I’ve been itching to play Battle Chef Brigade after seeing the trailers, which showcased three things I’d love to see more in games: a thriving fantasy world, monster hunting, and FOOD! With a gorgeous hand-drawn art style, where I could almost taste the affection and painstaking work poured into it just by looking, this is a game I thrill to see in my library.

The game is set in Victusia, an exciting fantasy realm with a colorful history, a melting pot of culture and delicious cuisine. Monsters aren’t just trophies to be hunted, but considered game for all manner of chefs. Birds, plants, dragons, hydras – individuals who can transform a motley collection of ingredients into something spectacular are acknowledged as the crème de la crème.

The members of the Battle Chef Brigade are revered for their ability to skillfully take down monsters and transform their kills into delicious food. It is the dream of countless chefs to enter the brigade, but like all dreams, it is no easy task. Still, it is the nature of the beast to want to go the distance. I follow the journey of two hopefuls, Mina and Thrash, as they partake in the tournament to become a brigadier, fighting tooth and nail to earn their place.

The story is divided into seven chapters, but isn’t split evenly between the two main characters. The majority of the story is centered on Mina, a human girl from Windy village, a place characterized by wheat stalks and peaceful townsfolk.

She’s a bright-eyed starlet, eager to carve her place in the world despite the shackles imposed on her by her protective parents. She comes off as a naïve do-gooder early in the story, but I liked watching as she took her fate into her own hands. Her vibrant persona and determination to do the right thing is the perfect foil to Thrash’s mature demeanor. Thrash is an orc, and a happy father who took the leap to follow his dream. He comes off as a cheery family man, but his desire to become a brigadier is apparent from his quiet determination to see things through.

Switching perspectives mid-game proves a smart move on the developers’ part. It alleviates the mild boredom that sets in from the routine of taking jobs, and battling the next opponent with extravagant cook offs.

The story is well paced, though I wish the game had given me more time with Thrash. Mina’s road to victory concluded satisfyingly, but Thrash would have benefited if he had had more backstory. Mina grew as the story progressed, and I felt like a proud family member who watched her kid bloom. Unfortunately, Thrash remains the identical, caring orc I encountered at the start of the game. It upsets me, because his potential as a main character was squandered.

The overall story is good, and though Battle Chef Brigade doesn’t have the most complicated of tales, it plays to its strengths with a straightforward story and remarkable characters, culminating in an enjoyable and unforgettable game.

The game is also voice acted, which is an extra bonus. While most of the voice actors were great, some sounded amateurish. They weren’t terrible, but they lacked a certain something when stacked against the better ones. It’s not a bad thing, however, as it adds to the game’s charm.

One character who I felt was voiced superbly was Thorn, an elven huntress with a scathing tongue. Voice actor Amber Lee Connors made Thorn a standout character for me. I’m sure Thorn wouldn’t have been half as memorable without her sarcastic drawl and borderline aggressiveness, which promised copious amounts of pain to those she spoke to.

You will either enjoy the battle system, or hate its guts. Each character has a unique set of moves you can use to take down monsters. Despite the large variety of moves, hunting can get repetitive, due to the constant need to gather ingredients. I quickly devolved into button mashing as the game progressed, but it still felt decent despite the minor grind. Hunting was challenging at first, but became mindless towards the end.

For the cooking sections, Battle Chef Brigade employs a match-3 puzzle system. Matching three identical colored orbs horizontally or vertically produces one with a higher level. The higher the orb’s level, the better the dish will be. An orb has three levels, with the third being the highest. When three level 1 orbs are matched, they combine to form a level 2 orb. Likewise, three level 2 orbs form a level 3 orb.

It is paramount to have many level 3 orbs in your dish, as it results in a better score. This is especially important once you reach the last chapters of the game. Opponents start to serve dishes with ridiculously high scores, and you can expect to redo battles until you win.

The common orbs in the game are red, green, and blue. Their respective elements are fire, earth, and water. Judges might lean more towards one element, or want both in a single dish. Extra points will be awarded if the dish you serve favors their element. This adds an element of tactical strategy I don’t see in similar match-3 puzzle games. Experimenting with different cookware is part and parcel to figuring out how to get better results.

You start off with a regular pan that matches three orbs, but you can obtain better cookware as you progress. Different cookware has different advantages. Some pots can match two orbs of the same color, but only for one element. Others can promote an orb’s level without needing to match them.

Other than cookware, you also have three additional ingredients. The ingredients you choose can grant some tactical advantage if used appropriately. Sauces, for example, can change an orb’s element, regardless of its level. This can be extremely useful for matches where there is more than one judge.

Battle Chef Brigade shines with its addictive and challenging puzzle system. Battling monsters leaves much to be desired after several hours, but is thankfully not the focus of the game. The highlight of the game is its quirky and lovable characters. Mina and Thrash are excellent protagonists and are likable and well-rounded individuals I had tons of fun observing. Matched with an interesting story, Battle Chef Brigade is a title you simply cannot miss. Vive la Brigade!