Lately, I’ve been seeing some buzz about a new game called Coffee Talk, a barista simulator in which most of the gameplay entails talking to your patrons and making them coffee. As a lover of after-hours coffee taken with a side of chit-chat, I wanted to see what Coffee Talk is all about, so I bought it on sale on Steam for about 330 pesos, and gave it a go.
Coffee Talk, from developers Toge Productions, is described on its official site as “a game about listening to people’s problems and help [sic] them by serving a warm drink out of the ingredients you have. It is a game that tries to depict our lives as humanly as possible while having a cast that is more than just humans.”
Most of Coffee Talk’s storytelling relies heavily on its setting. Your coffee shop is located in a fictionalized version of Seattle in 2020, where fantasy species and races coexist. You’ll have human customers, but you’ll also be serving tea and coffee to vampires, succubi, and elves to name a few.
As you serve your customers warm drinks, you join in on their conversation and hear about what they’re going through on that day. Your customers might have superhuman problems, but the ways they deal with them are decidedly human: an elf and succubus couple whose parents disapprove of their relationship end up arguing at your coffee shop; a vampire and a lycan talk about needing synthetic blood and calming medicine to stave off their need to drink real blood and turn into a werewolf once a month, respectively. The game is a fascinating take on fantasy creatures, having them sit together at a coffee shop for chit-chat instead of pitting them against each other in big armies across fantastical landscapes.
In Coffee Talk, you form friendships with your regulars as they visit your shop and order their usual drinks. You can check the progress of your friendship with your regulars through an app on your smartphone called Tomodachill, a fictionalized version of Facebook. As you find out more about your regulars, more information is revealed on their Tomodachill profile.
Your smartphone also contains a newspaper app for reading on current events, the Brewpad app for checking your drink recipes, and the Shuffld app, where you can choose the music you want to play in your coffee shop. While you don’t need to check on these apps often throughout the game, they provide you with small details that help in the game’s worldbuilding.
The premise and setting of Coffee Talk are bound to draw comparisons to VA11-HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action, in which you play as a bartender, mixing drinks for your patrons of varying species while hearing out what they have to say, but Coffee Talk has much less alcohol and much simpler gameplay.
Each warm beverage you make consists of only three ingredients, and you only need to get them in the right order to make a specific drink. You choose your base, your primary ingredient, then your secondary ingredient. Customers will also sometimes request latte art on their drink, and you don’t have to worry about being bad at it because they’ll never complain about it.
The story mode demands minimal effort when it comes to serving your customers their orders, so if you ever want to challenge your barista skills, there’s also an “Endless” mode, a time challenge in which customers just keep coming to your shop with specific orders; if you give them the right drink, your base timer of one minute and thirty seconds gets increased by a few more seconds. You can keep going until your timer runs out.
The way Coffee Talk’s story progresses can make it feel like a linear, predetermined plot. You don’t get dialogue choices, and you can’t choose which customers to entertain and which to ignore. Despite what it seems, the game actually does have branching paths, and it all depends on how well you treat your customers and how well you make their drinks.
Some customers will come in asking for “a drink that’s not too sweet” or “anything bitter with a little milk,” and it’s up to you to figure out which drink to make them. The story’s direction can change depending on whether you get their drink right or not.
All in all, my first impression of Coffee Talk is a good one. It’s reminiscent of games like VA11-HALL-A and Papers, Please, where a menial task is made the central gameplay element, serving as the foundation for deeper dialogue and worldbuilding. Coffee Talk demands very little effort to play, and there isn’t even a time limit when making your customers drinks. Your most important task is to simply listen to your customers. It’s a bit like being Master from Netflix’s Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.
The best way to play Coffee Talk is to play it slowly. When you get home from a long day at school or at work, and you’re in no mood to play anything too strenuous, you can boot up Coffee Talk and simply have a conversation with your regulars. With some lo-fi chill-hop beats to relax/study to already in the game’s soundtrack, you can make yourself a cup of coffee, sit back, and relax as Freya tells you all about her plan to write a novel. That’s after you make her some coffee too, of course.
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