Hungry Hearts Diner: A Tale of Star-Crossed Souls is a free restaurant simulation game by GAGEX. If you’re looking for a light-hearted, cheerful adventure, walk right on by — this game is not for you. However, if you’re looking for something that’s heartfelt and sticks with you long after it’s over, this may be what you’re looking for.
This is the first game I’ve ever finished 100%, which is a testament to both how enjoyable it is and how short it is. Playing casually, I reached 100% in three days. This game is more akin to a good book – enjoyed at your own pace, characters with stakes and loveable flaws, a warm, sweet story, a few tears, and finished in a few sittings.
I am avoiding too much detail here since the story is best enjoyed with as little information going in as possible. In Showa-era Japan, World War II ended a few years ago and technology is on the cusp of blossoming. A small diner sits on the edge of a large, nameless town. A sweet elderly lady runs the traditional Japanese diner in her husband’s stead since he fell ill.
Summer brings Tanabata, the festival of star-crossed lovers trapped on either side of the Milky Way. With it, feelings of loneliness and loss fill the hearts of some of the locals. The diner is frequented by eight regulars, and with full enough bellies, they may spill what’s weighing on their minds.
Using your stamina, cook up recipes from your book. Customers will order based on what you have available on your sideboard. There are four main categories: rice, entree, sides, and other. Making dishes from multiple categories ensures customers order a full three courses, paying more money. Customers will not order more than one item from each category. If you fill your sideboard with rice dishes, the customers will only pick one of the rice dishes to eat. As you level up current recipes, more become available. Keep checking your book for what new recipes to unlock.
There are no customization options for your diner, but there are a number of upgrades available. Two additional sideboards can be purchased with a maximum serving capacity of six dishes. Between tables and a bar setup, eight more seats can be added to fit more customers. You can also purchase items such as a worktable that cuts prep time in half or a register that speeds up customer orders.
Your eight regulars have favorite dishes, as noted on their profile cards. Increase their satisfaction to unlock conversations with them. Each regular also has the days they frequent the diner on their profile card. Sometimes, they will show up on other days, too. Days in the game rotate every hour, as seen at the top.
Some conversations are gated by specific dishes. If you don’t have the dish you need, keep leveling other dishes. Higher-starred dishes grant more satisfaction points and more money.
Slick – A troubled young man with a love for baseball and the grandmother who raised him.
Dr. Mondo – The town’s only doctor often criticized for being obese.
Mr. Jizo – A Buddhist monk who seems too familiar. He fulfills the role of introducing game mechanics.
Ol’Tokei – A cranky old man who owns a failing clock business and is father-in-law to Officer Hiro.
Mabo – The protagonist’s grandson who gives the player insight into the protagonist’s own family dynamics.
Pigtails – A school-aged girl caught in the middle of her parents’ divorce.
Officer Hiro – A town policeman who is over-zealous about traffic safety and terrified of his father-in-law.
Scarlett – An alcoholic young woman looking for love in all the wrong places.
The themes and characters in this game touch on mature subjects not suitable for young kids. For older kids, it may offer a platform for good discussion on making good choices, loss, and true love. The game is rooted in family, being honest with those you love and holding them close. Life is fleeting and it’s never too late to tell someone you love them or make amends.
I loved this game backwards and forwards. As I said previously, if you’re in the mood for heavy life reminders and a sweet story where an elderly woman looks after her customers as if they were her own family, play this game. You won’t regret it.