Food is such an important part of our lives, so I’m always curious about its portrayal in games, especially the stranger dishes.
This piece originally appeared 11/23/17.
I’ve had a lot of strange food (like the earlier mentioned Resident Evil 7 Brain Cake from the Capcom Cafe), seen weirder ones that I was too scared to taste like a boiled ant dumpling soup and scorpions climb snowberg.
A few years back, I wrote about some of the strangest foods in JRPGs. For this Thanksgiving as I get ready to eat way too much food (we usually eat Korean BBQ rather than the traditional turkey), I’m revisiting this list with many of the selections taken from suggestions by Kotaku and TAY’s hungry readers.
The title comes from Arabic and means “belly of the whale.” Jonah, Baten Kaitos is not. But the game’s mechanics mix everything up when it comes to RPGs, from leveling and saving, to making money, which requires photos of enemies that you have to sell for cash. It’s paparazzi for monsters. In a world where everyone has wings and live on floating islands since an evil god sucked the oceans dry, the last thing I expected to do was eat food like melted ice cream and fried egg on young wasabi root with deluxe sushi. But these magnus’s play an important role, aging with time like fine wine. Wait too long on the food though, and it can all go rotten. As Furby Of Death describes it:
What if one day, your entire family disappeared and no one in your village knew who you were anymore? That’s the premise of the SNES JRPG from Capcom, Breath of Fire 2, a series that I feel is painfully underrated in the States. With nothing left to lose, protagonist Ryu embarks on a journey to travel the world and live a life as a hunger artist aka thief. Along the way, he meets a cursed frog named Jean who, when cured, curiously turns into a bigger frog (rather than following the trope of turning back into a human). He becomes engaged in a life and death cooking match to save his life. To help him, you have to gather a gold fly, worm meat, and roch meat which he uses to make worms with caramel sauce and a cockroach and green onion salad. As VanillaZilla deliciously describes it:
I didn’t play FFXIII for the longest time because I’d heard so many bad reviews about it. When I finally got around to it, I actually didn’t find it anywhere near as bad as I’d thought it was going to be. There were aspects I enjoyed and the visuals were stunning. The paradigms within the battle system kept the action fast and active. Even if distinguishing between l’Cie and fal’Cie and Cie’eth was confusing, there was enough to the game to keep it interesting that I finished it. I didn’t realize there would be two more outings for FFXIII and that the games would become more like Chrono Trigger with its time travel elements than Final Fantasy. Lightning would also return with lots of interesting new dishes as RappingNinja points out:
The second part of the Quintet Trilogy, Illusion of Gaia is another highly underrated game with a powerful story revolving around a comet from the Blazer Wars that is changing the fate of humanity. The main protagonist’s grandmother, Lola, predicts Will’s pending journey and, struck by worry, starts making some weird food for their nightly feasts including this one mentioned by MrTengu. Don’t get me wrong, I like snails, have had some good ones in my travels, but adding the second flavor takes it all to new levels of weird:
Persona 4 is all about mysteries. Starting with the death of Mayumi Yamano, the questions compound with the Midnight Channel and rumors about televisions that can murder unsuspecting victims. One of the strangest enigmas occurs on rainy days in the central shopping district. If you accept the Mega Beef Bowl Challenge and try to eat all the meat in the bowl, it appears endless and “you begin to suspect that your bowl is a portal to the Meat Dimension.” Can a food coma induce a portal between alternate realities? What is the Meat Dimension and how is it connected to the overall mythos of the series? As Division-ten states:
When AIs take over the planet and organic life forms fuse with digitized ones, will they simulate real life through replicators that create chemical and biologically based games? What kind of food will the simulated humans eat? Will the humanoid avatars they create eat the plates along with their food? As Zarnyx points out:
Basically a MMORPG without the online elements, this game is part of the Tales series that also decided to cash in on the yogurt craze. Bacterially fermented from milk, millions of these tiny life forms throw themselves at milk so that millions of people can sate their yogurt cravings. Talk about fulfilling your life’s destiny. I personally prefer yogurt you buy by weight like at Yogurt Land, and always load up on more toppings than the actual yogurt. That means 60% or more of my cup is cheesecake bites, mochi, toffee crunch, and kit kats. I’ve learned from Aestevalis that I’m not the only one that loves yogurt. Zombies have a passion for yogurt too. Unfortunately for us, their toppings tend to be made of the human sort:
Food has always been a part of the Zelda series, from Nasty Soup in Twilight Princess, to Bait in the original Zelda’s labyrinths. But Breath was the first to make it an integral piece of the gameplay. I think I spent more time cooking in Breath than almost all of the other side missions combined. And it is addictive. I poured countless hours into finding Hylian Bass, Razorclaw Crabs, and Hightail Lizards, just so I could make tastier dishes that gave me stat boosts and extra hearts (or weird dishes like the Monster Cake Narelle wrote about here). Cooking in Zelda inspired me to do some real life cooking. Unfortunately, most of it turned out tasting like Dubious Food and Rock-Hard food, which is what you get in Breath when the ingredients don’t mesh. The Dubious Food is so bad and strange, Nintendo actually had to censors the pixels. You can even meet with a Hylian chef, Moza, who teaches you how to make your failed dishes even more terrible to the point where you can create the “Ultimate Survival Dish.” I’m trying to cook it right this minute and I think I’m close to replicating the results. I’ll let you know tomorrow if we survive.
The food in FFXV sometimes looks tasty and other times reminds me of the shokuhin sampuru, aka fake food, in front of many Japanese restaurants. In real life, shokuhin sampuru are plastic models made from polyvinyl chloride, sculpted to look like a given dish. In FFXV, there’s a lot of varieties when it comes to the cuisine, from Royal Road Paella, to Smoked Behemoths (no wonder Behemoths have been after you since FFII), and even Cup Noodles. But the strangest, and saddest, of the dishes has to be the Papa Bird and Baby Bowl. As the name suggests, the dish is made from two birds, a dad and his baby. It can only be obtained after you have the recipe for the Mother and Child Rice Bowl. I can’t help but feel that’s sinister and cruel, especially as both dishes are two of Noctis’s favorites. Who is the true villain of FFXV? According to those birds, you.
Have you ever tried dipping pizza in soup? In Snatcher, Neo Kobe Pizza is one of the most popular dishes because of that combination. I think it all verges on what kind of pizza you’re eating. I like garlic cloves, onions, pepperoni, and gumbo soup. Wouldn’t mind throwing in miso soup and pineapples. Seems like an odd combination? It mirrors the tempo of Snatcher, infusing adventure games with films like Blade Runner, Alien, and Terminator. Add in a Metal Gear, and voilà- like the Neo Kobe Pizza, the taste will stay with you longer after you’re done.
I love both Resident Evil 2 and tofu. But to play through all of Resident Evil 2 as a big chunk of Tofu is a surreal experience. Tofu wields a knife, takes a lot of damage, and unleashes tofu hell on the zombie legions. Its reward for going through the entire game? Becoming dinner for Hunk. For Tofu, humans are the real zombies.
For my final selection, this is more of how a game reminded me of a personal experience. The main character, Max, goes to the Two Whales Diner where her friend’s mom works. Max is excited, stomach growling for the food as she has to decide whether to get a bacon omelet or Belgian waffles. When you check the menu, there’s even Big Foot themed choices available. I picked the omelet, started devouring it. Your friend, Chloe, comes in and asks you to prove you can actually change time. The part that disturbed me? There’s a massive roach in the diner that climbs up the juke box. They say for every one roach you see, there are supposed to be a thousand hidden behind the walls. That means the diner is infested with thousands of roaches. Normally, I get that it’s just a game. But it gave me a flashback to a time I was visiting my favorite restaurant and I saw one of the biggest roaches ever scurrying along the floor. I thought it was a freak incident, but when I went back a few months later, I saw baby roaches scattered about. On Yelp, someone even posted a picture from the restaurant with one of those big roaches boiled in their soup. All these memories hit me in an instant as the scene with the enormous insect crawling around the jukebox played in repeat. The weirdest part was they didn’t even react (and yes, I can acknowledge that the time travel thing was a lot more important at that moment). Like humans, roaches are a gregarious bunch, even suffering isolation syndrome if they do not hang around enough with other roaches. Roaches might be more like us than I’d like to think, but I still don’t like them anywhere near my food.
There’s lots of strange food in the world and in gaming. Hope you have lots of the good kind tonight! Let me know of any I missed in the comments and I’ll end here with four additional mentions from Kotaku readers as well.
It is imperative that someone mention the “Unspeakable Meat” from Dragon’s Dogma, which is plucked from the carcasses of dead Ogres dwelling in caves.
one of my very favorite parts of River City Ransom was the wide variety of food and drinks that were available for purchase. That game was so awesome.
Lutefisk from Dungeons of Dredmor. “A traditional Norwegian fish product, it was invented by the Vikings as an easier way of instilling fear in their enemies than raiding and pillaging. It is traditionally inflicted upon young Norwegians by their grandparents, and is described by one famous author as ‘the world’s largest chunk of phlegm.”
Another interesting thing about eating in games (that I’ve always wanted to do a short piece on) is how the designers decide to portray eating food. My favorite is probably Harvest Moon’s way of pulling the entire loaf of bread out (or other food), holding it above your head, and then magically consuming the entire thing in one bite (really wish there was a gif of this). World of Warcraft actually makes your character sit down for ~20 seconds to eat/drink to restore mana and health (although you can somehow chug an entire potion in a second). Other RPGs like Fallout or The Elder Scrolls series will usually have some kind of biting/eating sound, but don’t actually show it happening (yet you can see NPCs eat food all the time...).