Somewhere between fantasy and reality lies Coffee Talk, a barista-themed visual novel that feels like the D&D playing hipster cousin of 2019’s VA-11 HALL-A. Marrying the mundane with the mystical, this heart-to-heart conversation simulator places you as the owner and operator of the eponymous night spot in an alternative future Seattle, serving up drinks and lending a sympathetic ear to a troubled cast of vampires, mermaids and other fantastical beings.
I began the new year vowing I would venture out of my comfort zone to play more games that I would usually let pass me by. Coffee Talk then is the perfect libation for this resolution; its endearing cast of characters, charming art style, soothing lo-fi soundtrack and equally placid gameplay make it a uniquely calming and compelling experience.
Over the course of 14 days you grow to know your patrons, punctuating each conversation with some casual coffee craft to ease their woes. With the onus on narrative inherent to visual novels, Coffee Talk excels in its storytelling, crafting a series of threads that interweave and entrance. Aspiring novelist Freya, budding game developer Aqua and troubled lovers Lua and Baileys, among others, frequent your shop, divulging their troubles and forming connections, both to you and one another.
Using its fiction as a frame for the real world, Coffee Talk broaches topics of racial segregation, the trials of being a young woman in the music industry and even crunch culture in game development. Sadly, these issues are treated with little reverence, their inclusion feeling more intent on fulfilling a checklist of contemporary issues than addressing them with any sincere criticism. While the game’s writing can be a little heavy-handed in both its flow and its superficial handling of these subject matters, it equally succeeds in cultivating vivid characters, each with a distinct personality, history and purpose, that you cannot help but invest in.
Forgoing traditional dialogue options, Coffee Talk provides you with a unique means of agency in its drink preparation mechanic. Consisting of a base, primary and secondary ingredient, each of which contributes to the overall warmth, coolness, sweetness and bitterness of the drink, this system is simple yet nuanced. Beginning with minimal ingredients and simple orders like Espressos and Lattes, recipe combinations become increasingly nuanced with everything from Teh Tarik and Masala Chai to elaborate creations with names like Midsummer Night’s Dream and Milky Way.
Each drink you serve has a subtle influence on each character’s narrative path, and deciphering what they desire, or more importantly require, can mean the difference between success and failure in their ultimate fate. Aiding you in this endeavour is your Brewpad; a catalogue of discovered recipes that proves an invaluable point of reference, allowing you to become increasingly adept at fulfilling your customer’s wishes. With such a covert choice mechanic, knowing how your actions steer the story can be unclear thus making attaining the game’s ‘true’ ending a rather tedious and elusive task only possible for those that take the time to complete their Brewpad.
In your ever-ambitious beverage brewing, experimentation is encouraged. While the trial and error nature of discovering new recipes can be frustrating, both the process of methodically combining ingredients and the gratification of a successful serve is consistently rewarding, a sensation that is only amplified by the completely superfluous but utterly mesmeric option to create latte art. The 5-6 hour story is fleshed out with Free Brew mode which provides a pressure-free environment to trial recipe ideas, and Challenge Mode which puts your barista chops to the test in a timed gauntlet of increasingly abstract orders.
Coffee Talk’s works best as a means of catharsis. Its engrossing world-building, charming art style, lo-fi soundtrack and meditative gameplay coalesce to conjure an intoxicating sense of calm. For those seeking complex social commentary and meaningful dialogue decisions, Coffee Talk may disappoint, but come expecting pulpy drama, an endearing cast of characters and simple but satisfying gameplay and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Coffee Talk PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7.5/10
Coffee Talk, as its name suggests, is a game about making coffee and talking, that excels at the former yet stumbles slightly with the latter. Unique ‘coffee crafting’ gameplay, an endearing cast, compelling world-building and strong audio/visual design make this a captivating, comforting experience, let down only by inconsistent writing and some frustrating trial and error.
- An endearing cast of characters with compelling stories to tell.
- Gorgeous art design and a soothing lo-fi soundtrack.
- Gameplay that is simple, satisfying and unique.
- Inconsistent writing that clumsily attempts to address real-world topics.
- Discovering both recipes and how to positively influence the narrative can lead to some frustrating trial and error.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.