P.S. – All images captured from my own gameplay.
Coffee Talk is an interesting visual novel game with plenty to say, but not quite enough time to say it. The plot follows your “Barista” character’s POV of the loyal denizens that make up your coffee shop’s customers. There’s one major twist here: this is an alternate version of Seattle (year 2020 even), inhabited by a number of fantasy trope races (there are still humans as well). The most visible, plot-driving character, Freya, is a freelance writer that makes moves to write a book based on your shop’s happenings.
The reason Freya finds the shop interesting enough to bet her writing career on it is that discussion of racial tension and minority-based topics comes to a head with the shop’s most loyal customers, including Gala (a werewolf), Baileys (an elf), and Myrtle (an orc). There are several other characters that are decently fleshed out and inventively drawn, but these three stood out to me as having the most poignant story arcs.
Gala’s story eerily echoes that of nurses working today, as he has taken the task of working at a hospital, sacrificing his own well-being for the sake of other werewolves that are struggling to keep their trademark transformation and violent tendencies at bay. In this world, government regulation is keeping their kind from the sedative “cure”.
Baileys is in an interracial relationship and has been for ten years, but now that the relationship needs to get to the next level, his family and his lover’s (a succubus) are at odds.
Myrtle is an introverted, overworked game developer and a somewhat cringey representative of the queer community.
Now, some people at this point might be asking me why I’m not talking about gameplay. Well, that’s because it’s a visual novel–there is almost no gameplay, and most of what you do doesn’t have repercussions in the later game. Your playtime equates to 90% reading dialogue and 10% making drinks in a wonderfully simple 3 stage coffee maker (with a handful of ingredients). The most creativity you get here is if someone orders a latte, with which you can choose to make latte art.
Back to the meat of the game–the story involved here brings up topics and gives a mild opinion of the state of them through the lens of Barista and largely, Freya. The off thing here being that the whitest character involved is the one getting to talk the most. For a game that wants to make strides in conversation on racial topics, literally creating a metaphorical world and giving meta lines about predatory grooming, lack of access to healthcare, interracial coupling, closeted homosexuality…having Freya as the mouthpiece fell short for me. Of course, in this world, she’s a fae (or fairy, so does color matter in this world?), and further research behind the scenes of the game shows a developer that tried to do something a bit different and this game was trying to hit a particular audience that may align with her more than me.
All that is to say that as social commentary, I feel Coffee Talk is a setup for further discussion–it generally doesn’t go too deep into one subject, scratching the surface perhaps for the player to bring up a topic during dinner, or in mixed company. It takes the stance of love and positivity being paramount, which I can get behind–it can be a bit heavy handed, but the story overall gives the right vibes, and thanks to the rest of the package, I very much enjoyed Coffee Talk.
- Some of the cleanest anime-inspired pixel art I’ve seen
- Soundtrack is almost perfect, a good mix of lo-fi beats and super chill
- Character diversity is interesting, and the use of “fantasy” races does indeed make the conversations more digestible
- The story doesn’t waste too much time, it ends pretty well exactly where it should
- I kinda learned how to make some new coffee recipes
- Endless and challenge modes (for coffee making) were a good addition to the game
- Achievement hunters can 100% this game in 4-6 hours
- There are fantasy races, but there’s also one person of real color-a cop no less-that doesn’t explore his experience
- One odd twist at the end of the story was unnecessary
- The Neil character seemed like an afterthought
- The same-sex pairs here had potential, but were not explored to my liking
- The unlockable comics were more helpful to character progression than some in-game moments
- There are some odd mistakes in grammar towards the end of the game (blame localization?)
For a game that I had no expectations for going in (I got it for free in the Games With Gold program for June), I was very pleased spending my time with Coffee Talk. Being someone that has dealt with racism daily and some of the other topics this title brings, the topics are nothing new–but the fact that the developers made this game to help stir discussion in a community that doesn’t always address serious issues, I am thankful for Toge Productions’ efforts.