Back in the era of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable, Nippon Ichi Software thrived not only through their big-name franchises (Namely the Disgaea series) but also through a range of creative, quirky and story-driven survival SRPG experiences. Some games that come to mind include Z.H.P: Zettai Hero Project and The Guided Fate Paradox which is well overdue for a re-release. Combining elements of both the strategic resource-management genre and the typical RPG mechanics that the Nippon Ichi Software development team thrived on – they were memorable experiences that offered a lot of fun out of the gate, were approachable, but offered a lot of potential complexity for fans of difficult battles and high stats.
After initially debuting in Japan in January 2022, the developer’s international publishing division, Nippon Ichi Software America, finally found the resources to localise and publish their latest survival SRPG – Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch. A simple SRPG experience with many a food and cooking-themed twist… does the experience leave you salivating for more or leaving it at the back of your gaming library? Read on to find out.
Much value from many of Nippon Ichi Software’s niche IPs comes from their narratives. While only occasionally super serious, complex, or deep, most of the time they thrive with a balance of both a coherent / enjoyable story and some good comedic elements. Characters are their strong suit, and even when adopting a silent protagonist, a group of strong supplementary characters work to immerse players in the experience.
Sadly with Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook, the focus is primarily on its cast of 4 completely player-made characters. Outside of its genuinely confronting introduction and occasional cutscenes of note, what became clear was that the creatives had a solid idea towards building the world, and it translated effectively into the design, but wasn’t always effective in its delivery. For those who really want to dive into the lore and have the time to piece it together, there is something here, but for those after a more casual experience or a character driven experience, you will find games that do it much better from Nippon Ichi Software.
While having four player-created characters doesn’t do the narrative of Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook any favours, from a gameplay perspective, it invokes a different, substantially more positive response. From starting with a range of different base character classes to choose from, you are given a solid selection of customisation options to work with – from different voices, hairstyles, facial expressions and even player heights. Furthermore, being able to create custom character cut-ins, portraits and the like (albeit with the game’s 3D model rather than 2D character portraits comparable to the game’s impressive key artwork), you can spend a lot of time tailoring the character to your liking. Could they have done more? Sure! But for the first character creation system of this style from them, Nippon Ichi Software America went above and beyond in my perspective.
In Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook, the basic gameplay mirrors the typical survival SRPG style, with some unique food and cooking-related features to set it apart. As your band of adventurers navigate through a vast labyrinth filled with random corridors and rooms, your primary tasks involve battling foes, scavenging for items, acquiring equipment, and importantly, securing food supplies. As the game unfolds, your characters have two gauges to keep an eye on: calories and hydration. They decline as you explore the labyrinth or engage in battles, forcing a critical balance between your actions and your survival needs. Running out of energy or hydration means you risk fainting, losing your progress, and any items you’ve accumulated.
The food collection and consumption introduces a key risk vs reward aspect. You can consume food directly as you find it. However, saving it until you return to your base camp could lead to more satisfying meals, offering a host of beneficial effects. Fortunately you can set up base camp at the end of every floor, so don’t fret about going long swaths without a place to recuperate. But beware, when you’re in dire need rushing to the floor’s end isn’t necessarily the best option. Feeding your characters poor quality or less appetising food carries the risk of making them sick. For those who might be unsettled by the more grisly aspects, you can modify the game’s settings to disable less palatable outcomes, such as vomiting.
Especially if you haven’t played a roguelike SRPG in some time, Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook has quite a bit to offer players and is all-around an adequate experience. Its character creation system, cooking-based approach to the SRPG format and darker tone all work in the game’s favour, however, these are counteracted by relatively stock-standard combat, forgettable delivery of its narrative, and its grindy pace of progression. It is a solid foundation towards future development work, and I would love to see the character creation experience expanded in future games. However, it is a game worth checking out if you are into the genre and have a completely free backlog, otherwise, may I suggest checking out Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2 for the Nintendo Switch, which offers not only Nippon Ichi Software’s arguably best SRPG experience of its type (Zettai Hero Project) but also the iconic Makai Kingdom tactical RPG which is a PlayStation 2 era classic.
Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook is now available on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch.
This review was conducted on a PlayStation 5 native version of the game, with a review code provided by Nippon Ichi Software America.