Video games have a wonderful flexibility between involved gameplay to quietly living out a different life entirely. Take the indie darling Stardew Valley versus the widespread phenomenon of Call of Duty; both include involved gameplay, but each differs in genre and interactivity. But some games treat their story first and front, injecting less gameplay with more focus on story for a “visual novel.” As the genre states, it’s an interactive novel with minor gameplay elements, ranging from little to heavily involved. After all, what else are video games but interactive stories?
Coffee Talk, developed and published by Toge Production, is a visual novel game. You play through the story of your custom-named Barista/owner of Coffee Talk, a late-night coffee and tea bar in an alternate universe in Seattle, Washington. Every fantasy trope is real in this America: Elves, Succubi, Orcs, and more are real and have their own lives, jobs, and problems. As you work through each night, you become invested with each character’s story and see them grow from their lowest points.
The gameplay is simple yet challenging in experimentation. All you do is make drinks per order of customers. Each one of your hot drinks starts with combinations in threes: A base, a primary ingredient, and a secondary ingredient. If you put in three cocoa beans, you make hot chocolate, three coffee makes espresso, or mix and match ingredients like ginger, lemon, and tea to make specialty drinks like Cough Syrup. There is no real need to remember your concoctions as all the recipes you make get recorded on your phone for easy access; your phone also acts as your music player, your news source, and your social media for characters. If you make a mistake, you can reset your combination on the coffee machine or throw the drink away at the last minute. However, at some points you will need to remember the usuals for returning customers or even a drink that can act as a plot point, not to give spoilers.
Speaking of threes, Coffee Talk has a challenge mode and a free brew mode. Right off the bat, use free brew mode as your drink combination platform to unlock all the brews you can. It saves you all the hassle instead of unlocking things on the fly in story mode. As for Challenge mode, it is a rush to make as many correct drinks as possible. While the challenge mode is only good for the achievements, it does add a layer of “action” onto this very laid-back game. Achievements can be easily unlocked if you spend 5-10+ hours completing the story and working through Challenge mode, with some minor secret achievements.
What really matters here is the story. As the Barista of Coffee Talk, you act as the neutral party as you witness heartbreak, loss, joy, and even familial turmoil as you serve coffee drinks and interact with the customers. I can’t tell you how much it makes my heart leap to reset a save file and to meet all the characters again like I met them the first time.
The soundtrack is pure lo-fi beats to study or drink something hot to. As soon as you pop in Coffee Talk, your ears are engulfed in calm beats that are enticing to listen to as well as adds this semi-dramatic theme to this alternate Seattle. It’s dark, but it isn’t depressing. It’s calm but you feel like a storm could happen at any moment. Such as it is with life, it’s a curated soundtrack made by composer Andrew Jeremy.
The flaws for this game may be that it is a very niche market to get into; apart from the aggravations of doing latte art - it’s just as hard to make great art as it is to get foam, trust me- the story can meander from time to time and it really acts as a slow burn with minor distractions. But, if you give it some time, it flourishes into a wonderful story with a beginning and end with a secret ending for those itching to get the whole story.
Coffee Talk is an underrated game changer. If it’s your first foray into the visual novel genre, I would suggest Coffee Talk as your first book in your game library. Not only is it the best jump into the genre but all in all, it's a great game to have with a fantastic community attached to it.
Coffee Talk is rated T for Teen and available for all consoles. It’s priced at 12.99 retail.