Review by daveinjapan

"So these games ARE fun! I had no idea!"

OVERVIEW:
I feel like I did when I first got drunk. I was aware of the whole world of alcohol and intoxication, but until I tried it myself (when I was old enough, of course), I didn't grasp what it was all about and was pleasantly surprised. The same goes for my first outing with a dating simulator.

Success and FireDog Software have brought us the Xbox's first dating simulation in the form of Bistro Cupid, the ''cooking/romance simulation,'' according to the blurb on the box and the commercial. A limited ''recipe box'' set is also available and includes a spoon, a plate, and some other assorted junk that I deemed unnecessary to purchase. Fans may want to consider it, though I'd hide the plate if I had girls over.

Regardless of what genre the game tries to pigeon hole itself into, it is really a traditional RPG at heart, complete with a nice, if not basic, fighting system, an overworld map, and item shops. The game is spit up into three basic segments: the restaurant simulation scenes (difficult at first, but fun once you get the hang of keeping the place clean and having enough seating and ovens), the fight scenes (think early FF), and the dating/event scenes. These three elements are well balanced and presented nicely.

GRAPHICS: 9
Par for the dating sim course. I would have liked to see more animation in the event scenes, but that's not what this genre is all about. The stills are very well drawn, the backgrounds have a nice ''sketchy'' quality to them, and the fight scenes and restaurant scenes of customers shuffling in and out and trying your fare look great and are animated more than adequately. The opening animation is also smoothly animated and well presented.

SOUND: 9
The music is as fruity and sugary sweet as music comes, but it suits the game well. The voices, featuring famous voice talent from the world of anime, are very well done. You'll encounter characters with Osaka accents, characters who speak like cats, and characters who speak the Japanese equivalent of Victorian English. If you are studying the language (you'd need to be pretty far along to attempt to play such a text/voice based game) you'd be doing yourself a favor by giving this game a try.

CONTROL: 9
Use the D-pad to move cursors. Use the triggers to switch the menu your cursor is moving on and rotate furniture placed in your restaurant. Use A to select. Use B to cancel said selection. Sometimes, simple is best. Be careful though, as I often would try to select a line of dialogue with the analog stick and quickly press A, only to realize too late that the analog stick isn't used and I had just said the wrong thing, resulting in a slap or tearful fit from the girl I was talking to.

GAMEPLAY: 10
No problems here. Each Sunday, you are given the chance to map out your schedule for the week. You can choose to go out on the town, learn new recipes (useful both as restaurant entrees and spells during battle), manage your restaurant(s), rest (watch your fatigue level or you'll be forced to take a day or two off, thwarting your plans for the week), or fight. One item is chosen for each day. when you go out, you can visit the item shops and buy items for battle, see what's happening at various places around town (hopefully triggering an event that could lead to romance), rest in the park to regain some energy, take a run at the school track to gain power, and chat up the local bartender for info on new places to fight and earn experience. These scenes are managed through an overhead map that is easily navigated. The recipe learning sequences allow to choose a companion to practice a recipe with. Some take a few tries. New recipes are used to augment your menu at the Bistro and are used as spells during battle (curry released a fire magic, etc...). The restaurant management scenes are deep without being overly complex and allow to control everything from the purchasing and placement of furniture and fixtures, the amount of part timers employed, advertising, lighting, and prices. You need to keep an eye on indicators like cleanliness, seat capacity, and ''firepower'': the amount of ovens, etc. Fighting scenes allow you to choose up to two companions (girls you've wooed into at least being friendly with you) and take them into battle at various locations on another overhead map (the bartender will advise you on new places to go). There is plenty of variety and it is all well balanced. Most importantly, since the scheduling decisions are in your hands, you can tailor the game to be more action oriented, more business sim oriented, or more dating sim oriented, depending on your mood at any given time.

STORY: 9
In a word, the story is fruity. Between the cutesy pink packaging, the sweet as molasses music, and the rather feminine story elements I had a difficult time convincing myself that this genre is actually directed at men. I am confident enough in my masculinity, however, to handle a story that puts me in the Cinnamon Kingdom as a second year student in the local cooking high school, interacting with characters such as Mint, Apple, Snow, Lavender, and Rum (Lam?). If you can handle this as well, you may very well enjoy the story. Basically, you are trying to simultaneously run a restaurant and get dates as often as possible. Jack Tripper, eat your heart out.

OVERALL: 9
Not for everyone, but I found the balance between 3 distinct types of gameplay to be well done and refreshing. The old school battle sequences are also very nicely presented. Now, if only Saffron would go to the circus with me...


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/01/02, Updated 07/01/02


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