When choosing a location for a game based around coffee, there was only going to be one choice in the US – Seattle. A city known for heavy coffee consumption, but also the birthplace of Starbucks and Seattle’s Best Coffee, it was the obvious choice. It also helps that the Space Needle looks fantastic in the pixel art style chosen for Coffee Talk, which is then also further helped by being a brilliant game.
Coffee Talk is a visual novel-style game set in a coffee shop. But the kind of coffee shop that could only ever exist in a film or a book. It only opens late at night, is owned by someone who doesn’t need it to make a profit and plays lo-fi chill beats, but more on those later. The punters also just happen to be werewolves, vampires, succubi, elves and even an alien. But they all face very real human problems.
The game takes place on 13 consecutive nights, with a 14th occurring the week after, and sees a variety of characters come for a brew and a natter. They may be looking for inspiration on a new book, a policeman looking for an extended break, a couple pre and post-breakup, an overprotective father or a games developer looking to avoid burnout. Admittedly, their problems and stories aren’t groundbreaking, but adding in the variety of different races does help to freshen things up. Many of these characters aren’t human – though some still are – but their problems feel very relatable. Whilst you can’t directly choose what to say to affect their stories, providing them with the correct beverage will make sure you see their character arcs through to completion.
You are the barista after all, so your responsibility is to keep your patron’s thirst quenched. This is as simple as choosing three ingredients and producing a drink, but the reality is a bit more difficult. Some customers have specific names for their drinks that offer no indication what ingredients are included. They offer hints at times, but it is down to you to remember what those hints are. As a last resort, you have access to Brewpad, an in-game app on your phone, which shows you what ingredients you need, but only for the drinks you have already made.
Also on your in-game phone is a social media app – Tomodachill – where you can keep track of relationships – remember that brewing customers’ correct drinks is the key to fully unlocking profiles. The Evening Whisper app offers additional short stories based in this world, some of which are written by one of the customers, and a music app where you can select which tracks to listen to.
All the music featured in the game is by Aremy Jendrew – alias of Andrew Jeremy who also doubled as product manager on the project – and is a deepdive into lo-fi chillhop beats. Like everything else in this game, it all fits together perfectly. It really compliments the aesthetic on screen and the topics of discussion, creating a game that is both enthralling and relaxing all at the same time.
If creating works of art with hot drinks is your thing then there are several extra features away from the main narrative for you to enjoy. First up is Endless mode, where you are left to simply serve drinks to customers without any of their idle chit-chat in between. They start off by giving you the three ingredients they want in their drink, but it isn’t long before you are made to work things out for yourself. Correct drinks add extra time to your clock though.
Then there is latte art; some drinks that include milk also include a latte art option before you serve them. Even with just a few options – such as the direction of pouring the milk and then etching through it – there have been some really original creations. Not any of mine mind you, but those that have had access to the demo on Xbox One and Steam have posted their works on Twitter and have created some really cool designs.
Coffee Talk takes its inspirations from all sorts of places: Romeo & Juliet, True Blood, Haruki Murakami and Morrisey are just some of the more obvious points. But it isn’t afraid to poke at issues very real in the 21st Century either; things such as racism, overpopulation, the use of plastics, videogame development crunch and war veteran PTSD. Such is the breadth of topics on offer here, players will find more than one thing to relate to.
Replayability is also essential and, as alluded to in the game’s epilogue, there will be something minute that will be missed that could completely change your whole outlook on the game. This epilogue is a tiny detail but really entices you back to the coffee shop for a second playthrough.
There are 24 achievements in total to unlock, but they aren’t as straightforward as other traditional visual novels. There are missable achievements for completing character arcs, and some are tied to the endless mode, so reading up on your ingredient combinations beforehand is a prerequisite. Some will unlock during normal gameplay including one called ‘Achievement Unlocked!’ which is earned when one of the characters exclaims “Achievement Unlocked!” in joy at the sound of some good news.
The initial synopsis for Coffee Talk on the Xbox One of coffee, gorgeous pixel art and lo-fi beats immediately put this on my radar, and hopefully this review puts it on your radar too. Visual novels aren’t for everyone, but after playing this I am intrigued to explore the genre a bit more. It is an early contender for Indie Game of the Year – it is such a joyous game. It does a fantastic job putting you in the shoes of a barista/agony aunt and there must be some sort of witchcraft that goes on because the responses you see on screen are exactly the responses I would have given in that situation. I only wish for a sequel quickly so I can see how my friends Freya, Gala, Lua and Neil are getting along.