Last night I played Bear’s Restaurant after hearing Yoshiro Kimura talk about it with the game’s creator (Part 1, Part 2). The way they had talked about it made it seem like a pretty competent title, able to be mentioned in the same breath as moon: Remix RPG Adventure and UNDERTALE. It’s on sale now for 10% off, which isn’t terribly much, but it was enough to catch my attention in a mood to spend money after getting a few gift cards for Christmas. I figured $11.69 was a pretty good price for something that very well may wind up being my game of the year.
Have you ever had a friend who would say stuff like “Some day I’m gonna make a game, and it’s gonna be like X and Y and have themes of A, B, and C,” and just listening to this idea, you can tell it’s wildly unfocused, without an original bone in its body, and would absolutely not make a good game, but you patiently listen to them talk about it anyways because you know this person also definitely does not have the skill or motivation to actually finish making an entire video game? Bear’s Restaurant is what happens when someone like this actually does make that game they’re talking about. Here’s a game that really loves the idea of tragedy and empathy, but doesn’t really know how to express that, and doesn’t understand why games that express them do so in the first place.
The central conceit of Bear’s Restaurant (for a while) is a restaurant run by a Bear in the afterlife. People die, and they show up at this restaurant to eat something. It’s always vague if this is some kind of “cutting earthly ties” situation, or if they’re being consoled after dying, or anything else along these lines. Bear’s Restaurant seems to like all these ideas equally and uses them interchangeably for the needs of whatever particular mini-narrative is happening. You play as a cat (for a while) who works at this restaurant, taking orders and having the bear prepare the meals. Within the first few customers I was already really confused by the tone of the game - the way I’ve described things so far makes it seem like a gentle, sensitive game about the beauty of human life, right? You can tell it’s really trying to be like this… But for some reason, the bear and the cat are really judgemental!! The voice the author uses to characterize these two is weirdly aggressive and bitter, which is definitely supposed to be a joke but makes it incredibly difficult to get too invested in anything. This is a gigantic issue that permeates the entire game. The author is definitely a sarcastic type of guy, and therefore any and all “humor” in this game comes from people being just a little too rude to each other. The biggest mistake here is that the game tries to be “funny” like this almost more often than it tries to be anything else. It’s a flavor that does not compliment the crux of this story at all.
(Bear’s Restaurant has a content warning at around this time in the game, except it doesn’t really explain what the warning is for. I’ll similarly put a warning here, but actually list what’s mentioned: references to car accidents, suicide, assault, and gang violence.)
Playing as the cat waiter, sometimes a customer’s order is too vague, so you’ll have to dive into their memories of when they were alive to see what exactly they want. There is not a single one of these “dive” stories that are handled with any tact or honesty at all. Every one is a cartoonishly exaggerated caricature of what someone who has no real experience with death assumes dying is like. A pregnant woman who just finished eating dinner, goes outside, and… Randomly gets hit by a car. An old man sitting on a chair in his living room, hearing his wife say it’s nearly time for dinner… All of a sudden has one or two dialogue boxes reflecting about how much his life has gone downhill, whips out a revolver the size of his head, and shoots himself? A man freed from jail after a 15-year sentence, only to be met by another old man with a huge gun that blasts him for seemingly no reason? The only black man in the game (who, by the way, talks with a really thick accent and your cat character is visibly afraid of him for no particular reason) at one moment is fishing by a river, and the next is being hunted down by some gang members only to be - one again! - shot to death? It’s all so random and happens so quickly. In a game centralized on learning about other people’s experiences, it does an absolutely horrible job of relaying any kind of real humanity. It’s just a flipbook of buzzwords that someone who obviously doesn’t have very many lived experiences thinks would make people say “Man, this is pretty heavy stuff.”
This is when something almost interesting happens. I’m jumping forward a bit, but I promise you’re not missing anything. There’s eventually a little demon guy who shows up and starts eating everything, saying it’s “hungry for despair.” At first I rolled my eyes at yet more buzzwords that don’t really mean anything, but then I thought about it a little more… Being “hungry for despair”… Isn’t that the reason you’d play a game like this? I just wrote an entire paragraph about how disappointingly underdeveloped the tragedies are. On some level, that’s really fucked up, right? That I’m looking at how all these people lost their lives, and saying “come on, this is ridiculous.” I’m wanting something more, but in order to get that, I’d need to see longer stories about more tragedies that are actually rooted in some kind of reality similar enough to my own. How horrible!! I’m the demon hungry for despair! Now that’s an interesting character to have in a game. I wonder if it goes anywhere?
It doesn’t. The demon winds up being Flowey from UNDERTALE. Some lines taken nearly word-for-word from the end of that game (which I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t played it). It really is shameless how 1:1 this character is with Flowey. I cannot express enough how much they are perfectly identical. I was willing to give this the benefit of the doubt and maybe Daigo and Toby Fox just happened to have similar ideas, but in that Yoshiro Kimura talk and even in Bear’s Restaurant itself, inside of the game, Daigo mentions how much of an influence UNDERTALE was. He even goes as far as to say how annoyed he is by how many imitators have been popping up. Hm…
Anyways, I could go on, but everything else I don’t like in this game all stems from these same issues I’ve mentioned here. Just a tactless game that doesn’t really seem to understand why games like moon or UNDERTALE work the way they do. Someone said “I’m gonna make a game like moon: Remix RPG Adventure and UNDERTALE, and it’ll have themes about death, humanity, and empathy,” but unlike the thousands of games like this people say they will make, this one actually got made. To nobody’s surprise, it’s not good.
Oh! And also there’s a part when you go to hell and all the people going there are visibly impoverished. That sucks!