Fancy a brew?
Coffee Talk is unique in concept (though many have compared it to VA-11 Hall-A, wherein you star as a bartender in a dystopian future), you play as a mysterious barista who runs a coffee shop in an alternate Seattle that solely opens at night-time, and you serve your customers, who are a diverse cast, consisting of all times of fantastical beings including orcs, werewolves, vampires, and mermaids.
Admittedly, the concept is strange, though it’s executed in a beautifully sensible way. This is just the way this world functions; all of these races co-exist with humankind, and as such, this world has its own array of problems and issues to deal with.
Its premise and gameplay are manageable yet effective. The games focus lies on the customers, and your only participation in events is serving them drinks when they want. Sometimes they’re specific in what they want, sometimes they’re unsure, but that decision is yours to make. The game makes it clear that this is the player’s only role in the narrative, and it holds steadfast.
Aesthetically, this game is breath-taking. Its art style inspired by, what developer Toge Productions describe as, “90s anime, classic pixel art adventure games, and the chill imageries often associated with lo-fi chillhop music.” By very little other than visual aesthetic, the game does in fact create a relaxing and patient atmosphere. Coffee Talk permits you to take the game at your own pace, including reading through the dialogue, creating your customers’ drinks, and checking your in-game phone for any updates on customers that aren’t here for a brew today.
This type of game is refreshing to see. Not only is it heavily narrative-focused and excellent to play in the evening after a long, stressful day, its features are all immensely accessible and welcoming. There’s very little difficulty to be had in its gameplay, despite the game never actually providing the player with a tutorial.
When it comes to the story Coffee Talk tells, its introduction is compelling. This world is similar, though strangely surreal to that of our own. It takes place in 2020 and in a known American city, yet its entire world is populated by interesting characters that we’re likely to never encounter. It creates a dreamy atmosphere alongside the ease you feel whilst playing, this world is one for a child’s imagination, and yet…
The issues these characters face are sometimes new and strange, sometimes similar and relatable, yet the issues occasionally possess the ability to be both. Somehow touching on real-life matters such as veganism, healthcare, racism, and love, it’s interesting to see how Coffee Talk adapts these concepts and presents them in this surreal setting. Though the game, by trying so hard to cover everything, often trips just before the finish line, which is disappointing to see when some of its ideas are so innovative and interesting. Alongside this, sometimes its ideas are slightly too contrived and on-the-nose. Perhaps the half-baked concepts are the point, though, these customers’ lives are not to be fully examined, but witnessed in this brief instant that they decide you, the barista, are the spectator.
Coffee Talk surprises you, there’s no other way around it. Nothing about this game is to be expected in a world of conventional, triple-A titles that lend themselves to photorealism. Instead, it’s a game that seems like it’s reverting to the good ol’ days with its retro aesthetic, actually tries some new innovating things that should be exciting for casual and hardcore gamers to experience. Despite its flaws, Coffee Talk is a fantastically charming game. There’s no other game that’s commenced 2020 that says “simple, but effective” any better.