Coffee Talk: A Review

A good cup of coffee can change your day. It is not a cure, but the bitter warmth always provides some space to breathe. Not only the finished product, but the process of making coffee itself can be enrichingly cathartic.

Coffee Talk is a game that combines this catharsis with good conversation, a cast of fantasy characters, and the struggles of modern life.

Sadly, the sales event that encouraged me to purchase Coffee Talk was held to support the family of one of the game’s creators who recently passed away. Mohammad Fahmi Hasni, who also created What Comes After and the unreleased Afterlove EP, died of an asthma attack on March 28th, 2022.

Overview

Coffee Talk acts as a visual-novel told from the perspective of a café owner in an alternate reality Seattle in 2020. This version of the rainy city is filled with not only humans, but elves, orcs, merfolk, vampires, etc. The café is also unique in that it only opens after midnight.

Gameplay wise, Coffee Talk is simple. As the owner/barista, your job is to make drinks for the colorful customers who visit your shop and listen as they talk about their day and difficulties. It’s talking over coffee.

Pretty simple, right?

Each drink is a combination of three ingredients and selecting them in the right order makes the correctly named drink. There is also a neat latte art mechanic which has no effect on the game I can see, but is fun to experiment with all the same.

What to Talk About While Drinking Coffee

If there was one word to describe the game, it would be calm. The lo-fi soundtrack and simple mechanics pull you into a soothing rhythm while playing. You can proceed through the story at your own pace, returning to any previous days to correct your drink concoctions.

Inside of this relaxing atmosphere, the player is presented with a number of characters facing very real and mundane concerns.

One storyline follows a Romeo and Juliet like couple whose relationship is tested by their families’ prejudices and their own values. Another follows a young performer resisting the control of an overbearing, worried father. If you weren’t looking at an elf or succubus on the screen during these talks, these could be stories set in our own world.

Even the stories which seem like they could only exist in a fantasy realm can be read as metaphors for real world issues, such as the werewolf hospital manager and veteran, a thoughtful and caring person, who is prone to Fury every full moon (which reflects PTSD symptoms found in many returning soldiers).

Of course, there’s an issue of racial/genetic essentialism that comes from discussing real world discrimination/trauma in the form of fictional races and monsters, just look at Bright and Zootopia as examples. However, Coffee Talk largely avoids this pitfall by focusing on how the characters deal with these problems in their everyday life instead of their origins.

It’s Not About the Coffee

(I’ve avoided them so far, but aye, there be spoilers for the game ahead. Continue at your own risk.)

Most of the time while playing a game, especially story-driven ones, we assume our actions will have consequences. Your role as the barista in Coffee Talk appears to fulfill this tenet of video game design.

You offer your customers a quiet, safe place in the middle of night and hopefully the perfect drink; you are the connecting character, linking these stories together. And each of the drinks you serve has an impact. Even if they are small at first, these decisions build over time, resulting in a bad or good ending for the characters. Each cup is an opportunity to change a character’s life.

However, if played as intended, there is little chance you’ll be able to alter the lives of these characters for the better.

The game was released in 2020, so plenty of dedicated fans have compiled all of the correct combinations to get the perfect, complete ending. Without these lists, though, I would have been hard pressed to get any good endings. You are only allowed a certain number of flubbed coffees each day before you’re stuck having to serve “lemon honey coffee” or “chocolate lemon milk” abominations.

Even simple drinks can be bungled if you aren’t paying enough attention. Jorji, the human police officer who makes his rounds during your café’s hours, specifically mentions his lactose intolerance, but I still managed to make him a latte drink during my first playthrough.

I’ll admit that I began cheating after a while, but it was hard not to after getting attached to these characters. Are you going to risk messing up Gala’s Fury remedy tea during the full moon or the sleepy time drink Freya didn’t actually ask for just because you want to be a gamer purist?

Maybe, but I couldn’t.

The game encourages you to restart days, to sit and pay attention to these characters, looking for the smallest clue on how to make their perfect drink. It’s like searching for the correct words to tell a friend who’s had a bad day. Because you care about them, you want to do everything in your power to make their day better. You want to get their good ending.

The largest concern in Coffee Talk isn’t the actual drinks, it’s how your own, small actions can help improve the lives of those around you.

Good Endings

I could go on and on about what I love about this game, but I think the best way to experience it is to actually sit down and play it.

I’ve substituted other people’s commentary for actually forming my own opinions on movies, games, and music far too much. But there’s plenty you miss out on by skimming the observational ice sheet over a piece of media.

For Coffee Talk in particular, there are social media apps and daily stories written by Freya, one of the main characters, which I would find hard to place in an in-depth analysis, but also are some of my favorite parts of the game.

There is a sequel game in the works which is set to be released in 2023. The demo for it is already out on Steam and you can find both of Fahmi’s other games there. Coffee Talk is also available for consoles. I sincerely hope this article convinces other people to check out Coffee Talk and the other brilliant, intimate games from a talented game designer taken too soon.

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Recluse freelance writer overthinking absolutely everything. Stick around for random thoughts. Available for work. (he/him/his)

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Grant Simpson

Grant Simpson

Recluse freelance writer overthinking absolutely everything. Stick around for random thoughts. Available for work. (he/him/his)

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