There's a certain atmosphere that a coffee house has that you just can't get anywhere else. Moreover, I don't think I had ever come across a video game that immaculately re-created such a feel. That was, until I played Coffee Talk.
Coffee Talk is Toge Productions' latest project that dropped on January 29th 2020. It is a heart-to-heart, slice-of-life talking simulator where you are a barista that listens to other people talk about their lives and problems. It’s simple: you make the drinks, and they start the night’s conversation. Your coffee shop is the only one that is open at the dead of night, so it’s full of regulars and never gets too busy. It’s perfect for when you want get caught up in an immersive experience that makes you feel completely relaxed. I know it had that effect on me. It also made me go downstairs and make myself a coffee. The coffee shop vibes in Coffee Talk are just that strong.
I already knew going into Coffee Talk that I was going to come away from it feeling very relaxed. It's set in a coffee shop, after all – that's the least you can expect. My assumptions were proven correct the moment I opened it, since the first thing that hit me were is its good vibes; specifically with the music. The soundtrack of Coffee Talk is lo-fi and jazzhop inspired, which is what I wish every coffee shop in real life would play as opposed to radio and chart music with the occasional bossa nova tune. The beats give Coffee Talk a timeless feel, despite the game being set in 2020. Combined with the coffee shop’s interior décor, and the fact that Freya is the first person we meet, the mellow, lo-fi beats give the coffee shop a classic Seattle feel – for a place that opens with the sun goes down. Freya and the coffee shop emit hipster-like energies, from Freya’s bright green short hair and overall fashion sense to the brick wall and dim lights of the coffee shop that vaguely reminds me of Friends' Central Perk. All of this in addition to the polished pixel art graphics and the rain effects makes for a successful recipe for a chill and charming video game experience. In my eyes, Toge has crafted the perfect coffee shop simulation with Coffee Talk.
While Coffee Talk is set in 2020, it’s not completely the same as our real world. There’s a slight twist. Interestingly enough, in this world humans live among other species, like vampires, werewolves, orcs and elves. That’s the only difference though. These characters still face the same problems we do, like relationship issues, family disagreements, racism among the species and the difficulties of working life. You, the barista, watch as these characters undergo challenges, day after day, and come out the other side as more developed characters. You witness arguments, watch friendships grow, listen to their problems and give advice accordingly. You’re not exactly a bystander, but you’re not solely responsible for any sort of resolutions either. Everyone has their own lives, and the coffee shop is just one part of it.
As you can probably tell, Coffee Talk is really relaxing, and the gameplay is no exception either. All you need to do is choose your ingredients and press "brew." After that, the technicalities of the drink-making process are done for you in a short cutscene. All you need to do is hit that "serve" button once its done. That is, unless you’ve made a latte. Then you have the option to draw on your own latte art, which I thought was a great touch. Sure, I’m not good at it. It’s just fun. It gives a certain amount of freedom to the player, and since Coffee Talk is heavily driven by narrative, the latte art feature allows the player to slightly deviate away from that, even if it’s only for a short while. It also adds to the immersive nature of the game. You really feel as if you are the barista and that you are making coffee for your friends and clients. After all, you already get to name the barista at the beginning of the game, so being able to draw the art on really helps the player to get into character. After figuring out that I could use the touchscreen capabilities of the Nintendo Switch to play, my latte art went up to the next level. Well, not really. It just felt like it.
As someone who is interested in coffee, I appreciated that the in-between loading screens are different types of drinks describing their effects and origins. It gave me flashbacks to how you can make coffee in Persona 5, and before making a new drink, Sojiro gives you a bit of trivia on it. On the topic of other games, the comparison between Coffee Talk and VA11 Hall-A is inevitable. Both of the games have extremely similar premises after all, except that one is set in a cyberpunk world in a bar, while the other is set in a present day coffee shop but with different fantasy races. While these games are similar in nature and relaxation value, they’re both absolutely worth a play. As someone who has played both games and loves them, I would say that VA-11 Hall-A offers a cool – but relaxing – cyberpunk experience, while Coffee Talk emits more mellow vibes since its setting hits closer to home.
Coffee Talk has an immense amount of replay value, and not just so you can visit your new favorite characters again. On completion of the main story for the first time, our barista protagonist takes a slight twist on life’s perspective when talking to one of the more mysterious characters at the end of the game. Freya calls us "mysterious" on many occasions, which I personally brushed past. But when our barista protagonist suddenly has a change of tone, the player starts to understands Freya’s viewpoint – since the barista now becomes outwardly mysterious. This leaves us wondering if there are any secret endings or further character developments in New Game+.
Coffee Talk is a short but sweet game. Its gameplay is admittedly minimal, since all you do is make drinks. That being said, there are instances where you'll have to think on your toes. Clients may ask for a drink that you have never made before, and you'll have to use trial and error to figure it out. Plus, in my eyes, the gameplay is meant to create a sense of immersion and to get you into the barista character. However, if this is not enough for you, then the stories of the characters you meet will definitely compensate for that. Coffee Talk is primarily character driven. Characters that may seem cold at first may end up becoming your favorites, while others are lovable for Coffee Talk's entirety. There are also characters that have you wondering if there was anything else more to them, which is where New Game+ comes in handy. Bottom line: if you're looking for a game have you feeling totally relaxed and immersed in its universe, Coffee Talk's got you covered.
Jasmine reviewed Coffee Talk on the Nintendo Switch with a personally purchased copy.