Impressions: Coffee Talk

Coffee Talk is an indie game that came out in early 2020. It is set in an alternate universe, one where humans are not the only race. There are elves, orcs, sea creatures, and all manner of different fantasy races. You play the role of a barista who runs a coffee shop that is only open late at night. The reoccurring theme that is brought up is that the barista does not run the shop for money, but rather to meet people and hear their stories.

Gameplay is rather simple. It is a visual novel, so for most of it, you will just be reading dialogue either by listening in on customers’ conversations or actively participating in them with them. The only real “gameplay” is making coffee or other hot beverages for people. They will order and either tell you specifically what they want or ask for you to give them various blends that you can experiment with. How well you do with serving them what they want determines some gameplay aspects. Serve the wrong thing, and you might miss dialogue or other important things unfolding.

Really this game is focused on the characters and stories; you only have a few drinks you have to serve each day, so it’s really just a visual novel with some slight break up to it.

The characters are diverse and interesting. The main customer is a writer named Freya, who is attempting to finish her first pitch for a novel. She is using the coffee shop and the various stories that have unfolded as her inspiration. You also have a couple who are of different races and struggling because their parents don’t want them to be together. The unlikely friendship of a werewolf and vampire. A shy ocean-type girl that bonds with a bold but closed-off orc. Different things like this that are really well written and compelling to watch play out.

My only issue is that there are no dialogue options in this game. As I said, the only way that you can influence the way the story develops is through the drinks themselves. It is rather linear for a visual novel, a genre that is already pretty limited as is.

It makes sense because it becomes more clear that the barista, while wanting to tip the scales one way or another a bit, mostly wants things to play out. So having that same character offer advice – such as telling one character he needs to be more honest with his daughter, an extreme source of frustration that I couldn’t – wouldn’t entirely fit the flow of the game. Still, it’s hard to get used to a visual novel that doesn’t allow any real choice, just “you pass or fail making drinks.”

That being said, as much as I complain about that aspect being missing, the stories and characters are worthwhile enough that it was still enjoyable to play. While I might have felt it was lacking just a touch, I didn’t mind because the story was good, and I was invested in seeing how things played out. Although I will admit, I did end up looking up a lot of the recipes because I was less compelled to do multiple playthroughs. Take that for what you will.

There is also an endless mode, either just free mode to experiment with different blends, or challenge. In challenge, you have a time limit, and each correct order made gives you more time, and incorrect ones take it away. It was pretty fun, and the most “game” this game gets, but pretty challenging (heh) as a lot of the orders are simply “I want more of this flavor and less of this,” and there are a LOT of blends.

There is also a bit of twist that I did not expect in the game, but will avoid going into too much detail to avoid spoilers. However, I have a few floating theories about the barista’s relationship with a character called “Neil” and how it impacts the world. I will say this, it does mention the idea of different timelines, and I thought it was a bit of a nod at the idea of visual novel players playing the same game multiple times to change outcomes or with already having knowledge. I don’t know if it was intentional, but it was something I thought of. My other theories cannot be said in a way that won’t spoil things.

Aside from enjoyable characters and stories, another appealing part of the game is the general “vibe” of it. If you are familiar at all with lo-fi and the various Youtube “music to do x to” (study, sleep, etc.) you will know exactly what I mean. The art is inspired by the same backgrounds those channels use, the music is very laid back, and in the background it is always raining. The overall feeling is rather nice and fits in well with those types of channels. The game even makes reference to it in one of the achievements, which has the description of “24/7 a beat to relax/study to.” It is an enjoyable atmosphere, and while for some might have made more sense two years ago, for me, I still very much enjoy it.

So bottom line? It really and truly depends on if you like visual novels or not. There is very little “game” here and more animated storytelling with you as a slightly more active participant. Outside of endless mode, you make about three drinks a day, and that is pretty much it. Still, if you love compelling stories and characters, and using games as the medium rather than, say, a book, then you should enjoy this. It’s got a great atmosphere, good stories, and is easy to get invested in seeing everything play out. I am sad it took me a while to get to it but so glad that I finally did.

Spoilers!!

Okay, I have to get this off my chest, but don’t read until you’ve played the game.

So I was really interested in the broader ending with “Neil” and how that all played out. I’ve come to the conclusion that it implies three possible things. One, the barista is sent to Earth with the mission to ensure that Neil is successful. Two, the barista is the product of Neil’s mission being successful. Three, there is a constant time loop that makes both one and two true. That the barista has to be there to help Neil so Neil can succeed, thus the birth of the barista who then, you get the loop. The line “I had to make sure I was here” really heavily implies to me that it’s more than just the barista being a passive participant in helping Neil succeed, but rather that they are the one that Neil has to make sure is born. I am really curious what others think about this, or if they have a theory outside of my three.

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