Sometimes, we all need to sit back in a relaxing space with a warm drink and gentle music to help soothe our souls. You know the type of place I’m referring to: a hideaway with many caffeinated and decaf options on the menu, open at odd hours of the day and night. Coffee Talk allows you to see the inner workings of such establishments and dive deeper into the lives of the eclectic mix of customers who frequent them daily.
The year is 2020, and you’re playing as the owner/barista of the aptly named Coffee Talk, a café in rainy Seattle that remains open into the odd hours of the evening. Unfortunately, Freya, one of your regulars, has dug herself into a hole. She has two weeks to develop a novel to present to a prospective publisher. Then, inspiration strikes as she eventually latches on to the idea of using the stories of the customers who frequent her favorite coffee haunt for her book, starting the game’s two-week timeframe as you provide caffeinated goodness and a sympathetic ear to your patrons.
The Seattle of Coffee Talk is similar to our own, albeit slightly altered. It’s an Earth where fantasy and supernatural entities live side by side with regular humans, the apparent differences amongst the various peoples creating the all-too-familiar prejudices and disparities seen in our world. For example, Lua and Baileys are, respectively, succubus and elf, involved in a strained romantic relationship because neither of their families approves. Given stereotyping, werewolf veterans have a hard time finding work outside of specific fields. The medical suppressants they rely on when entering their Fury state get scrutinized for being unsafe and hard to obtain in certain economic brackets. Vampires who try synthetic blood are going vegan, and a pop idol who can change into a cat is arguing with her overprotective father about going solo. It’s a clever concept, the fantastical tinged with a sense of realism, making the characters come across as human despite their otherworldly origins. Co-creator and writer Mohammad Fahmi Hasni, who tragically passed away on March 28th, 2022, did a phenomenal job in storytelling for Coffee Talk.
The core group of Coffee Talk’s regulars is the narrative’s heart and soul. First, there’s observant Freya and friendly police officer Jorji. You also have Lua and Baileys’ genuine journey to see where their relationship goes. Then you have Hyde, a vampire model with a sharp tongue who is friends with the gentle werewolf hospital administrator Gala. Myrtle is a half-orc involved in big-time game development, while shy sea monster Aqua is slowly maneuvering her way through the indie scene. Rachel is a pop star trying to launch her solo career while frustrated by her paranoid father Hendry’s worry. And then there’s Neil, who came from somewhere very far away on an interplanetary mission of grave importance for the Earth. Despite their paranormal leanings, the characters are all believably and realistically written, and you can’t help but root for them. Two of my favorites are timid Aqua and kindhearted Gala, but they all have excellent establishing moments. The interactions the cast has with one another, and the relationships developing in the story as a result, are genuinely heartfelt.
Coffee Talk itself is a relaxing game built around a slice-of-life plot. Each new day in the game’s world, customers come into the cafe requesting a drink from the barista before sharing what is going on in their lives for others to offer their input. You can access online friends’ information to help monitor how close you’re growing to your regulars, read short stories written by Freya, pick different music to listen to, and peruse known drinks you can feasibly create. Drink-making is the crux of Coffee Talk’s gameplay. You get a list of ingredients and can add three of them together to make a drink. Based upon what customers request, you must also consider attributes such as how warm, sweet, or bitter a drink is. When the ingredients mix to your satisfaction, you brew the drink before finding out the result. You can opt to trash a drink and start the creation process over if it is not to your liking. You can even create latte art for certain beverages, though my attempts were laughable at best! Presenting the drink to your customer and gauging their reaction is the only way to honestly tell if you got it “right” or not.
Getting drink orders right increases your friendship levels with a customer, granting you access to more of their story scenes. Truthfully, there is no real penalty in place if you don’t happen to create the perfect drink order, and there are multiple chances to try and get orders right the next time a patron comes in, so it doesn’t become an issue either way. Coffee Talk is a relaxing and forgiving gaming experience. I could have been better at getting orders right, even getting a slight variation in Freya’s ending. Still, since the game encourages you to play certain days over again to unlock the whole story, I saw her second variation without any trouble whatsoever. The game also wants you to be confident in experimenting! Once you create a unique drink, it’s written down for future reference in your brew pad for easy review.
Coffee Talk’s relaxing atmosphere and gameplay chain seep into its excellent and error-free script and the soothing lofi and jazzy undertones of its soundtrack. I could easily picture the OST as the background noise in a downtown cafe one might visit. Sound effects fit remarkably well for the atmosphere. From the gentle clanging of cups to the rain pattering on the roof overhead to Aqua’s squelchy footsteps compared to the other customers’ dryer ones: it all comes together beautifully to help paint the quiet, rain-soaked late-night picture. Coffee Talk’s art direction and graphics are also lovely, helping draw you into its charming world. The sprite work is detailed, expressive, colorful, and gorgeous! I especially love how close-ups of their faces accentuate more intense confrontations between characters. The coffee shop-related graphics are also very fitting and accurate for the game’s setting.
I’m hard-pressed to say much negative about Coffee Talk, given the pleasant overall playing experience. However, you might want a guide if you want to get the drinks correct immediately because the ingredient order to obtain specific drink results can be quite random. As a result, drink hints can be pretty vague, not to mention you only have five “trash it and start over” options given to you each game day. Still, since there isn’t a massive penalty for potentially getting a drink order wrong, that isn’t a dire game issue, either. Some might find the more low-key stakes at play boring since Coffee Talk is about people going about their daily lives, but I find that to be part of the game’s clever charm.
Coffee Talk is a pleasingly creative game with a lot of heart and hidden depth. During my playthrough, I felt like I was curling up with a good book under a blanket, sipping a warm beverage. Every once in a while, we could all do with that relaxing way to pass the time. While I was regrettably late in playing this delightful title, I’m eager to give Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly an earlier try! After all, if it is anything like its predecessor, it’ll be a title to talk about with a warm cup of coffee close at hand.