From the image of meeting up with a friend in a bustling local café to the idea of sitting alone with a warm drink to escape a rainy day, there’s something profoundly special about coffee shops. They’re both incredibly personal and incredibly personable spaces, and Toge Productions’ Coffee Talk strikes this balance effortlessly to create a gaming experience that can soothe you even after the most stressful day – like a good cup of tea.
Coffee Talk invites you into a fantastical version of Seattle where you play as an unseen barista and, quite literally, make coffee and talk. The café, the titular ‘Coffee Talk’, opens only in the evenings for night owls and those people not quite ready to head home, immediately underscoring the mellow vibes that are core to this game. While on your first night playing you meet Freya, a writer who visits the shop most nights to work on her novel inspired by the shop’s unique patrons, the customers you meet come and go unpredictably. Whether you spend your shift serving chai to a nekomimi or spend it discovering the perfect drink to calm a werewolf on during a full moon, is impossible to tell.
The cast of characters is restrained, but broad enough to allow for some really interesting, and sometimes topical, stories. Some enter alone, some with loved ones, and connections between these characters start to form as the story progresses. As patrons move from strangers to regulars (nicely supported by the social networking app Tomadachill, one of the four apps on your character’s smartphone, which provides you with more information about your customers as your relationships develop), you’re invited to listen in on their conversations and occasionally share your own wisdom.
Of course, your involvement in the conversations throughout Coffee Talk is predetermined. As a player, you are relatively removed from the actual narratives that take place within the café. Your dialogue is pre-written and pre-chosen, detaching you from active participation. It is a passive playstyle that is typical of visual novels, but when supported by a dedication towards creating an incredibly chill atmosphere, it never feels like you’re disconnected from what’s going on. Rather, it recreates that coffee shop experience where any stranger can become a friend.
There’s something incredibly charming about the fantasy of Coffee Talk. It creates a balance of familiarity and distance, allowing the space for some interesting stories. In one, a succubus and her elven boyfriend argue over the differences between their families’ cultures, while in another, an alien shares their difficulties understanding the often contradictory ways of Earth. These plots would work without the genre elements, but are elevated to another level by them. Alongside the understated pixel art style and soothing lo-fi soundtrack, the fantastical only furthers the comfort of this game. And the vibes? Impeccable.
While listening to people’s problems is the crux of this game, Coffee Talk lets you try your hand at brewing your own drinks based on the customer’s order. This is the only active element of the game and, though there aren’t consequences to messing up an order (besides a few easter egg moments), it is surprisingly satisfying. Each drink is made up of three components; a base, primary, and secondary ingredient. Mixing these in different orders and to different amounts can lead to new creations – many of which you’ll end up wanting to try yourself.
A nice touch to this brewing mechanic is the option of adding ‘latte art’ to whatever drink you’re serving. This is definitely a challenge, the controls doing their best to mimic the actual processes of pouring and etching to manipulate the flow of the drink to make pretty art. In fact, it was a part of the game that I was notoriously bad at so chose to give up on. But the game never penalised me for that, underlining its own mellowness by giving you the freedom to personalise how you want to play despite the limited amount of active elements.
Coffee Talk is the best game that I never wanted to finish. I spent a year dropping into that café to meet up with my regulars and I could have spent another year doing the very same. Simple, sentimental, and wondrously chill, this is a must play. Just make sure you have a coffee to hand, you’ll be craving one.
Tested on Nintendo Switch
Also available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Developer Toge Productions
Publisher Toge Productions