Coffee Talk Review - Fantasy People, Real Problems

Coffee Talk

For many, video games are a form of escape. They’re a way to get out of your own head, immerse yourself in someone else’s world, and distance yourself from the problems in your own life. When you’ve played as many games as I have, it’s hard to find a lot of experiences that have that kind of effect.

Coffee Talk, a narrative simulator out now on the PlayStation, Microsoft, and Nintendo eShop, tasks you with running a coffee and tea shop in modern day Seattle. The twist? Your clientele includes the likes of orcs, elves, vampires, and werewolves. Does this fantasy world offer a place to escape and relax, or should you stick to your normal coffee shop? Let’s find out.

A Great Coffee Shop, but Does it Have WiFi?

To those who play their fare share of visual novels and narrative-focused games, Coffee Talk may resemble a certain game on PS4 that uses a similar premise, albeit with a vastly different setting. I’m of course referring to VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action.

Now, those who read my reviews know I don’t like to compare games when I can help it (unless they’re from the same developer), but since these two are so similar I’ll just say that if you liked one, you’ll like the other. While both feature a sort of hospitality role (serving drinks to customers), that’s where the similarities end for the most part.

As many have echoed on the internet, I would love to see more of these types of games in new and interesting settings. Comparisons aside, Coffee Talk places you in the role of a coffee and tea shop owner in the city of Seattle.

It’s 2020 and people live alongside fantasy creatures like werewolves, vampires, and elves. Despite this, things are pretty familiar. Racism still exists, artists still wrestle with their craft, and game developers still crunch to meet nigh-impossible deadlines. It’s a world very similar to our own, despite the introduction of fantasy elements.

Your shop, which is literally called “Coffee Talk” is a refuge from all of this. A quiet, peaceful, warm, and inviting place to step outside of it all and enjoy a hot beverage to soothe your soul. At the beginning of the game, you’ll name your Barista and then it’s off to the races.

Story is the main focus of Coffee Talk, so those who enjoy visual novels and similar narrative simulators will feel right at home here. Right off the bat, characters like Freya, Lua, Baileys, Hyde, and Gala immediately feel interesting and unique.

Their specific races do come into play, such as the divide between Lua and Bailey’s over their families who don’t approve of their relationship. In this case, it’s because one is a succubus and one is an elf. However, their problems go deeper than that, often into separate issues and very human problems.

Each character in Coffee Talk has their own arc that progresses over the course of numerous days in the shop. There is some player agency here is the sense that the drinks you serve them will affect the endings you receive.

The game has a respectable cast, all of whom are interesting, but some arcs fared better than others for me. While I was able to connect pretty well with Lua and Bailey’s arc, for example, another story involving a performer and her protective father was less impactful for me, mostly because I felt like the story never really dipped beneath a surface-level look at the issue it was tackling.

This is something that permeates Coffee Talk’s story, which ended a little too soon for me. It seems like the game has incredible ambitions for the topics it wants to discuss. Each character touches upon their own unique problems (rightfully so), but even the newspapers at the beginning of each day hint at other relatable issues happening in the world outside the shop.

Now, I will say that I liked how the coffee shop itself was an enclave away from the larger problems of the real world, but I think it would have been beneficial to perhaps focus on less characters and deeper stories, though I can think of only one or two characters I would cut, and even that would be difficult.

All of the stories Coffee Talk has to tell are incredibly interesting, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I marathoned the game over the course of two nights until I was done because I simply wanted to exist in its world and live alongside its characters, but even the game seems to know that it’s going to leave people wanting more (if the trophy you get at the end of your first playthrough is any indication).

The endings I got for each of the characters were satisfying, and it was clear I had room to improve at least one of them. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the game leaves you with an incentive to play again, though I have yet to see what this yields, but I do plan on playing through again to get the best endings for everyone.

Even if you never touch the main story more than once (you will), the game actually offers an endless mode as well where you must prepare drinks in succession and accurately choose your recipes. It’s a small, but appreciated mode that even has its own trophies attached to it.

Speaking of mixing drinks, let’s talk about the gameplay in between all of these stories.

Recipes Galore, but You’ll Need to Discover Them Yourself

Coffee Talk

While the vast majority of the handful of hours you’ll spend in your first playthrough of Coffee Talk is conversation where you simply enjoy the story, there are moments where you’ll need to make your patrons their drinks.

Sometimes you’ll get a specific name, and other times you’ll get a list of ingredients. In both cases, you may not know exactly how to make what they want. For example, if someone says they want hot chocolate with milk and ginger, you don’t know if ginger should be the primary ingredient, or the secondary one.

To an extent, you can interpret this from the order they say it in, but when it comes to recipes, your book is empty until you discover them. This caught me off-guard at first. You’ll always need to choose a base, and then primary and secondary ingredients.

When someone first asked me for a Masala Chai I looked at them like they were speaking a different language. My recipe app wasn’t any help, so I used my real life phone to look up the recipe for one in real life. Funny enough, this actually helped me discover the right order of ingredients in Coffee Talk.

It was a cool moment, and I like the challenge of figuring out recipes for yourself, but you can only trash five drinks per night, so there’s not a ton of room for error, and you won’t know what the drink is called until it’s made.

I think an in-game system for hints or possibly the ability to see what a drink will be called before it’s made would have been beneficial, but since you can unlock the recipes in Endless mode, some will argue that you could simply do that first or look them up prior to your playthrough.

While I am of two minds on the issue, the drink recipes do add a certain puzzle element to the proceedings that overall I enjoyed. On top of everything, you can also add latte art to any of the drinks you serve with milk elements.

It’s a responsive mechanic that works well, but I wasn’t able to make nearly as much art as some of the other ones I’ve seen online. Clearly the tools work well, though, as a quick look at the Coffee Talk Twitter shows plenty of examples.

While gameplay does take a backseat to story in games like these, Coffee Talk adds its own flair to the drink mixing concept and offers a fun distraction in the form of the optional latte art.

Gorgeous Art and Music Full of Subtle Details

Coffee Talk

Coffee Talk has an absolutely wonderful art style that grew on me more and more and the game went on. Character portraits are all unique and full of personality. Their animations, while limited, offer several types of emotion that convey everything from laughter, to fear, to sadness and exhaustion in compelling ways.

It’s the details that really got me, though. Your view of the shop includes a window into the outside world, for example. You can often seen rain coming down outside as silhouettes of pedestrians pass through your vision. Some carry umbrellas, others wear coats and hats, and plenty of them feature pointed ears of even tails.

Combine this with a pitch-perfect soundtrack full of lo-fi beats and ambient tracks, and you have an atmosphere more rich and inviting than the drinks you serve in the game. Thought it left me wanting more, Coffee Talk grabbed my attention and didn’t let go until the credits rolled. Even then, it left me with a desire to start again and chase that perfect ending.

Here’s hoping one day a sequel will allow me to return to this weird and wonderful coffee shop. I would come back in a heartbeat.

Final Score: 8.5/10

A copy of Coffee Talk was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.

Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 1/29/2020

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