Nintendo Nintendo Switch Reviews

Coffee Talk Is Warm, Cozy, And Equally Uncanny

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Coffee Talk Review - Nintendo Switch

Coffee Talk

Developer: Toge Productions
Publisher: Toge Productions
Release Date: January 29, 2020
Available as: Digital and Physical (Summer 2023)

Three years seems like such a long time ago on paper, but 2020 felt like yesterday. Amid all the chaos in the world, Coffee Talk seemed to release at the perfect time before the year kicked into overdrive. The themes from conversations discussed over warm cups of coffee and tea would categorize much of that year, including viral fears, the state of the world, and political commentaries in the subtlest of ways possible. With Coffee Talk 2 a month away from release, I decided to play the original for the first time after watching some streamer friends play it over the years. It's one thing to support your peers but it's another to experience it on a personal level. Dusting off my Nintendo Switch, with a lack of hot coffee but iced coffee instead, I spent each evening this weekend indulging in Coffee Talk.

Taking place in a single week from late September into early October 2020, Coffee Talk is about a barista who runs a cafe of the same name. There isn't a huge cast of characters nor is it a long game as a first playthrough should take at least a few hours. The player will have met all major characters by the fifth day and the remaining days are all about wrapping each character's story arc. There are a total of eleven regulars who appear at Coffee Talk on various nights. At least one shows up almost every night but the others may show up once or twice before not showing up again until a few days later.

"Fourth wall breaking" moments like these makes the characters larger than life.

Freya is the first customer that the player is introduced to in Coffee Talk. Of the eleven, she's arguably the most central character in the game, having been on a majority of the game's promotional art. Freya is a journalist who writes for "The Evening Whispers," a local newspaper that also has an online column. By default, the player has access to the column, where they can read Freya's daily story entries as the game progresses. She has dreams of becoming a successful novelist, with plans on using "Coffee Talk" as a central piece for her book.

Being good friends with the barista and a coffee addict, Freya serves as the game's "local character." While the player is the barista, Freya would represent the greater consciousness of the protagonist. Almost all of the game's major events feature Freya as a bystander, often providing input when it's not wanted, but reasonable at best. She's also ultimately the protagonist's foil, something that will be explained far later, but keep this in mind for the future. Regardless, Freya is a fixture in the cafe. So much so that others would question her appearance if she doesn't show up for extended periods. All in all, of the cast, Freya is the most "normal" of the group.

Despite the nickname, Freya is one of the few humans in Coffee Talk.

Jorji is the second character but he doesn't have as much of an effect on the story as the other guests. He's still an important link to the cafe when he's not sneaking a round of coffee during his shift. As a public servant, he often knows what goes on in Seattle and will do what he can to help those in need. This comes in clutch during certain parts of the story where certain characters are in danger. Going a bit out of order, but Rachel's father, Hendry, joins Jorji as the other older regular. Rachel is a rising star sensation based on k-pop in real life, with her father trying to protect her daughter from the music industry's dark side.

While not related to music, another pair of regulars who tackle an "industry's dark side" are Myrtle and Aqua. Myrtle is a full-time game dev and Aqua is a part-time indie developer, both with their woes in the industry. Myrtle works too hard, and is helpful to others, but doesn't give time to herself to rest. Aqua is exceptionally talented but extremely apologetic. Both complement each other's strengths and weaknesses well. Of the other "pairings," these women were easily my favorite customers.

Hey, we're going to a PAX East. I wonder if there's a MAX East.

Lua and Baileys are a couple who are in the late stages of their relationships yet as a succubus and an elf, there is friction from their families to separate. Coffee Talk is based in "Seattle" but the residents are all various types of races. Orcs, mermaids, vampires, werewolves, elves, succubi, incubi, and nekomimi are all included, each with their unique problems. It's very rare to see fantasy races treated as normal with human problems and struggles. A caste system defines the elves and how prudish they are while the succubi and the mermaids are all about their families. This causes friction as the two wish to make their relationship work, but at what cost?

The vampire and werewolf, Hyde and Gala, are both close acquaintances as Hyde relied on Gala for his muscle. After an altercation at a bar, Gala was hired as a bodyguard yet a life-changing experience caused Gala to change from endangering lives to saving them. To Hyde's encouragement, Gala works at a hospital, to save others from not dealing with the trauma he has been through as a war veteran. Gala is one of the first customers that teaches the player about "character-specific drinks," as the cafe gets more ingredients to make specialty drinks.

Hope you remember how to make a specific kind of drink because you can't check in this situation.

Coffee Talk's gameplay consists of creating drinks as per the customer's orders with the ingredients made available as the week progresses. Simple drinks, like a cafe latte, are made by mixing coffee with two servings of milk. Specific drinks, like the Gala Had, are made with Tea, Milk, and Ginger. This particular drink is connected to Gala not just from its Knights Of The Round Table influence, Galahad, but also because it serves as a remedy. As a werewolf, Gala dreads the full moon as it turns him into a Fury, an uncontrollable werewolf. If the player serves him this drink, it will not only calm Gala down, but lead to the best ending for his route as well.

No matter what happens, the events will play out the same yet the outcome of each event in the long term is dependent on how many successful orders the player creates. If the player serves a customer a "character-specific" drink, they will appear more favorable than if the player served a drink that was close to what they asked for. The final character introduced, however, is by far the most eccentric customer in the game. While the various types of races are prevalent in Coffee Talk, nothing prepares the patrons for a giant astronaut entering the cafe.

A vampire, a human, and an alien walked into an inconspicuous cafe.

"Neil," as it is the name they go by, is named after the astronaut Neil Armstrong, thus not being their real name. They are an alien from an unknown galaxy sent to Earth, initially, to, and I quote, "breed." As it turns out following the most awkward introduction, Neil wants to understand how Earthlings operate so that their alien race can extend their genetics and their scope across the galaxy. Only having the bare basics of "Earthling interaction," the rest of the patrons quickly begin to educate how the aspect of "extending one's lineage" goes. While they only show up for a handful of days, their jarring yet comical appearance does little to affect how others treat them or each other.

Each day follows the next in sequential order, playing itself out like a narrative visual novel with minor coffee, tea, and hot chocolate-making elements. For a chill vibe, Coffee Talk is one of the best examples of an aesthetically pleasing game that I've ever played. Before playing Coffee Talk, I had the official soundtrack on my Spotify playlist for months. Andrew Jeremy is the main composer of Coffee Talk, utilizing lo-fi chill-hop tunes and covers of classic songs like "Clair de lune." It always happens to be raining in-game as well, which adds to the ambiance. The dialogue in Coffee Talk can get intense, so it felt nice to have that counterbalance of chill vibes.

After the fourteen in-game days, depending on how well the player did in serving the correct drinks, each customer will have their problems resolved in the best possible way. Freya becomes a best-selling author, Aqua and Myrtle become an indie-dev duo, Gala and Hyde become very close, and Rachel continues her solo career with her dad as the manager. The post-credits scene is what made Coffee Talk an intriguing game, almost reaching "uncanny" levels. As this is a three-year-old game, with a sequel a month from now, I will still declare the following as heavy post-game spoilers. This also leads to my thoughts on the game's sequel.

Freya's short story column is always an interesting reed.

Heavy Post Game Spoilers Past Here!

The barista is seen with a blue-haired customer that both the player nor the barista has ever seen before. Without saying their name, it's revealed through context that this is Neil, having been able to find a human form that fits them outside of the astronaut suit. They stop by Coffee Talk, thanking the barista for their help in understanding humans, yet they say one sentence that flips the entire plot of Coffee Talk on its head. "You can drop the act now."

Turns out there was a lot more than met the protagonist's eye as the barista isn't just a humble young entrepreneur owning a cafe, but rather of the same alien species as Neil. This answers quite a few of the "suspension of disbelief" moments in which "game" things happen in Coffee Talk. How did the protagonist own a shop? How old are they? What's the backstory? At first, I felt it was due to being a "self-insert" protagonist as most visual novels are known for. While this is true from a meta-perspective, in-universe this is taken as the barista can "time travel."

This also explains how the player can go to any date in the game, whether present or future. It's due to their powers that be which threaten to break immersion if this was revealed during the player's first playthrough. Fortunately, there's a second playthrough, armed with this information, that shows the protagonist's blunders. Having been through multiple timelines in which the barista was trying to think of the perfect scenario for all of their customers, the barista occasionally makes mistakes.

An example would be the barista revealing plot information way sooner before the plot allows it and altering certain situations. Serving Freya something warm to drink to encourage proper sleeping habits instead of indulging in her espresso addiction shows how astute the barista is in seeing their body language. It also teaches the player that it's not what the customer wants, but it's what they need. By the end of the second playthrough, Freya deduces that the barista is a time traveler and the barista doesn't do much to hide it. However, when Neil asks the protagonist why do they go through all of this, they simply answer "to make sure I'm still born on Earth."

The cliffhanger to Coffee Talk's sequel makes the true ending yearning for more, especially as it's confirmed most of the cast will be returning to the sequel. Is this the same universe as the true ending for Coffee Talk? Will my save data transfer from the first game to the second? There are so many questions with a lot of answers I wait with bated breath.

Spoilers End Here!

Sometimes, a happy ending is met with a warm cup of joe.

Coffee Talk is more than "vibes," it's also a love letter to baristas and various drinks made available around the world. There are various regional ways to make coffee and I want to try them all out of sheer curiosity. There are two bonus modes that players can challenge themselves in making as many orders as possible within the time limit. As is the case with most visual novels, there's a gallery mode that includes individual character episodes, providing insight into the regulars and what led them to Coffee Talk.

The sudden influx of visual novels and narrative-based games has always been favorable to me as someone who enjoys both story and gameplay. Sometimes, gameplay like Coffee Talk's may seem "simple" but it makes up for it with its likable characters, expressive character designs, and a complete package that somehow also manages to turn the supernatural into "supernatural." With the sequel on the horizon, the doors of Coffee Talk will soon open again and I can't wait to be one of its first customers.

Coffee Talk is available on the Nintendo Switch, Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

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