Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook Review – Survival At All Costs

    Title: Monster Menu: The Scavenger's Cookbook
    Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
    Release Date: May 23, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: NIS America
    Genre: Roguelite, Strategy RPG

Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook is the latest NIS game to come west, offering a unique experience that mixes rogue-lite, survival, and strategy RPG elements. As someone who plays almost all of their localized games, this was a title I was looking forward to playing and seeing its execution. 

Events begin with you exploring what is supposedly a rookie dungeon. However, you soon find yourself in a dire situation, starving and facing dehydration while wandering the labyrinth. With strong willpower, you see the corpse of a rotting monster and decide to take a bite, as it’s the only way to survive.

After that, we wake up at a mysterious camp and seek a way out of the maze. However, the trials ahead will demand coordinating a team of four characters, each of which may have different classes you choose upfront at the start of the game.

Like many other NIS RPGs, customizing your team and forming a solid formation determines the severity of the difficulty. In addition, whatever class you pick will decide your initial skills, affecting your combat performance and survivability. 

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You can also make cosmetic choices to design your cast. The first step is choosing a pre-defined base among eight characters. You can then adjust their face, hair, height, voice, name, and gender (allowing you to make a masculine-looking female, a feminine-looking male, or an “unknown-gendered” character). Adding some accessories like glasses and hair ornaments is also an option.

With the team customization out of the way, the player must utilize these four characters in the 3D dungeons. At first, it follows a dynamic perspective, with the player using their first character to move around the layers, searching for materials, food, and stairs to the next level.

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Scavenging for items will substantially impact your chances of survival, as your characters deal with starvation and dehydration when they walk around and fight. Food will also be essential in developing your party during a run. They may add various effects, from enhancing attack, defense, HP, and ailment resistance to keeping your characters hydrated longer or making it easier to pull off chain attacks.

However, this game is a roguelike at heart. All gains you obtain will disappear when you’re defeated and return to the first camp. Still, though you’re back to square one and level one with your characters, you get more resourceful over time. You keep the equipment, which, even with some degradation, will likely be an asset aiding your performance.

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Weapons and other equipment improve various parameters and may also include special effects. For instance, a bow may add fire damage to your arrows, while another weapon would be a better choice when fighting enemies categorized as dragons. Each character also has individual skills they may improve by using specific weapons, unlocking new attacks over time, or doing actions such as cooking and crafting.

Monster Menu doesn’t completely discard your progress, and you may even jump into any layer you’ve already unlocked by beating a boss. However, this evolution may seem sluggish, especially at harsher difficulties that quickly drain your characters’ stamina and get in the way of gaining experience.

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When it comes to dungeon exploration, areas have an unappealing design that quickly makes the game repetitive. It’s a shame they aren’t more inspired and varied when they had such a unique idea of having each portion based on real organs in their names.

Besides the materials the player may search for, monsters roam these layers, and touching them initiates combat. Battles take place in a tactical format, turning a square area around the enemies and allies into a board for characters to move in and take turns. Speed determines the turn order, and touching the enemy from behind will allow for a preemptive attack.

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While the basic attack range favors distance for bow users, special attacks expand the possible areas of effect for every class and weapon choice. For instance, Berserkers may devastate foes with their powerful axe attacks but have no magic ability. Their first skill with that weapon reaches two tiles ahead, and they may also unlock skills that damage everyone in their adjacencies or a T-shaped area in front of them.

Besides attacks and skills, the player can feed items to enemies and allies. Depending on what’s selected, it can provide buffs or debuffs or cause unique effects like poisoning or maddening. You may also escape the area by moving into green panels marking the corners of the battlefield, which may be helpful when a giant-sized enemy or unique creature stronger than expected shows up.

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All of those provide a simple but effective scheme for strategy-faring. However, what’s unique in the system is the Devour system. Once a character dies, be it an enemy or an ally, their corpse remains on the battlefield. Depending on the current situation, the player may have one of their characters eat the corpse right there instead of waiting for the battle to end.

The choice between “instant food” or “scavenging for materials to cook later” usually impacts the permanence of the skills obtained. While cooking effects will last your entire run through the dungeon until your main character dies, devouring the corpse in a rush will allow you to get some side effects that will only be helpful during that battle.

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Unlike devouring, scavenging for materials results in items you have various ways of using. Not all items obtained will be edible, but you can still try to eat most of them, even stones. You don’t have to wait to reach camp to have them raw or to use the inventory menu to do simple cooking techniques such as boiling or frying them. 

Those options allow you to change their properties, making an otherwise eldritch horror into a confusion-curing medicinal fruit. It’s even possible to turn larvae into flour, rice, or pasta, enhancing the food possibilities on your menu. However, players will need the multiple-item recipes on camp to improve the characters’ strength. Otherwise, they may not be able to reach the necessary power level to face bosses.

There’s also a crafting system to create bows, traps, and items to restore equipment durability. However, compared to the cooking system, it feels considerably lacking. This feeling of downgrade comes from how cooking offers more malleability in recipe searching, letting players choose what to do by trying whatever combination they desire. While even cooking is considerably limited, crafting ends up being something players can only do by finding recipes in the wild.

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Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook mixes survival, rogue-lite, and strategy RPG in an experimental product that’s just the sort of thing we come to expect from NIS. Unfortunately, the repetitive nature of the level design, the limited crafting systems, and the slow character evolution hinder the experience a little and keep it from shining as the unique, innovative rogue-lite it should have been.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Ivanir Ignacchitti

Random Japanese games are my jam. Handhelds, RPGs, VNs and PC banzai.