An Epicurean Epic
An idle game with a culinary twist, Bistro Heroes is the latest Android entry in the “pass time on the toilet” genre. The newest venture by the appropriately named Team Tapas, Bistro Heroes is a fun fantasy foray into fashioning flavorful food. The worlds of hacking and slashing and slicing and dicing come together in a wholesomely earnest celebration of gourmet and goblins.
The game opens on two royal knights on their first mission outside the main kingdom, both on the brink of starvation. A mysterious explosion of mystic origins has wreaked havoc in every region. Ayran and Coq au Vin are ready to collapse when they happen upon a lone food stall, manned by a silent but capable chef. Her soulful cooking saves their lives. Now in the mute chef’s debt, the knights declare this humble bistro to be their base of operations. Moreover, they vow to endorse and support it as much as possible while on their quest by bringing back rare ingredients from every region across the kingdom.
The player takes what starts out as a shabby food stall alone in a wide, empty field and develops it into a beautiful, bustling bistro from the ground up. Bistro Heroes’ main draw is the huge range of aesthetic customization you have over not only your town, but the heroes themselves. Though you start out with only two knights to control, as you progress through each region you meet other like-minded heroes. They then bond over a mutual love of food, and before you know it you’ve got a full party of 11 girls, each with 14 unique outfits to unlock. Oh, did I neglect to mention? All the heroes are cute girls!
Restaurateur Resource Retrieval
Now, getting all of the various outfits and furniture needed to customize your little town is going to take a lot of resources. Specifically, you need to collect cloth to create outfits and wood to craft buildings and furniture. Beyond that, there’s also the quintessential resource of ingredients for the chef’s myriad dishes. You can gather all of these by spending energy completing quests around the kingdom. There are 11 regions, each with their own handful of main and side quests. Main quests progress the story, while side quests unlock more dishes to add to the bistro’s menu. This is crucial, as crafting and selling food is the only way to make money, which is the only way to level up your heroes’ attack power, health and energy. The more dishes available at a time, the more money you make.
The main quests and side quests play much the same. You select four of your party members to engage in battle while monsters spawn in waves. Each hero has a unique special attack in addition to their standard weapon attack. The challenge comes from choosing the best combination of special attacks to counter each monster’s unique attack patterns. As far as idle games go, having to keep track of when to activate special moves with precise timing proved quite engaging.
The Spice of Life
However, if that was all there were to it, things would get stale pretty fast. In addition to buying upgrades with in-game coin, you can also level up heroes directly with mana crystals. You earn mana crystals from the daily dungeon, an endless boss battle that only stops when your last hero falls. The longer you survive, the more crystals you earn. You can then use them to increase each hero’s level up to 40, earning unique bonuses every five levels. On top of that, after you progress enough in the main story, you unlock the ancient relic dig site. Completing these tower defense style missions rewards you with relic pieces that you can spend to give your heroes certain buffs such as upping their attack speed, increasing the chance of doing double damage, gradual health recovery, increasing movement speed, etc.
With all these missions to keep you occupied, it’s hard to imagine getting tired of Bistro Heroes even after many hours of play. Unfortunately, as is the pitfall of so many idle RPGs before it, there comes a point when you hit a wall. That’s right. The dreaded grind.
Grinding for Spice
Once you reach a certain point, around region six or seven, quest progression simply becomes impossible without several nonconsecutive hours of grinding. And since you can only progress through the daily dungeon once a day without forking over the cash for resets, and the relic dig site is only available every three hours, the grinding quickly comes to a grinding halt. Because of this, getting your heroes leveled enough to proceed with the story feels like an unnecessary chore.
All in all, Bistro Heroes is a lovely, charming, funny and downright adorable Android RPG. Team Tapas’ genuine love of food is nakedly apparent, from the gorgeously illustrated menu items to the fact that every hero is named after real-world food! (Though I’m still waiting on the Mung Daal and Gazpacho DLC.) Unfortunately, they’ve decided to relegate the endgame content to their secret menu, and I just can’t find the courage to put the poor barista through all that extra nonsense.
Is It Hardcore?
There’s meat on them bones.
Bistro Heroes’ strengths of cute characters, humorous dialogue and mouthwatering art are somewhat overshadowed by the intense time dedication needed to progress past the halfway point.