Battle Chef Brigade is one of those games where you come for the gameplay, which is a pleasant hybrid of beat’em up and match-three puzzle, but find there’s something much more to it. Here, it happens to be the characters. In a game with various chefs competing, you would expect some personality to come through in the form of special dishes or tendencies. But Battle Chef Brigade goes out of its way to make sure you feel things about the characters both in their downtime and when they are on the clock.
In Battle Chef Brigade, we are presented with a world where monsters appeared in the world and nearly drove everyone to extinction. A group of warriors, known as the Battle Chef Brigade, saved the day by fighting the creatures and safely cooking them so people could survive in this new world. The game has us primarily following a human named Mina Han, as well as occasional moments with Thrash the orc, as they attempt to fight and cook their way into the brigade. This means people walk around town, taking challenges, hunting some monsters, or working in a restaurant, then they pick out one of their fellow competitors to challenge, which leads into a brief cooking battle where you are simultaneously hunting down enemies for ingredients that have a certain number of elemental orbs attached to them and matching these orbs in three different cooking utensils to create a dish that meets the criteria for between one and three judges.
It is amazing how well Battle Chef Brigade develops its characters in these between times. Mina is the most obvious example, since the campaign follows her story. She begins as an upstart from a small town longing for something beyond the status quo. She runs away from home to join the competition to become a member of the Battle Chef Brigade. We see her constantly deal with oversleeping. She has great facial expressions, especially when she’s given the nickname The Iron Stomach. But more importantly, we see her begin to outgrow her weaknesses as the game continues. We see her good habits, her loyalty, determination, and kindness, grow. We also see her realize her faults and take steps to rectify them and begin doing things for the right reasons.
Many of the other competitors receive that same level of care. Thrash is a big one. He’s an intimidating orc… who happens to be a loving father with a happy family waiting for him and often can be found cuddling with a stray dog in town. He’s affectionate and friendly with Mina, even when she’s not at her best in the introduction. Ziggy is another amazing chef. When you compete against him, you learn he happens to be a necromancer. Which of course prompts Mina to ask if that is unsanitary, given they are working with food. (Don’t worry; he and his zombies wear gloves.) His winning personality makes his actions seem more palatable and interesting. What helps is that the player has some measure of control over who they do or do not challenge at points in the campaign. This means you can increase your exposure to NPCs and see more aspects of their personality as you play.
The NPCs can be just as engaging. Let’s look at Thorn and Belchior in particular. Thorn runs the town’s Hunter’s Guild and shows up occasionally as a judge. When you visit her, you can hunt monsters. You can also see her dealing with heartache and employing lots of sarcasm. She’s in love with an unseen woman you only hear about, and during the course of your interactions see her attempts to woo her in unexpected ways. We also get to hear how the money you get from hunting is her pocket change, and other interesting quips. Belchior is a Gastronomy Wizard Extraordinaire trying to create Ambrosia, which you can help with by completing challenges when you visit. He’s also accumulated an incredible collection of cats. He is devoted to these animals, as are some of the other chefs, and the results are charming. Again, since each of these characters is tied to an optional activity, you can determine how much you do or don’t learn about them.
My only disappointment is that with all the characters who do end up getting special attention and developed throughout the story, there are some that just drop off the face of the earth. A prime example of this is Shiv, a woman who appears as a competitor and antagonist in Battle Chef Brigade. She is a brusque, dedicated young woman who is the descendent of Grand Matriarch Kiln, a legendary chef. She very much has an attitude that says she is tough, deserves to be there, and will handle anyone she doesn’t deem worthy. But then, after a major story event, she disappears. Which is weird, because the game makes a big deal out of her background and she seems like she has this potential, but then her storyline is never resolved.
But then, there are plenty of minor characters who don’t just disappear on you. A good example are Cezar and Pontida. The former is a dwarven competitor, while the latter is the owner of a restaurant. As Mina goes through the early days of the competition in town, we can see Cezar open up. We watch him interact with Pontida and the effect they have on each other. Their story progresses in the background as we play, with only people who take their time and pay attention noticing what happens between the two.
The short of it is, Battle Chef Brigade does something magical when it comes to characterizations. It uses its campaign to help you learn more about every character, major or minor, as you play. Depending on your decisions, you can learn more about the people you do or don’t like, enhancing your overall experience. It’s all extraordinarily detailed and delightful.
Battle Chef Brigade is available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.