Rain patters against the umbrellas of the passers-by just on the other side of a paper-thin brick wall, the smell of freshly brewed coffees and teas sing their aromatic melodies, dancing with the relaxing jazz chill-hop beats that reverberate through stifled conversation between a loyal customer, the owner, and anyone else who decides to step into the only late night coffee shop in downtown Seattle.
Coffee Talk inspires such whimsical thought as it pulls you in with its late 2020, fantasy-infused Seattle setting, though the most fantastical element here is that smoking in doors is still allowed. In Coffee Talk, fairytale creatures and humans have coexisted for centuries and you find yourself as an inexplicably wealthy coffee shop owner with a journalist for your most loyal customer. Your coffee shop isn’t like the others, however. Instead of early mornings and mid-day punch-outs, Coffee Talk is only open for late nights, providing something warm to drink at all hours of the evening. Freya, your journalist friend, has recently decided to try to write a novel while on the dime of the newspaper she works for. After a short bout with some writer’s block and a visit from a couple having some racially-charged relationship drama because of their family’s mutual disapproval, Freya has the idea to write about Coffee Talk and the stories of its patrons for her novel.
This sends you down a path of listening to your customer’s personal problems while making them whatever drinks they may ask for; be it coffees, teas, or even some more seasonally appropriate stylings like hot chocolate, you as the barista have a low-stakes job to do: be there to interact with your customers through mostly automated dialogue boxes, make their drinks how they want them, and listen to a beautiful, flawlessly executed soundtrack.
There’s an almost cruel lack of depth to some of the game’s more serious themes. While the Indonesian indie developer, Toge Productions, does a beautiful job setting up the world and its characters, there’s never anything more than surface level exploration of its topics. These characters are dealing with their lives just like anyone else should, by talking to friends and, more interestingly, strangers who don’t have the bias of knowing them already, but it does land a bit flat due to the nature of the game’s short 4 hour long playtime and less than great writing. The dialogue often feels weak, and in some cases, borderline problematic. Occasionally, characters will throw out ill-fated one-liners, off-the-cuff compliments, and back-handed remarks as if they’re trying to see what they can get away with, only to be disproportionally defensive when a character does manage to make reference to it. I found this disappointing when considering the vast majority of the game is just watching dialogue boxes tick by.
The Joys of Brewing
While Coffee Talk doesn’t have the deepest gameplay loop, its simplicity allows for experimentation; Players have a selection of ingredients to choose from on any given chapter to slot into one of the 3 ingredient slots for each drink. Even Lattes allow the player to attempt their hand at some creative doodling with a surprisingly fun Latte Art mini-game with absolutely zero stakes, so don’t worry if you’re not Picasso on the sticks; I found myself giggling at some of the sillier smiley-faces I drew up between horrible attempts at “real” art.
The simplicity of brewing drinks helps to allow for some testing while keeping things simple enough so as to not overload the players with choice, or leaving them struggling to remember what the customer originally wanted. Even if you do find yourself unable to remember, there are easy to navigate menus that assist in every aspect: the player has a dialogue history so players can easily retrace their steps to remember their drink orders and their phone which includes a breakdown of every unlocked recipe, a dating-app-style social media platform with info on all of your customers, Freya’s articles which are unlocked after each in-game day, and a Spotify clone with all of the game’s music.
The phone’s recipes come in handy, especially as you begin your journey. While they’re simple, it can be difficult to discern exactly what someone wants or what ingredients should go in what drinks. My only gripe with it is that experimentation doesn’t lead to unlocking recipes, meaning that the fun spin on drinks that I came up with were near instantly forgotten.
Ya like Jazz?
I genuinely don’t think Coffee Talk would work as well as it does without the its impeccable soundtrack. Andrew Jeremy has done such a fantastic job of capturing the vibes of a late night coffee shop in Seattle, that I found myself adding not only Coffee Talk’s OST to my Spotify playlist, but his Back to Life album, too. This game doesn’t really lend itself to many moments where the music dynamically shifts in ways that would make or break a moment, in my opinion, but every track is meticulously composed with euphonious effervescence while maintaining a tranquil, jazzy feel. Truly, Coffee Talk’s soundtrack outdoes many of today’s AAA games’.
It’s visual novel presentation is one of the more fitting and satisfying ones I’ve come across recently, and Coffee Talk does a lot to help establish that coffee shop vibe, complete with simple, yet constant movement in the background, familiar sounds, and a color-pallet that couldn’t be more perfect. As someone who doesn’t typically find a lot to love about most visual novels, there’s plenty on display in Coffee Talk to keep your eyes entertained.
For Here Or To-Go?
Coffee Talk does so much right and only manages to miss the mark in ways that I selfishly wish it hadn’t. Regardless of its weak points, Coffee Talk is a wonderful, mellow, melancholic yet hopeful experience that anyone with a Saturday morning, and a pot of coffee to kill, should enjoy. Its a great addition to GamePass, and I cannot wait to pour myself another cup with its sequel in 2023.
|Reviewed on||Windows PC|
|Release Date||January 30th, 2020|
|Available on:||Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, PC|
|Publishers||Chorus Worldwide Games|
|Rated||T for Teen|