One of the things I love most about visual novels is they’re written by outsiders for outsiders. They’re often progressive in their attitudes, and they’ll deliver stories you won’t get elsewhere. They deliver to niche interests. They’re strange and often queer.
This year alone we’ve dated dragons, learned about the intricacies of archaeology and travelled the Russian taiga. And now we can add Takorita Meets Fries to that list. We’ve become a mermaid, wandering onto land in search of new French Fry flavours. You just don’t get that anywhere else.
Takorita is a princess of the Tako Kingdom, an underwater civilisation that surface-dwellers don’t know much about, and that’s just how the Tako Kingdom wants it. But while it’s somewhat utopian down there, the only food on the menu is soup, fish and fish soup, and it’s getting on Takorita’s nerves. She feels like there is more to life, and determines to go on a ‘food revolution’, travelling to the surface-world to find better cuisine.
Her parents don’t much like the idea, but they give her a hall pass and military detail in the form of Mermer, a merman. He has a fishtail and a suspect determination to stick with Takorita at all times. A fishtail just won’t do on land, so Takorita performs a magic spell that gives him human legs at the cost of his voice – when he’s on land, he can’t talk. And so the fellowship is born: ready to find new flavours and bring them back to the Tako Kingdom, whatever the cost.
That’s the Prologue done, and you’re on the surface. After a genuinely funny skit involving Mermer and him ‘Donald-Ducking’, you’re meeting the other two main characters in Takorita Meets Fries: Dino, a onesie wearing boy, and Lia, a chef. These form your entourage as you find out the secrets of fried food, and travel to three locations in the search of new things to stick in the frier. In many ways, Takorita Meets Fries feels Scottish.
Takorita’s ‘hunches’ lead her to potatoes, mushrooms and other foods, creating variations on the French Fry that seem to send her into orgasmic throes. Each of the three-and-a-half paths in this visual novel culminates in a new, delicious chip. And that’s it. It’s a pilgrimage to various French Fry flavours, with a very small sense that a larger conspiracy is at play. Where are all the merpeople who have previously gone on pilgrimages to land?
Takorita Meets Fries is not an attractive visual novel: at least, not to our tastes. There’s a shoujo manga look to the characters, but the crayon effect feels rushed. Backgrounds are better, but there’s little detail to them, and there’s barely a landmark in Takorita Meets Fries, so you won’t remember them anyway. It certainly has charisma – some of the expressions on the character are genuinely inspired – but the overall effect is towards the lower drawers rather than the top ones.
Character animations and their sound effects are overdone – you’ll get tired of Mermer’s ‘dun!’ effect whenever he makes a faux-pas, which happens a hell of a lot. And the translation doesn’t hold up well either. There’s a stiltedness to the prose that means you have to occasionally reread what’s being said, while some fragments just don’t make sense. Underneath all the bad translation, there’s nothing revolutionary being said: conversation mostly revolves around food and fish-out-of-water stuff, quite literally.
An infectious enthusiasm runs through Takorita Meets Fries that at least pulls you through these issues. Takorita in particular is a force of nature, on a mission to secure the best chip flavours. Her positivity means that events are good-natured and positive, as there’s nary a dark moment in the entirety of the game. The other characters are appealing enough, although they’re not given a huge amount of time to breathe.
There’s some otome-style romancing here, but Takorita Meets Fries doesn’t commit to it. Various characters show interest in each other, and might redden in the face when Mermer bares his nipples, but there’s nothing beyond that. You certainly don’t get a say in who links up with who. Developers Roseverte have at least ensured that the potential relationships are progressive and avoid heterogeneous norms, which is nice.
There’s a non-committal approach to all of Takorita Meets Fries. It feels like the first installment of a larger adventure, as relationships are only beginning, only a few recipes are found, and everyone keeps talking like they’re about to leave the Shire in Fellowship of the Ring. It’s presented as a prologue, and it makes it hard to invest fully. If big things are yet to happen, why should I care about what’s happening now? Takorita Meets Fries doesn’t have a satisfying answer.
That prologue-ness is exacerbated by the runtime. This is less than an hour in length, and there’s really only one choice in the entire game. As with most Ratalaika titles, there’s a well-implemented skip and chapter function, so you can return to the choice quickly to see the three-and-a-half different endings, but it can’t help but feel slight. When the different outcomes mostly pivot around the flavour of a chip, they don’t feel particularly different, either. A larger conspiracy is temptingly wafted at you in an epilogue, but you don’t get to fully chow down on it.
In food terms, Takorita Meets Fries is a single, cold chip. As you eat it, you’re aware that there should have been more of them – perhaps there was at one time. It tastes alright, but it needed a little more time in the oven to be satisfying. And a waiter keeps promising that more will come, but on the basis of that one, cold chip, you wonder whether it’s going to be worth the bother.
If you’re like us, you’ll shrug and order a burger.
You can buy Takorita Meets Fries for £4.99 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series