Image Source: Nintendo
In January of this year, when the extent of the world catastrophe was still centered around the Australian bushfires, a lesser-known Indonesian-based indie game studio by the name of Toge Productions released a game that would be my go-to for winding down at the end of the day: Coffee Talk. It was released somewhat inconspicuously on Steam, PS4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch, and it caught my eye as I was perusing the Nintendo eShop (after an arduous weekend) for games with demos.
The basis of the game is that you play as the owner and barista of the titular Coffee Talk, a coffee shop that only opens at night and has a certain tendency to attract interesting characters. The story is set in late 2020 Seattle (funnily enough), in a sort of parallel modern fantasy world where elves, orcs, mermaids, werewolves, vampires, and more are all an established part of society. As the barista of Coffee Talk, you’re tasked with brewing a multitude of drinks for your clients and (most importantly) providing a good ear for your customers. This game boasts a wide array of colourful characters that think, act, and speak very differently from each other. Coffee Talk’s best attribute, its expert writing, is always at the forefront as people with various problems and life goals visit the coffee shop and spend the night talking.
Coffee Talk plays mostly like a visual novel, with the emphasis being almost entirely on the characters and the stories that play out in front of you, instead of your own ability to brew drinks (though that will certainly be put to the test as well). The game is presented in detailed and expressive pixel art that is somewhat reminiscent of the original Ace Attorney on the DS, and the characters’ facial expressions and movements are animated similarly well.
In the sound department, Coffee Talk doesn’t have much to show apart from its soundtrack and the sounds of a coffee shop, but what it does, it does delightfully well. The different sounds of your coffee machine, pouring a warm drink, chopping up ingredients, putting down the cup on the wooden counter, they all have a wonderfully therapeutic quality to them when put together. In addition to this, the extensive lo-fi soundtrack done by Andrew Jeremy fits terrifically well with the relaxing late-night coffee shop aesthetic of the game. All of the tracks are currently on Spotify, and they’re so perfectly comforting that I now listen to them while doing my homework (and even writing this article). Even in-game the music shuffles through the album and you have the ability to play any specific track you want using your phone, navigating an app that’s conspicuously similar to Spotify.
If there’s something this video game is weak at, however, it’s actually engaging gameplay. The story is amazingly enthralling, and laying down on my couch to watch another night at Coffee Talk unfold before my eyes was something of a ritual after a hard day, but when it comes down to it, the gameplay boils down to two things: figuring out how to brew the drinks people ask for, and pressing A (or your systems equivalent) to advance the plot. The former genuinely demands that you listen closely to what your clients say, and think like the expert barista that you clearly are, but you can always save before brewing and load that save again if you make a mistake. On top of that, you always have access to a log of what’s been said recently and there are very few times where screwing up an order truly affects the way the story plays out. Apart from that, all you really need to do is press a button to get to the next line of dialogue.
It should be made clear, of course, that this is in no way the central point of the game. Coffee Talk is most akin to a visual novel with a neat drink-making minigame sprinkled in for effective variety, and nobody should be buying this game in search of something that’ll challenge them. Coffee Talk is most definitely a relaxing, engaging and therapeutic experience, one that’s likely to stir all kinds of emotions but will ultimately provide comfort and tranquility at the end of the day.
If you’re at all interested, give the free demo a try. It’s a good synopsis of the Coffee Talk experience and is enjoyable as its own bite-sized adventure.
Originally Published on www.bandersnatch.ca Vol.49 Issue 13 on April 15th, 2020