On a tiny side street in a nameless little neighborhood sits an
old Japanese diner. Things are quiet here; old-fashioned
you might say. But of course they are. It's Showa era Japan,
and the television is just starting to come into vogue.
Slide open the screen door and you'll see a kindly old lady
hard at work behind the counter. Her husband's been sick
for a while, and she's had to run the place on her own.
It's hard work, but she's a tough one, and she gets by.
Sit down at one of the worn wooden tables, and close your
eyes. Thunk thunk goes the steady beat of a knife chopping
veggies. Hisss; the sound of meat sizzling in a pan.
Swish swish; a whisk beating eggs.
The soothing sounds of a simple kitchen.
Sit here long enough, and all that tension will just flow
right out of you. So come on in, order a hot meal, and take
a load off. The peace'll do you good.
- Hungry Hearts Diner: A Tale of Star-Crossed Souls
I’ve said it before, but I intensely dislike phone games. I stare at my phone enough already, the games are often uninspiring and repetitive, and I often get bored while playing them but can’t stop because of how addicting they are. I usually avoid them altogether. But… in addition to playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp on and off (mostly for cute/nostalgia reasons), I downloaded Hungry Hearts Diner: A Tale of Star-Crossed Souls last night. I found it through a link on one of my favourite food blogs, I Am a Food Blog, and because I’m a sucker for cute animation and delicious looking food, I gave it ago.
Hungry Hearts Diner is the most peaceful game I've ever played. The music is relaxing, the food looks nourishing, and there’s a calm, homely beauty to the illustrations.
Our story takes place in a small family-owned restaurant in Showa-era Japan. The war is over, Tokyo has just been introduced to Coca Cola, and the first-ever television sets have just begun landing in people's homes.
Your husband has become too ill to operate his little diner, and now it’s up to you to keep things going. Not a chef yourself, you start off with little to offer your customers. Slowly, as you keep practicing your cooking skills, you unlock new dishes and diversify your menu.
It’s also almost Tanabata, a festival that celebrates the meeting of the stars, during which people write their wishes on small slips of paper and tie them to bamboo trees. As you connect with your guests—often by serving them the dishes they’re craving—you learn more about them and what’s going on in their lives. They’ve got what one might call hungry hearts, and a lot of issues to overcome. This is partly what makes many of their initial personalities so disagreeable (though some of them are straight-up unjustifiably rude, haha). Even you, the sweet granny just doing her best to run her husband’s diner, can be abrasive and unsympathetic at times.
As you work away in your restaurant, you hope your guests can find a little more happiness. Once they’re completely satisfied, their Tanabata wish is revealed.
My favourite part of the game was unlocking new dishes and choosing which ones to cook. It had me craving homemade Japanese food, so if anyone knows some great home-style Japanese recipes, let me know where I can find them! I also loved the little details they put into dish descriptions. It felt like I really did get a tiny peek into a time period and food culture outside of my own.
Unlike many phone games, Hungry Hearts Diner has an ending. There’s aren’t thousands of levels to play while your brain slowly oozes out your ears; it winds up fairly quickly. And I love that it has an ending; as cute and relaxing as the game is, knowing it would end made me savour the experience and appreciate it more. Also, knowing it had an end made me feel less bad about wasting hours on it.
Hungry Hearts Diner: A Tale of Star-Crossed is the perfect game for food lovers who want to unwind. I’d say before bed is the perfect time to play, but looking at your phone before sleeping is terrible for you so I wouldn’t recommend that. But during your spare time, when you’ve got some waiting around to do, it’s a nice little break! Also, I haven't mentioned it yet, but if you're not into spending money on phone games (I am not), the game is free to download on iOS and Android.
Now that I’ve finished it up, I’m planning to check out Gagex Co.’s other whimsical, relaxing games, like Showa Candy Shop and Oden Cart: A Heartwarming Tale. I’m also planning to look for online recipes so that I can try recreating a bit of that cozy diner atmosphere in my own home!
Hope life’s treating you well,