Visual novels often have to bring a compelling story with them to be worthwhile and usually that means player control and various endings. Coffee Talk largely avoids this but instead puts you into the game as a barista making drinks for the characters in the story as their life unfolds infront of you.
The beauty of Coffee Talk is that you are a passerby in the story, viewing and occasionally chipping into the narrative. It is a slice of life story following various characters in a multi-species fantasy version of Seattle. The characters visit your coffee shop that opens at midnight and they tell you their woes and chat to each other. You don’t directly influence the story and the largely linear telling may put some off. Coffee Talk does have a well told narrative that focuses on fantasy racism, ageism and keeping up appearances in a multi-cultural world. It is very relevant today without being too on the nose too often. I won’t go into story spoilers but it is lovely how different stories weave together and your customers all chat to each other at your table. It reminds me of a Japanese TV show called Midnight Diner and is similarly paced.
As the barista, you get to make their drinks in a simple mixture of three ingredients format. A strong coffee will be coffee, coffee and coffee whereas a latte will be coffee, milk and milk. The story takes place over 14 nights and your stock changes each time. The more ingredients, the more choice you have but the patrons will guide you with ease. As the story develops they pull away from drink names into drink traits. Each ingredient may be sweet, bitter, cool or warming and so you’ll be mixing and matching to suit your customers needs.
The best part in all of this is the latte art maker! A mini game I never knew I needed, you use the trigger and analogue sticks to dribble milk into the cup to make patterns. You can then use a stick to flick and give detail to the milk and everything takes on a satisfying marbled effect. I spent far longer perfecting terrible designs than I care to admit.
The story, whilst linear, can be completed in about 8 hours and there are some secrets to enjoy for replayability. You can then take the drink making into a time trial wave based game or just muck about in freeplay to make some satisfying art. I was grateful these were available outside of the story so I could discover all the drinks in the game.
Coffee Talk is a warming and gentle game that is engrossing and fun to play. Whilst you are relatively hands off story wise, it allows you room to think about how you’d act in other peoples shoes. An understated little gem.
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