So, a werewolf and a vampire walk into a coffee shop…
Working at a coffee shop can be stressful. I’ve worked at one for five years now, and there have definitely been days where I question why I still work this job (it’s money — money and benefits are always the answer). Sometimes, the stress is warranted, and sometimes things happen out of your control. I guess that’s like any job, but the highs can be pretty high and the lows can be absolutely depressing.
So, when I started seeing this game called Coffee Talk, I was interested, of course, but was also hesitant. Why would I want to play a game and relive everything I do in real life? I go to video games to escape, not endure what I’ve already done that day. But I kept thinking about it and I wanted to see Toge Production’s take on my job. Would it simulate that busy atmosphere I’ve come to know and accept? Would people get angry with me if I give them a large when they ordered and paid for a medium? Will a homeless man come up to me, say “Fuck you!” and then walk out the door?
Fortunately, none of those things happened. In fact, if the main criteria for this review was based on how well it simulates my work environment, it would fail exponentially. Why? Because Coffee Talk is an absolute joy to play.
Coffee Talk is set on an alternate Earth where mythological beings and humans live in harmony in the year 2020. Werewolves, vampires, dwarves, orcs, elves, succubi, you name it. All of them exist. You play as a lonesome owner and employee of a Seattle-based coffee shop named Coffee Talk, where some of the city’s residents convene at night for a warm cup of joe (or tea). You would think a coffee shop would be open at day time, but the owner you play as isn’t really concerned with money or profit. They only want to give people a place to hang out and drink non-alcoholic beverages.
The setting itself is pretty interesting. It’s familiar, yet very fantastical. Every bit of drama is experienced in this nighttime coffee shop. Which seems kind of boring. How many times have you been to a coffee shop for entertainment? But since your customers are “monsters,” sometimes they bring in interesting stories or problems that may be a bit out there, although you can empathize with them.
The story itself is pretty open-ended. You begin the game with your most loyal customer, Freya, telling you about her day at work and her new exciting opportunity to write a book with a publisher. She has a few weeks to come up with a draft, but she has no idea what to write about. You then have a couple come in, an elf and a succubus, and they have a bit of a rocky discussion about their relationship. This gives Freya an interesting (and maybe a bit of an unethical) idea. She decides she wants to tell the stories of the people that come into Coffee Talk.
Really, this is the basic gist of the story. The throughline that connects everything together is the elf and succubus’ relationship being the matter than begins and ends the tale. Freya’s arc is maybe the least interesting. Although she goes through some pretty rough times that you can sympathize with, like juggling two jobs and sleep deprivation, I never really felt connected to her or really cared about her journey as opposed to the rest of the cast.
Each story is broken up into days, with each day presenting a new story or expanding on a character you’ve previously met. Although these characters are unreal, the problems they present are incredibly real. It’s essentially a satire on a number of subjects like racism, crunch (specifically in gaming), parenting, stereotypes, immigration, adolescence, and dating.
Toge Productions does a good job expressing these problems in a general sense. I always understood where a guest was coming from, even if I didn’t agree with everything said. However, I do think the storytelling lacks a voice. I never felt like any character was expressing a personal view, rather presenting problems that exist while not being knowledgeable in those areas. The writing isn’t bad, and in a way, the broadly-told stories act as a sort of icebreaker for your own moral judgment.
For example, let’s look at the aforementioned relationship between the elf and the succubus. Baileys the elf and Lua the succubus have a good relationship with each other. However, both of their families are totally against the relationship. Much of their families’ disapproval can be attributed to class and race issues between the two. This puts them in a very tough position where they could either move forward and try to make it work, or split entirely. You begin to learn about both characters’ values and morals, and what they are willing to sacrifice (or not sacrifice) to make their love work.
This was maybe the most well-written portion of Coffee Talk, but even then, it all felt like a generalization. You never really learn about why these two races hate each other beyond elves just being racist assholes. Same goes for the succubi, where you really only learn that they might be into the idea of family; even then, this may just be something exclusive to Lua’s family. It’s all just really broad and generalized, lacking any real depth to the storytelling.
I’ve really only touched on the storytelling because that is the majority of the game. Coffee Talk is essentially a visual novel. It really is just talking with customers or listening in on their discussion. The only “gamey” portion comes with making the drinks. More often than not, the customer will ask for a beverage and you have to make it using the ingredients you have available.
Playing through the campaign, it eases you in with pretty basic drinks like lattes, espressos, and green tea lattes. As each day progresses, it introduces more intricate orders, with only a few hints to get it right. You do have five chances to trash a drink per chapter, and the ingredients needed are typically told to you straight up, but it does require some experimentation.
As you learn new drinks, they will be added to a recipe book kept on your phone. Some customers have a regular order and rarely stray from what they like, while others get something new every time they come in. Regardless, it does come in handy, especially for some of the more oddly-titled drinks.
If you’re feeling fancy, you can also try implementing latte art into your drinks. Honestly, I’ve seen some of the latte art people have made in-game, and I do not understand how they’ve created it. It feels so heavy-handed and almost always ended up being a giant white blob for me. It isn’t really a necessity, but it was a bit frustrating. This is mostly because I know how to do latte art in real life. Why can’t I do it in this game?! Obviously, it takes some practice, and you can create some cool looking stuff. But in the end, it really doesn’t seem to matter if you do or don’t go the extra mile for the customer.
It does seem that how you perform in terms of serving the right drinks does potentially change how the story unfolds. At least, by how it ends (which I won’t spoil), it seems this is the case. I have not tried this out for myself, but at the very least, it may add replay value to the very narrative-driven experience.
There are some challenge modes that will test how well you’ve memorized your menu adding to Coffee Talk’s replayability but I wouldn’t necessarily say that the crafting portion of the game is all that enjoyable by itself. It is the connection with the customer, satisfying them, and then listening to their problems where the charm lies. So, while there are other modes, I could have done without them. The fact that each character has a variety of endings is more than enough to play through a second or third time, which isn’t really much of an issue since it probably takes roughly three to four hours to complete.
Coffee Talk is such an odd gem. It certainly has its problems, but none of them really hinders the game in a significant way. It’s an incredibly relaxing and thoughtful experience that anyone can enjoy thanks to its fictitious take of a very familiar setting. It may not have been the coffee shop simulator I expected, but had a good time playing nonetheless.