Anyone who knows me knows how much of a coffee addict I am. Whether it be the morning double espresso or the cold brews I devour in copious amounts at work, I’m always searching for my next caffeine hit. So when I first laid my eyes on Coffee Talk, an anime-aesthetic visual novel centred around being a barista at a coffee store, it’s safe to say I was excited to play a game all about the best beverage on the planet. After all, I’ve always dreamed of being a barista and opening my own coffee shop. Dreams and aspirations aside, Coffee Talk is a gem of a game that is gripping from start to finish, a true testament to its gameplay, narrative and characters.
This game is peak aesthetic
Coffee Talk sees you playing as Barista of the titular Coffee Talk Cafe, a little coffee shop situated in Seattle. While the game takes place in 2020, it doesn’t at all represent modern day Seattle, with humans sharing the seaport city with other races such as Werewolves, Succubi and Nekomimi to name a few. While a barista’s role is to serve coffee, that isn’t all you will be doing, as you’ll quickly come to learn that the customers of the cafe need someone to vent to. Some seek conversation to help them decompress from their work days, while others come in desperate for advice and a shoulder to lean on. As the barista, it’s up to you to listen, all while making sure you satisfy the orders of your clientele. Coffee Talk is a game about talking and listening as much as it is about making coffee.
While this could sound complex to the uninitiated, it really isn’t. Coffee Talk is a visual novel after all, meaning that all you’re really doing is reading the interactions between your character and those present of the cafe, while making coffees at random intervals throughout those conversations. The coffee-making segments are slotted throughout the game at perfectly timed points, and they help ensure that the game doesn’t get too monotonous and boring. Not that the game is boring anyway, as Coffee Talk is littered with interesting and engaging characters who each have stories to tell.
All customers have interesting things to say
To give an idea of the sorts of tales you’ll come across, one story is told by star-crossed lovers who fear they can’t be together due to their differing races. Their families don’t approve, and throughout the course of the game they struggle to decide whether or not they call it quits or stay together. While that is undoubtedly a rough decision to make, Coffee Talk’s fantasy elements add another wrinkle to the problem. One of the characters is an Elf, while the other is a Succubi, and the Elven rule is if they leave their families, they will lose their immortality. Immortality without the one you love or mortality with your lover become the options, and I love how Coffee Talk manages to pull off interesting stories like this.
Baileys and Lua provide one of many interesting small stories throughout Coffee Talk
Gameplay in Coffee Talk is rather simple. Your only really form of gameplay comes in the form of fulfilling the orders of the cafe’s customers; If they want a triple espresso, you give them three shots of espresso, if they want something with chocolate and ginger, you ensure you’ve got those ingredients in the order. Making a drink consists of only three elements, the primary, the base, and the secondary. If the drink is a type of latte, you can also add some lovely latte art. The order in which you put in your ingredients creates different types of drinks, with some more special than others. When you make a drink for the first time, you unlock how to make it permanently on the Brewpad app on your phone. Using the Brewpad app can help with remembering orders if you are prone to forgetting. Other apps on your phone include Shuffld, a music platform that allows you to change the tunes playing at the cafe, Tomadachill lets you see what level of friendship you have with the customers (a level which can be raised by getting their orders correct), and The Evening Whisper app, which provides you with short stories.
While the main story mode is where you’ll be spending the majority of the time, there are two additional game modes to play with. Free Brew is an endless mode in which you are free to craft any concoctions that you want. While this mode doesn’t offer any challenge, it does serve as a great way to try and make new drinks recipes that can then live forever on the Brewpad app. Challenge Mode on the other hand is a mode in which you must continue to satisfy the order requirements of customer to ensure the timer doesn’t expire. You are given 90 seconds initially, with correct orders netting you more time. This mode can get really complex and frantic, with the types of orders getting crazily hard. Instead of asking for a drink with green tea in it, customers will begin to ask for vaguer things like drinks that are hot or that aren’t sweet. This forces you to look harder at what ingredients you use, as the bitter, sweet, hot, cold readings fluctuate dependent on the types of ingredients. Coffee Talk overall is an absolutely lovely game to play, with the main story mode being the clear standout.
Making Coffee isn’t hard, but boy is it fun
Despite being a game about making coffee, Coffee talk did very little that made me feel bitter. I would have liked for there to have been more of consequence for failing to make the right order for customers, but I can also see why Toge Productions opted to keep things simple to avoid watering down the quality of the narrative with multiple, vastly different endings. They have a story they want to tell and they deliver it excellently, and for that I’m willing to forgive the overall simplicity. I also wish the coffee making was a bit more complex, but yet again I also appreciate the simple yet enjoyable vibe that this game can’t seem to help but emanate. Other than that, I did have some minor issues with the game hard locking in menus on occasion, but control could be regained by spamming inputs. A small mark on an otherwise polished product.
Who’s keen to try this?
Much like a delicious pot of cold brew coffee, Coffee Talk is expertly crafted and the culmination of many hours of brewing. The story is brilliant, the 90s anime aesthetic is gorgeous, the lo-fi soundtrack is littered with beats to relax/study to and the gameplay is simple yet sweet. Each of these elements infuse together (yet again like a good cold brew) creating a strong, concentrated product. Toge Productions have succeeded in making a beautiful visual novel that not only reaches the same level of quality as games of a similar vein like VA-11 Hall-A: A Cyberpunk Bartender Action but arguably does things better. Coffee Talk is as warm and wholesome as your morning brew, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend it, especially for those who love coffee and/or visual novels.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher