I want to talk about this coffee!
Coffee Talk is a narrative-focused adventure game from Toge Productions, an Indonesia-based studio. It will be instantly familiar to those who have played VA-11 Hall-A, which released on Switch last spring. Rather than a bartender, though, in Coffee Talk you play as a barista who owns their own cafe in Seattle. Taking place in 2020, the story is set on earth but this version features fantasy creatures like orcs, elves, and werewolves as part of the everyday citizenry. Is this caffeine-slinging sim worth the price of a couple fancy lattes?
You name your character upfront and jump right into this not-quite-real version of Seattle. The narrative plays out across 14 in-game days, each functioning like a vignette that provides a glimpse into the lives of your customers. One constant is fledgling author Freya, a rambunctious and talkative young woman who is struggling to juggle her day job with her dream of writing a full-length book. It turns out that the subject of Freya’s book is Coffee Talk—the name of the establishment—and its varied clientele. Without a doubt, the overall story and the characters you serve are vivid and interesting; it’s easy to become invested in their lives and relationships.
In addition to scrolling through text, gameplay involves putting three different ingredients together to produce the hot beverages that are ordered. There’s a element of discovery to the non-alcoholic mixology you perform as you’re armed with a guide that shows and records the recipes for different drinks. It starts out mostly empty, but fills up each time you concoct a new drink, like the Masala Chai, which consists of tea, ginger, and cinnamon. One fun and potentially frustrating element to this system is that you will sometimes be asked to make a beverage for which you don’t know the recipe and then be offered little to no hints about how to make it. How often do you go to Starbucks and order an STMJ? I, for one, had never heard of the drink. You do have five tries before you just have to give the customer whatever you’ve made, but it seems like you can’t see all of the game’s story beats without discovering exactly how to satisfy every order you receive.
The presentation involves the type of lo-fi music that’s perfect for chilling out and indulging in your favourite cup of something, and the soundtrack loops through about 10 songs that all fit the atmosphere of the experience to a “tea.” There isn’t a ton of variety to the pixel art visuals since most of the scenes take place in the coffee shop, but the anime-inspired characters have wonderfully unique designs that complement their different personalities. Aqua is a shy and timid mermaid who is trying her hand at game design, while Neil is an alien from outer space who is never seen without his signature NASA uniform; the cast are incredibly likeable and add much to the experience.
Story-heavy titles like Coffee Talk survive on the strength of their narrative and characters, and it’s safe to say that both of those elements are as fresh and satisfying as that first sip of coffee in the morning. Filling out the backstory of each character by correctly fulfilling their orders adds a neat incentive to return to previous days on the calendar, but it would have been nice to see an indication of which orders you messed up on as that would make fully completing the game an easier task. Although the drink-creation mini-game isn’t anything special, filling out the Brewpad document with new recipes as you craft them is enjoyable and adds to the immersion of running a cafe. If you’re looking to curl up on the couch with a warm drink, Coffee Talk can set the mood and help you pass a few wonderful hours until closing time.