Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook Review – A Little Undercooked

Home » Game Reviews » A Culinary Catastrophe Leaving a Bitter Taste – Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook Review

Monster Menu is a very addicting dungeon crawler with a few faults that hold it back. It was developed by Nippon Ichi Software and published by NISA for the West. It has character artwork from Harada (known for Disgaea’s character artwork). This title is a new IP that plays like a “mystery dungeon” style of game, where you traverse randomly generated floors filled with enemies, treasures, and obstacles.

The dungeons are randomly made of tiles, but you actually move freely on the map. You don’t have to step 1 square at a time, or in other words, you can move continuously and not discretely. While exploring dungeons, you’re able to see enemies on the map, so you can choose to avoid them completely, or you can ambush them from behind (or they can ambush you too). In combat, the gameplay involves turn-based combat, where the player and enemies take turns to attack each other similar to an SRPG. Enemies nearby will also get drawn into the fight, but usually it’s no too many mobs at once.

If you’re not familiar with mystery dungeon games and how they’re different than traditional SRPGs, the main difference is that the dungeons are randomized. This means that each time the player enters a dungeon, the layout, enemies, and items will be different. This creates a sense of unpredictability and makes the game more challenging and exciting. This game does have fixed boss floors at certain thresholds.

Another important part of mystery dungeon games is the “roguelike” element. This means that if the player character is defeated in battle, they will lose all their items and experience points and be sent back to the beginning of the dungeon. If you’ve played other NISA titles such as Disgaea, it can be thought of somewhat like the Item World in those games.

The mystery dungeon aspect of this game can make the game challenging, but also very rewarding when the player succeeds in making it through a difficult dungeon. In Monster Menu there are many difficulty options, varying from Easy to Nightmare. The difficulty affects your characters’ and the enemies’ stats and can also affect the gameplay as well. For example, you’ll always lose your character levels and skills from death, but materials and traps are only lost on normal difficulty or higher. So if you’ve never played a mystery dungeon game before you’d probably want to choose the lower difficulty option though in general most mystery dungeons will have you lose all items picked up if you game over.

You start the game by choosing a player avatar, and later on you’ll have more characters join the cast. The main cast of characters you control are all generic units where you can choose their portrait, 3D model and voice.

The plot is a bit lacking unfortunately, and most of the game focuses on the dungeons crawling aspect. As you progress through the dungeons you’ll learn more about the lore of the world and you’ll read notes from adventurers who went through the dungeon earlier. But if you’re expecting a plot like Disgaea or even Etrian Odyssey, you won’t get it. The cutscenes consist of text displayed every threshold you reach in the dungeons and most of it is one-way with your characters reading notes, meaning there is no character interaction, not even interactions with NPCs or shopkeepers.

Although the character artwork has Harada’s style which is known for being light-hearted, the game itself is surprisingly gruesome. It features travelers trekking through dungeons and almost starving to death and having to eat monster corpses to survive. If you were to take a literal translation of the Japanese name of this game, 屍喰らいの冒険メシ, it would be “corpse eater”. I thought from the box artwork that it would be like a light-hearted adventure with chefs discovering new ingredients and preparing the rarest dishes (yes, I genuinely thought this would be a video game version of the Toriko anime and manga). It’s not bad that this game is gloomy in tone, but just be aware that the atmosphere of this game is pretty bleak, even compared to other mystery dungeon games that have a more upbeat atmosphere.

The gameplay in Monster Menu generally involves you leaving your base to explore randomly generated floors in dungeons, collecting materials, opening treasure chests, and defeating monsters and looting them. The gameplay loop can be addicting for a while. Your characters can gain experience and levels, so you do need to do battles once in a while to ensure your party is adequately leveled. At the same time, this game has stats for each character called hydration, calories, and happiness rather than SP. Using skills will consume hydration and calories but they’ll also deplete as you explore the dungeon floors and time passes.

You need to carefully manage these stats and you make meals at your base to replenish them. In an emergency you can also just eat raw materials, but it won’t be as efficient as eating meals. You can rest between any floor you like and you can cook meals when resting. It’s generally not too complicated. The most interesting and unique mechanic is that you can cook dozens of different kinds of meals using ingredients, many of which are from defeated monsters and when you feed your characters they will gain permanent stat bonuses. The ingredients you use in your meals will affect the outcome significantly.

Monster Menu Screenshot 2 BAI GAMING
Like SRPGs you have equipment, character stats and skills. (Image Credit: Nippon Ichi Software & NIS America)

Your ingredients will spoil as time progresses, so it’s best to turn your ingredients into meals sooner rather than later and thankfully your characters have bottomless stomachs. When you defeat enemies you also gain shards, which can be spent at altars you randomly find for randomly generated effects such as stat bonuses or increased movement speed to give an example.

If your main character dies or if all of your party members die in combat, you will go back to the base. In this sense it’s like a roguelike, but you’re able to keep equipment and valuable (key) items so it’s generally not too bad to level up again if you rush through it because powerful equipment will compensate for a low level.

You can save whenever you rest between floors. Resting between floors is almost the same as a base, but the only difference is that you will resurrect at the base when you game over. You could save and reload every few floors if you don’t want to grind again, though resting between floors consumes resources too, so it’s best to do it every 2 or 3 floors rather than every single floor.

Monster Menu Screenshot 1 BAI GAMING
You can rest between floors and organize your inventory, craft tools and equipment, and cook game-changing meals from the monster menu. (Image Credit: Nippon Ichi Software & NIS America)

The game actually gave me a high level enemy on the second floor that killed my protagonist, so you’ll naturally die in the first hour of the game as part of the tutorial of the game’s mechanics. This title also thankfully warns you if a boss is coming up and the “next floor” symbol will be a different color as well, so you can make a manual save and rest up to full health before going into the fight.

I do have a few criticisms with this game though. It does feel empty and lonely. One might argue that this is par for the course for a mystery dungeon game, but it’s not. Other mystery dungeon games have more fleshed out bases or even complete towns outside of the dungeon where you can interact with a variety of NPCs such as shopkeepers and quest-givers. But in this game I was not able to find any shops or NPCs.

The story in Monster Menu is also very generic and not told well. I know that mystery dungeons are all about the gameplay and are not necessarily meant to be played the story, but I feel this game would’ve benefited significantly if the story had a bit more meat, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Monster Menu Screenshot 5 BAI GAMING
The game often gives lore dumps and the story is not told in an exciting way. (Image Credit: Nippon Ichi Software & NIS America)

I found the resource management in this game to be stressful as well. As you progress through the dungeon floors time passes and it’s labeled on the screen. But as this happens all perishable items will begin to spoil. There is a lot of “junk” kind of items in this game as well, so I found myself constantly going into my inventory to discard less useful items. For instance, I was getting tonnes of rocks and hay, which can be used in recipes of course, but I really didn’t need an excessive (20+) quantity of them every few floors.

You will keep finding new equipment as you explore, but if the equipment is not useful for you then you’ll need to disassemble them and often they would be disassembled into not so useful materials, such as rocks. I would’ve liked it if disassembling equipment turned them into shards to use at the altars I explained previously, rather than to only have enemies drop shards.

One really bad game design choice involved me using a bow character. The problem is that each arrow, which is ammo to use a bow, consumes 1 weight in the inventory. Having 20 arrows would take up 20 weight, and to give a perspective you start off with a weight limit of about 50. I found it not worth it to use a bow early on when my party’s inventory weight limit was low because I would need to prioritize having my regular equipment (weapons, armors, accessories) take up weight first and of course I’d want more free inventory space for collecting meat from monsters to cook meals to improve my characters. I know that having a bow offers a significant advantage since you can attack from a long range, but the drawback of arrow weight was too much and the developers should’ve found a way to make the arrows have decimal weight, or group the arrows in sets of 10 to consume 1 weight for instance. Most other weapons were normal though and didn’t require ammo, so I found myself using axes, spears, swords and more instead of bows.

Monster Menu Screenshot 3 BAI GAMING
The main draw of this game is being able to cook food which can give stat bonuses and skills. (Image Credit: Nippon Ichi Software & NIS America)

The only problem I had was that the game was addicting at first, but the inventory management made it stressful and the game began to get really grindy after a few dozen floors. You need to grind treasure chests to get better equipment. You need to grind monsters to get shards for altar effects, to gain experience to level your party up, and to get food materials to cook for permanent stat bonuses. You need to also keep cooking to create meals to replenish your hydration, calories, and happiness meters for each character, which can become trickier in harsher biomes. The later dungeons do mix up the gameplay a bit, with volcano maps that consume more hydration than usual and icy maps that consume more calories than usual. The stress mechanic in the original Darkest Dungeon was similar, but had implemented resource management in a superior way where you had plenty of options for reducing stress.

All equipment have durability on top of all this, so you need to ensure you have backup equipment or repair kits, the latter of which needs to be crafted as well. It is a lot to deal with, even for a mystery dungeon style game where resource management is always a key feature. The UI could’ve been improved for this game as well and I’d spend equal or more time managing my inventory compared to the actual dungeon crawling.

There are difficulty spikes as well for many boss fights, so you’ll need to make sure you’re decently leveled and have proper equipment. There are definitely balancing issues as well with the game.

The soundtrack in this game is great and the boss theme has a really great guitar that really sets the stressful mood of a boss battle.

Monster Menu is a really interesting new mystery dungeon IP from Nippon Ichi. The gameplay is fun, but I think it could’ve been improved if there were improvements to the gameplay and story. It would’ve been better if the inventory was easier and less time-consuming to manage. Having a generic party is fine, but there could’ve been NPCs or villains and a more fleshed out overarching story with more voice acting.

I enjoy grinding in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon or Disgaea, but it would’ve been better if this game had more substance to it. If you’re a fan of mystery dungeons you’ll definitely like this title more, but unfortunately this game is a bit bland and lonely otherwise. I think it would’ve been much more interesting if the developers put in Disgaea style cutscenes between the plot events with NPC characters, or even if they had some sidequests or something extra in the game.

Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook

Our Score: Good


  • The dungeon crawling is fun and it has the mainstays of any dungeon crawler such as leveling, equipment, and skills.
  • The food creation system is very uniquely handled in this title. You gain permanent stat bonuses and skills from eating food.

  • Although the 2D character artwork is charming, the 3D character models and dungeon designs don’t look too impressive.
  • The user interface is a bit clunky, especially since you’ll be cooking and organizing your inventory thousands of time.
  • The story is quite lacking, even for a mystery dungeon game. Generic protagonists are alright, but there is a lack of NPCs and sidequests.

Brandon Harris
Reviewed on Playstation 5

Brandon is a passionate gamer and reviewer who respects the artistic and technical prowess that goes into creating interactive experiences. He enjoys playing the guitar, volunteering, and traveling to experience different cultures.

You can pre-order the Limited Edition of the game from the NIS Online Store.

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1 thought on “A Culinary Catastrophe Leaving a Bitter Taste – Monster Menu: The Scavenger’s Cookbook Review”

  1. I love the concept of Monster Menu, i’ve been following this since it released it Japan. This was definitely a day one purchase.


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