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Coffee Talk – Review

You find yourself in an alternate Seattle in 2020. Humans are only one of the many races in this diverse city. You may find elven writers, dwarves mechanics or even Orcish programmers, among many others. The Great War has long since ended and the world is at peace, with even the vampires and the werewolves getting along.

You play as a Barista at a coffee shop serving all types of customers. Through this, you see a glimpse of their lives, their worries and how they deal with the problems of modern life.

Coffee Talk bills itself as a ‘coffee brewing and heart-to-heart talking simulator’, but it could arguably be called a unique visual novel with gameplay elements and 90’s anime-style visuals. It has just released on PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, which is my platform of choice for this title.

As the story opens, we meet a journalist and writer named Freya. A regular of the coffee shop, she is a near-constant as we go through the story. While looking for inspiration, an elf and a succubus couple come in and order coffee, mentioning how their families don’t approve of their relationship and similar issues – this gives Freya an idea; she is going to write based on the stories of the customers.

This sets up the structure of the game. Every day a number of people come in, often with problems or interesting lives. Sometimes they talk to each other, sometimes to the Barista and sometimes with the other customers. It can be fascinating to see some unexpected interactions, new friends, personal growth and differences of opinion.

The customers mostly come in pairs, who each have their own story. Despite this, it never feels like the stories are in isolation as you see the customers getting to know each other and asking about each other’s lives.

I will avoid specifics, both due to spoilers and being a rather short game, these events include themes of racism, discrimination, drugs, cultural differences, dating, stress from work, family issues and other very real problems very common in our own world. There is even a reference to Tinder.

As you get to know the customers, you see more information about them on a social media app on your in-game phone. I felt like this was a nice touch, essentially acting as a profile for each character.

The story covers some fairly serious topics but certainly adds in comedic moments to keep things light. Both in the humor found in the friendly interactions and a couple of outright comedy relief characters, the tone of the story never goes too dark.

While short, I enjoyed the story. The conversations which are the bulk of the writing, were incredibly well done, feeling far more natural than a lot of game scripts. The writing was overall to a high standard. Most people could fully complete this within two hours, which felt right for the type of story and the pace kept.

The story has two possible endings, but unlike many similar games, it has no dialogue choices to select different routes. In fact, the only choices you make are the type of drink that you serve the customers and this has a rather limited effect storywise.

The way you make drinks is the gameplay element in this. Once or twice a night, a customer will ask you for a drink as part of the story.

You can make a drink by selecting three ingredients in the correct order. Freya’s favorite espresso is a fairly simple recipe to follow, coffee, coffee, and more coffee. Some drinks are more specific, such as tea, milk, and honey, but not tea, honey, and milk.

You do have an app on the in-game phone which lists recipes. It only lists discovered ones, so it works as a memo but you often need to guess the correct ingredients for a customer’s request.

Quite often you will receive a hint or near enough outright directions from a customer on how to make the drink. Other times, there is no clue or a very minimal hint. You get up to five failed attempts on each drink, so experimenting will often let you find the right combination.

As an extra touch, you can add latte art to some drinks. This can be done by moving around a cursor or rotating the cup and pouring milk or etching. I personally found this quite difficult to make anything resembling more than a blob or very simple design such as a letter, but it’s not required to do well and does not often appear on requests.

It’s worth pointing out that on the Switch you can use the touchscreen to do most of the drink making. Selecting ingredients and making latte art can be much faster with this.

Outside of the story, you can practice making drinks and unlock recipes in both a free mode where you can make any drink and a challenge mode where you need to fulfill customer orders quickly with a timer counting down and only going up on correct orders. This was a nice bonus and a good way to finish finding the final recipes, but otherwise, it wasn’t much of an attraction to me.

I felt like the visuals were a novel choice. They were themed after 90s style anime and the classic pixel art adventure games but adds animation both in the backgrounds and on the character sprites themselves. Despite not being the expected choice for this style of game, the quality was consistently high. As an extra, concept art was included in the gallery which was interesting to see too.

There was not a huge range of music, which isn’t too surprising considering that the game is set in the same place in almost every scene. It certainly fits the relaxing coffee shop vibe though.

Coffee Talk is a very laid back and well-written game. While I don’t really think it fits its own tagline of a ‘coffee brewing simulator’, it does hit the target on the conversations. It covers some sensitive modern topics in a different way and manages to feel very relatable, despite involving aliens, mermaids and more.

I personally enjoyed it quite a lot. While I would’ve liked to see further alternate endings or ways to affect the storyline, it’s a small but pleasant package for a budget price.

Coffee Talk can be bought digitally on Steam or the respective console store. You can also buy it on Humble Bundle for PC. Purchases made via Humble Bundle links earn a small commission which goes to help supporting domain and server costs.

Many thanks to Toge Productions for the review copy.

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