Console ports have had a rough time of it on iOS, but I’d say Adventure Bar Story (Out Now, $0.99 Release Sale) made a smooth landing after its jump from the PSP — and that’s very good news for starving JRPG fans! In case this is the first you’ve heard of ABS, it’s essentially a genre treatment of the rags-to-riches tycoon sim: your goal is to beat out a massively overbearing competitor in the battle for restaurant prestige, only now your resources are hard-won in dungeons and random battles.
As we noted in last month’s hands-on preview, ABS’ story benefits immensely from the relatable premise. Don’t go in expecting something with the pizzazz of Lunar or Final Fantasy VI in the plot department though; the translation is solid, but characterization falls short of what’s needed to keep its cast ingrained in the player’s mind long after he or she has switched the game off. When the town drunk, a hungry thief, and others join Siela’s team, chances are you’ll be more interested in what they contribute to her monster-slaying dungeon forays than what they have to say.
The big question that’s always hung over ABS is how it fares as a genre mashup — and can it even be considered a genre mashup in the first place? For better or worse, my sense is that the widespread comparison to Recettear is overblown. ABS’ gameplay essentially stops when Siela’s shop opens for the day; your reward for all that ingredient hunting and menu planning is to sit back and watch dishes fly out of her restaurant in a menu screen. The player gets to enter one or more of Siela’s dishes into a glorified cooking contest every tenth day of the in-game calendar, but that ends up being a similarly static and menu-driven affair. Ditto for the acts of cooking that precede daily restaurant openings. Therefore ABS misses out on lots of minigame opportunities and stops just short of being a true JRPG/management sim hybrid.
That said, ABS still draws great strength from its premise. I don’t know about the rest of you RPG fans, but I’ve always been a slacker when it comes to management of consumables and forge items. ABS is the first genre title that’s made me sit up and really pay attention to what’s floating around in inventory, let alone study the potential for item interaction.
With story quests tied to restaurant reputation and revenue milestones, ABS proceeds slowly as the player first wrestles with the concept of targeting high-value recipes during Siela’s daily ingredient hunts. Once I learned how to use the generous sorting options available in the game’s item menus, I quickly hit that exciting “Eureka!” moment and found that the game flows much more quickly from there on out. Balancing Siela’s budget between cooking ingredients and the usual JRPG gear is a welcome challenge, and making the Level Up process dependent on restaurant leftovers has some cool repercussions on the game’s dungeons. Even when monsters in a particular area become pushovers, they yield ingredients and elemental skill points that are worth a few return trips you’d never consider making in a typical JRPG. The prospect of free ingredients and secret recipes makes ransacking libraries, houses and barrels – ever a hallowed JRPG tradition – that much more involving.
ABS suffers from random battling syndrome, and sadly it’s hardly out of the ordinary in that regard. On balance, the special effects-laden and well animated isometric battle system is refreshing in and of itself. Strategic use of skills and properly equipping Siela’s team play a critical role — if for no other reason than that the player will often forget to level up on days spent shopping. Remember, you have to keep shoveling food into your characters’ mouths if you want their stats to rise! ABS feels well controlled in and out of battle, though some will certainly ask for its slivery battle menu buttons to be made a little wider in updates. What I really want to see before that, however, is a quest list. Sometimes the player needs to focus on generating revenue for Siela’s bar or ferreting out new recipes in time for the next cooking contest; other sections demand that the player find a boss monster or accomplish some other dungeon quest. If you happen to set the game down for a few days, it can be difficult to remember which of those modes you were in when you left off.
Finally, it would be great if updates introduced some opportunities to earn ABS’ IAP currency – used to reveal recipes in a pinch – through in-game challenges. You get a few of these crystals to start off with, and players who don’t budget them carefully will be kicking themselves later on when they find out what they could have accessed if only they’d held off a few hours. Patience is a virtue indeed!
iFanzine Verdict: Adventure Bar Story doesn’t explore the full potential that a JRPG/tycoon sim mashup could have, but that doesn’t stop it from being a solid JRPG. Its long-running item management premise, a cool battle system, and overall quirkiness make it easily stand out in the small genre crowd iOS is slowly but surely building up.