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Tales of Food

Food has been a staple of gaming since nearly the beginning. Often used as an object for healing, food in games has taken many forms – from steak and chicken to mushrooms and cheese. Most often, these power-ups are healing items which the hero consumes to regain lost health. Generally, hunger isn’t an issue, and there is little narrative value in the food. In JRPGs, because health is often dealt with by potions, seldom do heroes stop and grab a bite to eat.

The ‘Tales of’ series has frequently broken the mold in this regard, as food is not only useful for healing, but in learning more about the different protagonists that make up your party. Whether it’s Symphonia, Vesperia, or Graces (or one of the more recent games) each playable protagonist has a different relationship with food, which is revealed as you slowly unlock and master different recipes throughout the game. Food plays such an important role in the Tales games that someone on Tumblr came up with their own Tales of Cookbook to help others cook their character’s favorite dishes in real life.

While learning most recipes isn’t mandatory in the games, it offers big rewards to the players who accomplish it: not only is it one of the easiest ways to heal and boost your party between (or in) battles, but it opens up a slew of the games many skits that teach you more about your characters and their interactions. Some of the most memorable skits in the game revolve around these interactions.

In Vesperia, even the main character’s dog Repede gets in on the cooking action, although every dish he tries to cook ends up turning out as Dog Food. If you try to feed it to your party, this skit occurs:Tales of Food

Rita: Hey, there’s something seriously messed up about people eating dog food.
Yuri: It’s all the same mush once it hits your stomach, right?
Rita: Dog food and people food are totally different!
Karol: You’re just afraid you’ll start liking it.
Estelle: But don’t you think the taste is addictive? I love the unusual flavor!
Yuri: An acquired taste for the true gourmand.
Repede: Woof!
Karol: Maybe that’s one taste I don’t really need to acquire…

(for more Vesperia skits and cooking info, check out this FAQ)

One of the quirks of Tales of Symphonia is that each character will add their own twist, and thus uses different ingredients for the recipe. Early on, the game establishes the character Genis compared to his sister Raine. Raine is a horrible cook and completely relies on Genis to cook for her (and do housework). Later on, the game forces you to cook curry for a small gnomelette, and offers you the chance to select someone from your current party to cook for him. Picking someone here will raise their affection with you. Each of the party members cooks it a little different – Tales of FoodSheena the ninja adds pineapple, for instance. If you choose Presea, the “emotionless robot” of the party, Genis is an unfortunate victim:

Genis: Well Presea went through all that work to make it, so I’ll have some,
too! [He tries the curry] (!) It’s d…delicious….
Presea: Delicious? That’s strange….I focused on the spiciness, not the
flavor. It’s not really meant to be eaten by humans.

In Tales of Graces, players can set an automatic in-battle recipe which can have a major impact on difficult encounters, such as reviving teammates after they’ve been felled. Eventually, each of the characters obtains a title based on their favorite dish. For example, the robotic character Sophie is obsessed with crablettes:

Tales of FoodRichard: “So your favourite food is crab omelettes, Sophie?”
Sophie: “Yes.”
Pascal: “You know, I bet Richard gets to eat royal crab omelettes every day!”
Richard: “No wait, that’s not-”
Sophie: (slowly approaches Richard) “Crab omelettes Crab omelettes Crab omelettes Crab omelettes Crab omelettes Crab omelettes…”
Richard: (backs away slowly) “Umm, hold it…Sophie…”

The systems and importance of cooking vary a little bit from game to game, but each requires you to learn each recipe individually. Most have the ability for different party members to take part in the cooking, and offer titles to them when they master everything. Towns offer the option toTales of Food purchase cooking ingredients for relatively cheap, and they can also be found in chests and dropped from enemies. Some recipes are always learned by mastering other recipes. The NPC Wonder Chef pops up in many of the games, with the sole purpose of teaching you recipes (and giving you the ingredients).

The biggest gift that cooking can give you is a costume. Costumes are few and far between in the Tales universe, often given for major story events or finishing a major sidequest. Vesperia, for example, offers a maddening minigame where you take orders and serve food to a large amount of hungry customers. Everyone in the party except Yuri (the main male lead) can participate as a waiter, and gets a corresponding costume after completing three rounds. The mini-game requires that you memorize (physically write down) a lists of dishes and amounts, and many of the customers change their minds mid-order. Some are easier than others. In Raven’s final round, I counted eight customers who each ordered six dishes each, and one of them changed his order a total of six times.

All I got was this lousy costume.

Tales of Food

Written for Critical Distance‘s April Roundup.

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