Having spent nearly 15 years working the service trade in pubs, I have a certain amount of understanding of what Coffee Talk‘s protagonist has to deal with each night – though my customers were admittedly drinking harder stuff than a triple espresso. I think it’s this connection of sorts that initially hooked me in to the story being told here, though I must admit by the end I was more than ready to shut up shop and go home.
Coffee Talk features a lot of just that – people talking while drinking coffee. There’s a miniscule amount of actual gameplay involved, but for the majority of its 3 hour runtime you’ll simply be sitting there reading the dialogue and pressing A over and over. Luckily, for the most part this is entertainingly written. We first meet Freya, a regular to the shop who works for a local news outlet. As the shop is only open late at night, she tends to pop by, grab a strong espresso and work on her craft. In this world though, that’s about as normal as it gets. Coffee Talk is set in an alternate version of Seattle and features not only humans, but werewolves, vampires and orcs to name but a few of the varying cast. Despite the other worldly set up, each come in to the shop laden with their own problems that the other customers – and our dear Barista – will help them out with.
As mentioned, there’s a lot of dialogue, though there isn’t any sort of choice based structure. The story and events play out in a mostly linear structure, with no input required on dialogue choices at all. At first, it was quite refreshing simply following a story without needed to inject my own takes on things. I would’ve liked a little more interaction mind, even if it just added flavour to proceedings without affecting the story.
It also soon became apparent that almost every character spoke in much the same manner, with very little characterisation to separate them. While it’s hard to communicate in text, some sort of grammatical flourishes could’ve gone a long way to get some separation across. As it is, at times Coffee Talk can feel like someone with split personalities talking to themselves. I’ll not give anything away, but a certain character later on did mix things up in an entertaining way, it’s just a shame that some of the other characters didn’t follow suit.
Each night goes by in a matter of minutes, which does keep the flow going nicely at least. Characters come in and out of scenes to mix things up and often call back to events of previous nights. There’s a lot of social commentary attempted too, both in the conversations and the news paper articles that begin each night, though these aspects felt both a little heavy handed yet brief enough to not really get their point across fully. One conversation talks of the perils of young girls in an entertainment industry to a blunt point before quickly ending the night and moving on. It does come back around a few nights later, but by then other issues have arisen to divide the attention.
A few did catch me off guard mind, and genuinely gave me a chuckle. A werewolf and vampire friendship devolves into talking about how the formers species sometimes use BDSM to try to quell their monthly fury outburst, while the Vampire talks of trying a new synthetic vegan food source…
So, there’s a lot of sitting and reading of dialogue, but what of the coffee aspect. Well, each character will order something at some point; sometimes they’ll be explicit with the ingredients, others not so much. Each drink is made up of 3 ingredients and once a base is established you’re free to add in the others as you see fit. Get a combination right and you’ll learn the recipe for future use. Latte art can be drawn on using the analogue sticks, though getting anything other than a smudge is easier said than done. Sometimes, a character will give you a vague idea of the outcome or taste and it’s up to you to figure out the best combination. I came across one instance of needing to remember a recipe, but by the time I needed to use it I had long forgotten not only the ingredients but also the order to put them in. Even picking the correct ones won’t work if you mix up the second and third stages, though generally getting an order wrong will simply result in a quick moan before accepting their drink anyway (if only it were that easy in pubs…).
And that’s about that for Coffee Talk. A lot of your time with the game is sat reading dialogue that you have no input in. Occasionally you’ll need to make an actual drink, though getting it wrong literally doesn’t matter. Some of the writing and characters were interesting enough at times to keep me hooked, and played in short bursts it can be quite engaging. By the time the end rolled around though I was more than ready to shut up shop and go home, with a brief tease that I hadn’t seen everything yet doing nothing to entice me back. There is a separate game mode that tests your coffee making skills against the clock, though unless you’ve unlocked all the recipes you’re not likely to get all that far in it.
Coffee Talk is far from a bad way to spend a few evenings, with some interesting characters and stories being told. For me though, the same sounding ‘voice’ to each character, lack of real weight behind the issues it tries to raise and the uninteresting coffee making aspects bring the whole package down. I applaud the Toge Productions for trying to create something different, and hope they can refine this into something a little more fleshed out down the line.