At first glance, Venba appears to be a cooking game with an Indian cuisine slant. And that’s very much a part of this game’s play. But we find a visual novel in the mixing bowl, too.
Venba actually refers to the woman—a daughter, wife and mother—at the core of the story. She and her husband, Paavalan, immigrated to Canada, a new home where they hope to get a fresh start and raise their family. But the couple have a tough time slipping into their new country’s language and culture. And so, even though Paavalan has a doctorate in science and Venba is an excellent schoolteacher, jobs are almost impossible to come by when they first arrive in 1980s Canada.
And then there’s new baby, Kavin. Will he be able to thrive in their new home, they wonder? Will he adapt to another culture but still hold fast to the things that Venba and Paavalan value? Will he learn to speak Tamil? Will he learn to appreciate his Indian heritage?
Those questions are a part of the 30-plus year timeline this game covers. But as the tale begins, we quickly learn that Venba does most of her communicating through the food she lovingly prepares. Whether she’s sharing the joy of being pregnant or celebrating a small family victory or giving Kavin a taste of her history, the kitchen is where she starts.
Gamers get to share in that process by helping create the dishes from a battered old cookbook that Venba’s amma (mom) gave her. However, over the years, the recipes have become smudged and difficult to read in places. And the cooking utensils may be unfamiliar to those who haven’t prepared Indian cuisine. So the Tamil-based dishes aren’t just about following the instructions; they often amount to puzzle-solving challenges.
Those puzzles, however, are forgiving. And the game offers gamers tips and patience as it helps guide them through.
Venba’s artwork and cooking visuals are colorful and appealing. And the finished meals (which you can then potentially take and cook in the real world) offer cooking game-lovers a sense of rewarding accomplishment. But it’s the visual novel aspect of the game that draws players into the lives of the story’s characters. And after moments of victory and failure the story ends with a bittersweet reward of its own.
Venba also displays Indian aphorisms that the tale then illustrates. For example, we see bits of wisdom such as: “Those fallen from their resolve are stripped of respect, like hair fallen from a head.” And “Nothing, no mater how dear, should be sought at the expense of one’s honor.” And the story you play through supports the truth of those platitudes.
The game suggests that persevering love and consistency will reap rewards, even if the ultimate outcomes aren’t always the ones you hope for. It also points to the enriching importance of learning from the past.
Venba earns its T-rating because of violence and death. For instance, someone is mugged. However, we don’t see the attack, just the slightly bloodied and bruised aftermath. An individual also dies in the course of the story. We’re not told how, but we do see the lonely, grieving results.
We’re also shown the sadness that comes from not being accepted by a community at large and rejected by family members.
Venba is indeed a game that challenges players to try their hand at Indian dishes. But there’s a lot more cooking here. And the visual novel side of this gaming recipe encourages players to remember their own family’s traditions and cultural heritage.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.