My father was born in a poor neighborhood in the Filipino province of Cavite. What he lacked in money, he made up for in creativity. He would craft his own toys, find odd jobs around the neighborhood to earn money and cook meals with anything he could get his hands on. That sense of improvisation never really left him. To this day, he’ll put together meals with whatever he finds in the fridge or low-cost ingredients he managed to snag at the grocery store. Sometimes the results are questionable at best, laughable at worst. But for the most part, his keen sense of taste and innovation have made for memorable dishes that surprise us with how good they are.
People often take innovative to mean coming up with new ideas. I don’t necessarily disagree. Rather, it’s more apt to think of “innovation” as coming up with new ways to present old ideas. As I described in my write-up of Nintendo’s philosophy on fun, “lateral thinking” is this notion of taking what already exists and re-purposing it. Battle Chef Brigade has done just that.
Like the meals you’ll create, Battle Chef Brigade is a game that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It gives tools and a framework for the player to be creative and innovative. It never punishes you for straying off the beaten path; quite the opposite. The game encourages and rewards the player for improvising. While there are some technical hiccups and questionable design choices throughout the game, Battle Chef Brigade serves up a wonderful experience that leaves you hungry for more.
Viva La Brigade!
Battle Chef Brigade infuses anime-inspired storytelling with wholesome warmth. The story takes place in the fictional country of Victusia, a nation once plagued by monsters and foul beasts. 100 years before the game takes place, a pair of legendary hero-chefs led their people to fight back and claim their rightful place at the top of the food chain. Thus, the titular Battle Chef Brigade was born: an elite cadre of warrior-cooks that hunt monsters and turn them into tasty dishes.
The narrative is a fairly large component of Battle Chef Brigade, and for the most part, it’s done pretty well. The game’s story takes several pages right out of the anime playbook by treating a campy premise with some degree of gravitas. The world of Victusia and its elite battle-cooks fit right in with schoolkids wearing power-imbuing uniforms or culinary delights that cause people to have clothes-shredding orgasms.
The bulk of the game follows Mina Han, a young chef who dreams of bigger and better things beyond her small village. After sneaking away from home, she runs off to Brigade Town to compete in the annual Battle Chef Brigade Tournament. Only the best of the best will emerge as fully fledged Brigadiers. In spite of the fierce competition, Battle Chef Brigade takes a page out of the Great British Baking Show by emphasizing self-improvement and camaraderie. Many of the competitors become Mina’s friends who, even in the face of defeat, offer her a friendly smile or warm words of encouragement.
Straight Out of a Fairy-tale
Although it’s clearly inspired by action-oriented anime, Battle Chef Brigade notably slides the scale a little closer to the realism spectrum. By doing so, the end result is more storybook in quality. What that means is that although the stakes are never quite that high, there’s a comforting warmth suffused in everything. Much like Kiki’s Delivery Service or Little Witch Academia, Battle Chef Brigade‘s fantastical elements exist as a natural part of everyday life. There’s a system of economy and exchange at work in Victusia: everything exists for a reason.
If the game took from Kiki’s Delivery Service and Little Witch Academia to inform their story, it most definitely evokes them in the fanciful rustic Western European setting. Battle Chef’s Brigade‘s visuals are nothing short of gorgeous. Everything in the game boasts a bright and vivid color palette. Buildings and characters alike are swept in broad watercolor strokes, framed within a lovingly detailed and sketched world.
Through dedicated narrative segments, character interactions, and small item descriptions, you can piece together a cozy patchwork of the world and its inhabitants. Despite the premise being centered around a competition, Battle Chef Brigade‘s story and characters are surprisingly wholesome. I’d suspect this comes from the fact that a Western studio developed the game. All of the dialogue flows naturally, further reinforced by a stellar voice-acting crew. They bring the game’s characters to life and instill so much personality in a diverse cast; Mina, the protagonist, is a refreshing mix of pragmatic, caring, and headstrong.
There are, unfortunately, some minor quibbles I have with the visuals. There were more than few instances of assets and character models that weren’t where they should’ve been. Perhaps more noticeable was the limited animation. Mina herself has gorgeously animated movement and attack cycles, but aside from a few other characters, it seems to end there. This is never a huge issue, as the game takes some clever workarounds to hide it, but once you notice a static image sliding offscreen to simulate “movement” it’s hard to not see it again.
The Tools to Cook and Create
Wrapped inside of this gorgeous package lies a myriad of systems and mechanics that blend in perfect harmony. The game takes a very similar approach to Hand of Fate, where several smaller mechanics add up to create an experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Aside from the narrative, the core gameplay is divided into three distinct aspects: spatial reasoning, platform brawling, and fast-paced improvisation.
Each of these elements is reflected in three jobs that Mina can pick up around Brigade Town to earn money. The player can choose one of three jobs to take on: performing food researching, hunting monsters, and working in a busy diner. All three jobs require different skills from the player and culminate in Battle Chef Brigade‘s defining feature: cooking.
At first glance, the cooking is fairly standard Match-3 gameplay (in the style of Bejeweled). Dishes are made by working with the three elements of Earth, Water, and Fire. By combining basic gems into more powerful ones, you can gain higher points for your dish. Once the game eases you into the cooking system, it starts throwing a few curveballs at you like poison, bones, and a persnickety panel of judges.
The Brigade Tournament is structured around a series of duels: 7 wins and you make it to the final round; 3 wins and you’re out of the tournament. Each duel pits you against another competitor. You must both create dishes that appease judges, who oftentimes have very different preferences. The genius behind the game shines in the duels. The three jobs that Mina can pick up around town play perfectly into its mechanics. But best of all is that the game actively promotes creativity in how the player prepares their dishes.
With each job you complete, you earn money that can be spent on upgrades. These upgrades can range from added combat passives to different cooking tools. Depending on the kind of dishes you need and want to focus on, certain items and upgrades will work better than others. There are even items that can yield greater points for your dish by adding an element of risk to the preparation.
Outside of the main game, Battle Chef Brigade features three standalone modes: challenge duels, restaurant rush, and platform brawling. These are more or less the same as they are in story mode, with a couple small additions that bring quite a bit of replayability to the table. The challenge duels will actually cycle out on a regular basis, bringing new characters, loadouts, and competitors to the table.
For all three modes, however, daily leaderboards show players’ top scores. These were nice additions, as the core gameplay mechanics have decently high skill ceilings. You can get by well enough, but it’s possible to become extremely proficient at the game (the top leaderboard scores regularly have a large margin between them and lower scores). Although it might seem small at first, these added features do much to add to the game’s staying power by tying social competition into the player’s motivation to do well.
A Great Dish That’s Close to Perfect
The story, unfortunately, is also where the bulk of my issues with Battle Chef Brigade lie. A lot of details and characters get tossed out with little to no setup. An event partway through the game separates Mina from her friends. Major events occur while she is away and little is done to explain things to the player. As a result of this stilted pacing, the game’s story is a great idea that comes just short of being excellent.
It’s a bit of a shame, as there’s such a fun attention to detail that permeates this game. I want to know more about these that get thrown at me, but the game more or less tells me to just roll with it. That said, it doesn’t stop the game from being any less entertaining or charming.