With a game name like Coffee Talk, the expectations are set immediately. Akin to “Table Run” or “Bubblegum Jump,” it tells the player everything they need to know going into it. A ravenous tale of heroism and whimsy is not on the menu, instead settling for a cozy atmosphere, tinged with everyday struggles. That, and coffee construction, because who doesn’t love coffee? (I don’t, but who cares what I think?)
There is always some hesitation upon the prospect of a narrative-heavy game, complete with a major lack in interaction. The hisses of veteran gamers believing in the prototype of what a game should be will think little of this introspective venture, full of multi-colored characters and hipster vibes. Yet it is among the many viewpoints that this title likes to play with, advising a gentler, sympathetic touch. Humanity (or otherwise, in this case) is not easy, and the complexion of one’s mental being is (almost) never so black-and-white. This story won’t change the world, but it may bring a little refresher to the exercise in inter-species compassion.
Quick disclaimer: Coffee Talk isn’t quite a visual novel, even if the game is somewhat structured like one. As an obvious comparison, it’s similar to that of VA-11 Hall-A, though not quite as demanding of the player. The objective of making drinks for customers here is far more relaxed, only occurring a couple times (on average) per night while the mixtures are rarely hard to solve. What really drives the game are its characters, as evidenced by the heavy amount of dialogue. If not for this cast, there would be little reason to play, but we’ll get to that.
Divided by chapter-like intervals over a two-week span, the story (generally) focuses on a single facet of one or two corresponding people’s lives. A couple struggling with their relationship, two game developers facing hardship with their craft, and a father-daughter spat over the daughter’s career choice are a few things to look forward to, assuming this is to your tastes. Individual plot threads are introduced with the debut of each character, slowly developing as nights pass. Sometimes one’s circumstances with tangle with another person’s, creating a little correlation in how the people deal with their issues. Carefully calculative and intricate, it provides some familiarity and community within one’s cozy coffee shop.
One thing I will also mention about Coffee Talk as a game is that it advises multiple playthroughs. After two full runs, a handy progression bar found on the main menu shows that I’m maybe 70% through all the material available. Some of this, I assume, is reading the reactions to customers getting the right or wrong orders, of which I always try to get right, for obvious reasons. Otherwise, there is a tricky subplot that is only hinted at in-between character squabbles, only really emphasized the second time.
On this note, I’m unsure of how well the game incentivizes one to continue after the first couple times. Given the possibility that something more lurks, any curious player would be willing to give it another go, provided with a handy skip button. After that, knowing multiple pauses occur in-game with character animations, it gets somewhat tiring going through the motions. Very little dialogue changes, and whatever payoff may result, I’m reluctant to say I care enough to continue.
The same cannot be said of the writing quality assigned to the characters. There is not a single character here I don’t like. Whether gruff and serious Myrtle, naive and eager Rachel, or the enigma that is Neil, every character was a delight to see enter my vision. Pacing is patient in letting the sour notes simmer, allowing for some contemplation to take place. Each character provides some variety in temperament that compliments the camaraderie or the tension of a given situation. Seeing the usually reserved Hyde and cheerful Freya indulge in verbal combat was a treat, and I could feel the connection between them. Realistic is one compliment, though a better one would be “natural.” Despite the setting, the quality of dialogue is definitely capable of bridging worlds.
Although, sometimes the same writing does seem a tad shallow. When trying to build a parallel world to our own, sometimes it’s easy to generalize and make things straightforward. Certain issues faced by characters are more developed than others, with their resolutions more at ease than the initial build-up. Other attempts at social commentary (of which there is plenty) are undercooked, or thrown in for the sake of it. Generally endearing nonetheless, if the story were maybe an hour longer, it may not feel as forced by the endpoint.
Coffee Talk is about as complicated a game as Jigsaw Puzzle Frenzy. Jokes aside, one is tasked with deciphering (when customers don’t outright tell you) how to make various liquid concoctions in a 1-2-3 fashion. First, you pick this ingredient; second, you pick this ingredient; third, you pick this ingredient. Then you blend them. And you can constantly check your phone as a recipe cheatsheet. That’s essentially the extent of gameplay required. Whatever difficulties arise will not be the fault of the mechanics, but one’s mental processing.
This isn’t to say Coffee Talk can’t be difficult, because there are moments where it definitely tests your memory. In fact, there’s one point where Myrtle literally just asks for a Teh Tarik, with no context as to what it is. Unless you grew up with Malaysian cuisine, this is a serious curveball. Having to try and decipher what it even is, this is one of a couple times where the game tests your ability to experiment and process hidden clues in the dialogue, whether with specific ingredients named or the name of the drink itself. It allows five “trashable” drinks per night, so some leniency is provided in case you feel you’ve screwed up. Accidentally coming up with other special drinks can be fun, though the opportunities to do so are limited.
To reiterate a previous point, this limited gameplay style can be tiring, especially upon repeated playthroughs. Coffee Talk is kinetic in structure, meaning it has no variety in story beats from beginning to end. So if one wishes to see all that’s being offered, they’ll have to read the same dialogue (albeit skipped quickly), create the same drinks, and wait for all the animations and sound effects to play out before moving on. If not for the strong characters, the gameplay features wouldn’t be anywhere enough to salvage the experience.
Graphics & Audio
I’ve actually known about this game for a long while. Selected as part of my “Wishlisted games on Steam I will wait patiently for a release date on,” I recall when the release date was simply, “When it’s done.” A large portion of what drew me to it (like with many others) is the spectacular quality of pixel art. To see these characters fully realized in-game, complete with emotive animations, is an impressive display of care. They could have simply put in still shots and it would still be a nice sight, yet they took the time to make these people feel real. Little details in the background, a constant focus on movement and realism (complete with characters blinking and playing with their phones), and a uniqueness in design variety makes this a very visually stimulating game. From the portraits shown of ingredients to avatars associated with characters on “Tomodachii,” visual presentation is extraordinarily sublime.
Internet denizens are likely familiar with the “Lo-fi hip-hop beats to relax/study to” meme, and so is Toge Productions. That is why they decided to have the entire soundtrack be ripped straight from that Youtube channel. Coffee Talk is a very “chill” game, with a soundtrack to inspire a whole generation of vibing individuals. While not quite my style, I felt it punctuated the atmosphere of a lonely coffee shop on rainy nights. More than that, however, there was a notable effort in making every sound associated with the job of being a barista. Pouring liquids into cups, chopping up ginger, squeezing the juice out of lemons; those keen on ASMR may get a tingly surprise playing through this. As immersive as the dialogue was, the auditory elements were implemented just as carefully. If the lo-fi won’t do it, the casual interactions of the workplace will definitely set some up for pleasure.