Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), Switch
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $49.99 USD – Available Here $79.95 AUD – Available Here
Exploring a dungeon is a core element in nearly every RPG that fans of the genre can think of but while players may spend hours battling against creatures and taking on the bosses within the depths of a dungeon, the real time someone would take to explore such a dangerous place would take far longer. Any trip to a dungeon can be a dangerous one should supplies run low and that is exactly what NIS America’s latest JRPG-roguelike Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook looks to explore. Combining cooking with dungeon crawling is a unique combination on its own but does factoring in roguelike elements make this a satisfying dish of a game?
Players take on the role of their own created adventurer who has found themselves lost within the dangerous dungeon called the Sealed Lands. With no clue on what direction to take and on the brink of starvation, it is only through sheer willpower does the player find themselves still moving forward and stumbling upon the rotting corpse of a mysterious monstrosity. With their only choices being death or consuming this strange beast, the player takes a chomp out of the corpse only to pass out from the experience. Magically they manage to not only survive this harrowing endeavor but even find themselves a safe base to use as the launching point for their adventure back to the exit. To make things even better, up to three other customizable adventurers have also found themselves lost within the dungeon and are more than willing to eat any monster or horrific concoction that the player cooks if it means surviving.
While offering players a completely customizable party may make for endless combinations and opening the game up for players to approach the game differently every time, it doesn’t really do any favors for the actual storyline as Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook features the bare minimum of set up for placing players within a dungeon and very little else, not even character interaction or even interesting developments. As players examine various scavenging sites and even occasionally from defeating monsters they will obtain various notes that do contain story tidbits that reveal more information about the world and even explain some elements of the game but it is rather unfortunate that there is extremely little story to accompany this unique blend of mechanics and what could have been a tale of desperation taken to ridiculous lengths.
As players begin Monster Menu they will immediately be greeted with an extensive character customization screen that allows them to use one of eight base designs that can be further customized with different colors, accessories, facial structure, and more. This customization goes on to allow players to select their class in combat and even the portrait cut-ins that are displayed when activating skills or selecting the character at the menu. Eventually players can adjust the game’s difficulty a bit by creating up to three other party members in the same manner, allowing players to build a team that they feel will best fit their playstyle from the ground up. Should players want a harder experience, they can venture out with only their primary fighter or only one or two extra allies but it is worth noting that they will immediately lose should their lead character fall in battle. Players can also adjust the game’s difficulty at any time with different difficulties changing calorie consumption rate, XP gain, enemy strength, and more.
With their party created, players will venture out into the isometric 3D dungeon filled with various monsters, gathering points, and treasure chests traveling from floor to floor looking for a way out. Anytime the player is moving they will constantly grow hungrier and thirstier as they explore and will even build up a certain level of tiredness though this can be helped a bit by resting at the camp between floors. Monsters slain in combat and items found from gathering points can be cooked at camp to not only fill a character’s stomach but also provide various buffs as well. In fact, sometimes an awful menu of insects may make a character unhappy but provide a wealth of useful buffs that will remain throughout the current run through the dungeon.
All ingredients obtained have various levels of freshness and quality so making the most out of your items between stages is vital, especially since players may find themselves unlucky due to the random nature of the dungeon and wind up with very little in the way of items to cook. Of course, the Monster Menu does offer a bit of an alternative if worse comes to worse as players can choose to just devour a defeated enemy, or even a fallen ally, in the middle of combat. Enemies eaten during combat provide instant buffs and even some healing but not only are these temporary but can also come with a number of downsides as well that will remain with the player through the current dungeon level.
Now during exploration players will notice that enemies will always be on the move, even when they are standing still. Battles are triggered as soon as players touch an enemy and, in a rather interesting design, all enemies nearby will enter the fight, meaning that players may find themselves overwhelmed should they run into a large group of enemies without trying to lure them out first. All battles are handled through a turn-based strategy style game with a turn order dictated by speed and various attacks and skills having different levels of reach. For example, a bow user can attack from a distance but must use consumable arrows while magic and lances can target a few squares away only for sword/axe/fist users to only fight directly ahead. While standard attacks can be done without cost, any skills or spells will drain its user of calories and hydration, meaning players will need to balance their survival odds in a fight with how long they can push through with the supplies they’ve scavenged up. Beyond this level of strategy and some basic positioning that can allow fighters to occasionally trigger chain attacks, most of Monster Menu’s SRPG combat is a bit on the simple side.
Thanks to the game’s random nature as well as its elements of a roguelike, players will find themselves coming across foes that will be far too powerful to defeat at times. Some of these may appear as obvious bosses to overcome while others may randomly appear during normal exploration. When the player’s party is defeated, or starves to death, all buffs will be lost, characters will revert to level one, and players will need to start from the bottom again. All is not lost however as players will retain not only the equipment that they have found but also any recipes or upgrades they may have obtained along the way, making players able to push further through the dungeon each time, with players being able to travel to higher floors automatically once they’ve defeated a boss at certain stages. Players can even use currency obtained from defeating monsters to add different variables to change various elements of their current run through the dungeon but these are uninspired feeling at best.
When it comes to crafting, most of what players scavenge for in Monster Menu will be put towards cooking. As mentioned before, ingredients come from defeated enemies as well as gathering points or even dismantling useless equipment. Players can choose to cook from the hip, hoping that their chosen ingredients will result in something edible or can use recipes that will automatically select the best matching ingredients with most having different variables to choose from and levels of quality depending on the items being used. Cooking is a fairly enjoyable endeavor and seeing your characters reactions to meals is a delight, especially when players figure out a party member’s favorite dishes. Alongside cooking there is also standard item crafting as well which is unfortunately a bit less involved and also far more limiting as players can only use recipes located through exploration and there is no room for experimentation.
Visuals & Audio
Since Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook allows for near complete party customization, players will find that the art style is quite charming for the most part but also lacks any highly detailed cut-scenes or CGs as a result. There are some rather great looking monster designs but the actual dungeon itself is rather bland to travel through and character skills aren’t the best looking either. Thankfully the food that players can cook has been presented in glorious looking detail with there being some downright disgusting looking options mixed in with some appetizing looking meals. The game does offer an optional censor that can be applied to gross food though why someone would take away part of the game’s charm is unknown.
NIS America has released the game with both their own English voice track as well as the original Japanese dub and for the most part the English cast is handled well though their only dialogue comes from barks made during combat or exploration. Unfortunately there is a rather limited number of lines when it comes to this so players will find themselves hearing certain voice lines over and over again. The soundtrack features a rather standard collection of music that works fairly well for a fantasy SRPG but doesn’t really stand out.
Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook is a charming but rather lean SRPG that tries to combine a number of different genres together to some reasonable success. This odd blend of roguelike dungeon crawling mixed with SRPG gameplay and a heavy emphasis on cooking makes for a unique experience but one that is watered down with simplistic gameplay, generic dungeon design, and lack of real storytelling.
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