Why, by cooking of course!
And cooking is the main focus of Marenian Tavern Story. Every activity you do revolves around it and you'll soon get into a routine, one which is basically broken into three parts. Firstly, you'll do your "intown" business, where you'll speak to people, harvest any goodies and of course visit the shop for basic provisions. These cost money though, and you ARE cursed by the God of Poverty, so you'll want to do the second part as well. You'll head off into the wilds and search dungeons for ingredients. Only one location is available to visit at first, but more quickly open up, and each contains a different set of resources. Only one can be searched per in-game day though, so you need to make a choice of what you want, before heading out to the relevant location to gather it. Once you've harvested all you can from an area, it's time for step three of our little routine, where we head off home to turn them into meals!
By selecting the stove in the kitchen, you can create a variety of meals to sell to the patrons of the tavern. These dishes don't just earn you cash however, they can also be fed to your party, which is the only way to level them up. They are also fed to Coco, weakening the curse and levelling up the tavern, as well as advancing the story. There are over 600 different recipes available, with each one requiring differing ingredients and tools to prepare, but providing differing amounts of EXP or cash when used/sold. Sometimes a full recipe will be given, other times you'll have to puzzle out the missing ingredients yourself. You can even just freestyle it, inputting ingredients and techniques, hoping to unlock a correct recipe. Failure will create an inedible dish and all you'll lose is the starting ingredients. Success however, both creates the dish and unlocks the recipe permanently, adding it to your recipe book and making it easy to recreate at any time. As long as you have the correct ingredients on hand of course. A slight niggle here was the cooking menus quickly get cluttered and can be a pain to manage. They do have filters but there is so much info, and so many recipes to wade through, that it can become a chore to find specific things. Despite this, I found unlocking recipes one of the most fun parts of the game. You'll spend a lot of your playtime in the cooking menus, trying to puzzle out missing ingredients and slowly unlocking the recipes in the cookbook.
The rest of your time, will be spent adventuring. You'll speak to people and search their homes for recipes, seek out treasure chests, plant seeds, catch fish and fight in LOADS of turn-based battles. Unfortunately, the combat isn't as great as it could be. It's not bad, it's just basic. You have an action bar in the bottom left and every combatant is represented on it by their portrait. These move along the bar, and when their picture reaches the end, it's their turn to act. You can use a standard attack, guard, use an item, or a skill. There are some tactics involved, with characters being placed on the front or back rows, and getting bonuses associated with each, but I never really found this to be an issue as the combat isn't complicated, and the fights are easy. It’s more or less the same mechanics as used in many RPGs, it's easy to understand, but it's hardly exciting. One noticeable feature was the ability to turn on an auto battle option with the L+R bumpers. You can activate an "all attack" mode, where all your characters will continually attack on their turn, or an option to use the best skills they have for the job. This can make battling WAY less of a chore, allowing you to quickly kill enemies when farming them for resources. Winning these battles will provide ingredients, and also elemental experience. This goes towards your team's skills, with new abilities unlocking when certain thresholds are reached. There are a wide range of skills available, but they're copied across characters and I found this led to me not really bothering to change up the squad. It's perfectly possible to play with the starting characters, all the way through the game, and I'd have liked a reason to change them up more.
Graphically, Marenian Tavern Story is a strange mix. It's bright and colourful but it never pushes the Xbox anywhere near its limits. It uses a 3D background, and these do a reasonable job, considering it WAS originally a mobile game but never rises above the level of adequate. The characters however are represented with 2D sprites overlayed on top of the background. They all look pretty decent, colorful and anime styled, but are all slightly too "low-res" for their on-screen size. While animations are really smooth, you'll notice pixelation across most of the sprites but not to any off-putting degree. Again, I assume this is a holdover from its mobile roots, and it wasn't a major problem at any point.
One other thing I'd like to mention, and doesn't really fit in anywhere else, is the in-game currency. You have 2 to deal with, those being gold and jewels. Gold is your usual currency, you mainly make it by selling meals and use it to buy things like ingredients, weapons, equipment, kitchen utensils and everything else the in-game vendors have for sale. The jewels on the other hand, are basically premium currency. Now I would like to state, before you groan, that you can't buy jewels ANYWHERE in the console versions. Instead, you start with a certain amount and receive one or two as a VERY occasional reward in combat. You can spend these jewels in a special premium store, located in your inventory and all the items are really powerful, making an already relatively easy-ish game WAY easier, so try to avoid them if you want any sort of challenge at all. However the "skip cards" ARE a useful purchase from this store, these allow you to "skip" the dungeon and just receive the ingredients without all the hassle of walking through the level, visiting the resource points and fighting all the random battles. They can really take some of the tedium out of searching the same area over and over, making ingredient gathering less annoying.
In the end, I had mixed feelings about my time with Marenian Tavern Story. I found it repetitive at times but ultimately enjoyed the main gameplay cycle. Plot wise, it was nice to see something other than the "chosen one saves the world" type scenario we get in a lot of JRPGs, but the story is just there to facilitate the gameplay. Don't expect dramatic twists and turns here, it is however, decent enough to push you along. The hook here, is the gameplay, and it is rather satisfying. Gathering resources, searching for recipes, making new ones and cooking the meals feels rewarding. Unlocking new equipment for the kitchen and new rewards is constant, and you always feel like you've accomplished something for each in-game day you play. It does have some problems though and would be easier to recommend at a lower price point. The premium version on mobile is $7, almost a third of the Xbox price and this is a casual mobile type game, designed to be played in little bits, here and there. It's not as deep as something like Stardew Valley, Moonlighter, or Graveyard Keeper even though they are around similar prices. The different systems are a little simple but can be fun to play through in small doses. Things like planting the garden have no real depth and are little more than choosing a seed from a list and letting the gardener deliver the results in a few days. Battling enemies is just okay, a basic version of JRPG combat and there are some pacing issues with story and difficulty. The resource harvesting points are always in the same place within their dungeons, so running through the levels quickly starts to get repetitive, especially as you'll be doing it over and over. Again though, I suspect this is its mobile roots showing once more. When playing in short bursts, like you would do on mobile devices, this repetitiveness would be less of a problem. When playing long sessions however, it can be an annoyance. Even with these little flaws, I can see me going back to this little buffet to take a few bites now and again. This isn't a sit-down meal that you should devour in one huge sitting, instead it's better eaten in smaller portions over a longer timeframe. There’s plenty to enjoy in this meal and, even if some of its elements are half baked, when it's all brought together, the result is still pretty tasty.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
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Final Score: 7/10
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