Warning! Do not read further if you plan to but have not yet played (or watched a playthrough) of Cooking Companions or its DLC. This article contains major spoilers of the plot of both of these games.
Still here? Okay, let’s proceed then.
Released back in late 2021 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Cooking Companions is about a group of Ukrainian refugees fleeing persecution in the early 20th century. It is a psychological horror visual novel and dating simulator wherein you play for the evil Baba Yaga as it preys on and manipulates the refugees. A lot of people compare this game to Doki Doki Literature Club because of the genre and anime art style, but unlike Doki, Cooking Companions does not rely on a meta storyline for its horror. There is no third act reveal that “it’s all just a game,” thankfully. While that twist worked with Doki Doki, I have yet to see it work with any of Doki’s imitators. Once “it’s just a game” becomes canon, it can be hard to get gamers invested in the worldbuilding and storyline. Undertale is often cited as a case where meta storytelling worked, but I’d argue the meta elements were a very small part of the game and could be easily subtracted and nothing would be lost. People love Undertale because of the devotion that is put into the characters, because of the humor and tragedy, and because of the great gameplay and cute soundtrack. The meta element lasts less than three minutes and is never referenced again.
Anyway, my point is, despite many let’s play YouTube channels putting “The Next Doki Doki Literature Club” in their video’s thumbnail, Cooking Companions is its own game with its own unique twists. It is confident in its skin and feels no need to retread the same ground that Doki did. But while it’s not fourth wall-breaking meta, Cooking Companions is very relevant to our current moment, even if this came about entirely by accident.
Just a few months after the game was released on Steam, Russian launched its invasion of Ukraine in an effort to topple the democratically elected government in Kyiv and annex the entire country. While the Ukrainian people have fought back and so far thwarted Russia’s progress, millions of Ukrainian civilians have fled the country to seek refuge elsewhere, and the death toll and suffering has been catastrophic on levels not seen since World War 2. Companion’s story about a group of Ukrainian refugees being hunted and murdered by Baba Yaga is an accurate metaphor as to what is happening in the world. Deer Dream Studios, the game developers, are not Ukrainian themselves, but they’ve expressed their sadness for the situation, as well as linking to a charity saving lives in Ukraine.
And yet, the original Cooking Companions had an extremely depressing and cynical ending, with each one of the Ukrainian refugees either being cannibalized, turned insane and evil, or turned insane, evil and then cannibalized. Baba Yaga basically wins in the original endings of the game. Tragic endings where evil wins is pretty common in horror (horror is the only genre where that happens with frequency), but this ending was especially depressing considering the situation happening in the real world.
So, you can imagine my happiness when the DLC dropped, with a way to change the ending of the original game and give at least one of the Ukrainian refugees victory over Baba Yaga. I won’t go into great detail over how you can achieve that ending, as that’s not what this article is about, but I think what’s of note is that after she (Mariah, the vegan and everyone’s favorite character) gloriously kills Baba Yaga, the game makes a point of telling us how she returned home to Ukraine and was selected to represent her country to the United Nations and helped write the UN charter. Later, she led a committee that investigated atrocities caused by atypical 9read supernatural) beings and testified at their trials for their crimes against humanity. Mariah would die at the age of 85, surrounded by loved ones and content.
Wow. I love that ending. That is exactly how the story should have ended. In dark times like what we’re living in, uplifting horror like this is exactly what we need and what I wish there was more of it. Which brings us to Dread Weight, the sequel of Cooking Companions which will come to Kickstarter on June 1st…
I get it. Cooking Companions is a popular game and it seem every indie horror game popular enough to get a Game Theory eventually releases a sequel, or maybe a couple dozen sequels if you’re Hello Neighbor. I am looking forward to Dread Weight and I’ve set aside some funds for when it hits Kickstarter. I just hope it doesn’t fall into the trap that so many franchises’ fall into, where they end up ruining the messages and themes of what made their games good to begin with. The DLC definitely changed the themes and message of the base game, but in a good way rarely seen in other horror games. Nothing would be more depressing than for Dread Weight to reveal that ‘actually, Mariah’s ending wasn’t the canon one,” or ‘Baba Yaga survived that and Mariah’s sacrifice was for nothing.” Five Nights at Freddies is the perfect example of a series that kept resurrecting their villain to such a ridiculous degree that now he may as well be Jason Voors from Friday the 13th. I don’t want that to happen to Cooking Companions. If a Baba Yaga is needed, why not say this is a different one, maybe even a relative? Or maybe explore one of the dozens of other Slavic mythological figures. There’s a whole world of mythology out there that’s barely been touched on in Western media about Slavic mythology.
So, I’m looking forward to Dread Weight, make no mistake. I just hope that whatever happens, Mariah’s glorious victory is not undone. Peace out!
Neira is the author of YA suburban goth girl novel Raven’s Dream.