Coffee Talk is pleasant. Chill, mellow. A Mood. Vibes? Sure.
Freya, like me, never finishes anything.
I think I've seen at least one of each of those terms used to describe Coffee Talk in every review I've read so far, usually followed by "but it's not much more than that" or an understandable reflection on the reviewer's time working as a barista. I slung coffees myself for a few years, though I wouldn't have called myself a barista then or since, still, I get the familiarity. If you've been there, you can't avoid it here, which means the game is getting something right for some of us.
The part where Coffee Talk is a game is rather simple and expected, but I'm not sure it really needs to be anything else. An order will come up amidst the conversations, you'll toss three things together to match it, some kind of beverage will emerge. How you put them together is sometimes spelled out for you, sometimes not: one character might list each ingredient in order, another might catch you off-guard with a "Teh Tarik, please" leaving you to either guess or Google unless you just happened to be in Malaysia recently. Most things with milk give you the opportunity to doodle some latte art via a light painting system, which I imagine is about as cumbersome and finicky as the real thing. (I was never that kind of barista.)
I've been told this is basically the Va-11 Ha11-A model of "BarPG" or "mix-'em-up" or "Root Beer Tapper-like" (I made those last two up) but since that thing's Steam description was enough to put me off it entirely, a meme-delivery vehicle being the last
thing I want from any kind of video game, I'll have to take folks on their word. Honestly, I think some people are just trying too hard to avoid the VN label. This is that but with different systems.
Somehow, the name of this drink makes me wanna order an "Obstacles" instead.
But really, you're probably here for the characters - your customers - and the chatter. Whether or not you nail or whiff their orders does apparently have an effect on the outcomes of their various subplots in this not-cyberpunk-Shadowrun vision of Seattle they live in, though I'm not quite far enough along to get a sense of the branch points. Nevertheless, the power of a good cup of coffee cannot be overstated. Insert your favourite Twin Peaks quote here.
These characters and their stories and their world mostly work just fine. They maybe don't always intermingle all that naturally, but then again neither do most strangers wandering in and out of a coffee shop, and some of that awkwardness subsides as strangers become regulars become friends. It feels close enough to a dynamic that could probably form eventually in a shop like this one, open only after midnight, limited in clientele, where everyone there kinda finds themselves in each other's orbits whether they intended to or not.
It really is a mood, maybe a somewhat specific mood - night is the only setting, it's always raining outside, Kind Wordsian lo-fi beats dominate the soundtrack - and if that's the vibe you're looking for then I doubt Coffee Talk can really disappoint unless its characters completely miss their marks for you. Some of the writing can be a tad too cute for its own good, or weird for weird's sake, but it rarely distracts, and is usually counterbalanced by some other piece that feels lived-in and informed by actual experiences. There's characters in here I really care about after five-ish hours, and a few I'm not so high on, and that's fine. No collection of S-Links has ever run the table.
Coffee Talk does what it says on the tin. It's never gonna make me go back to a coffee 'n' donuts hell grind, or gaze wistfully into the sky thinking "those were the days," because they fucking weren't. But I'll be damned if it doesn't get the mellow just right. The mellow I'm looking for, anyway.
Notable tidbit: the soundtrack is available pretty much everywhere. Search on Spotify for Andrew Jeremy. Probably the same in other places. A news post on Coffee Talk's Steam page will have a long list of venues.