Coffee Talk: Stories in the Cafe

First Legends and Lattes, now this. What is with wholesome coffee shops and fantasy that makes me so damn happy?!

I knew absolutely nothing about Coffee Talk going into it. I’d never even heard of the game before. There was a sale going on after one of the co-creators, Mohammad Fahmi Hasni, tragically passed away; all of the proceeds made from this sale were going to his family, so I decided I could spare a few bucks to pitch in.

And I’m glad I did. Because this game was absolutely delightful!

You play as Barista, owner of the Coffee Talk cafe. Your job is simple: make coffee for the various customers who patronize your cafe and listen to their stories. Thankfully, they’ve all got quite the tales to tell. From Freya, the aspiring author there to observe, to the Romeo-Juliet lovers of Lua the succubus and Baileys the elf and the alien Neil, your clientele is not short of problems to share and stories to tell.

This game is incredibly wholesome. It’s also incredibly easy; you can’t even lose, really. It’s basically a visual novel, but you occasionally brew drinks. There are more gameplay-focused modes, but those are clearly not the focus of the experience.

Writing definitely takes more of a focus than the gameplay. Thankfully, the writing is absolutely fantastic! Each member of the cast is incredibly likable and sports a surprising amount of depth for such a short game. Freya, Baileys, Lua, Jorji, Rachel, Hendry, Hyde, Gala, Neil, Myrtle, and Aqua are all remarkably well-realized characters with fun personalities that all play off of each other exceptionally well. They’re all so lovable that every time the bell rang, I rubbed my hands with anticipation, eager to see who showed up next!

I literally said “Aw, who we got?” every single time like the total dork I am. Don’t judge me, I was having fun.

Wholesome as the story is, it also handles darker themes. As the game came out in 2020, it dealt with a lot of the stuff we saw then, such as mass panic in the face of disease and extreme racial prejudice. It also tackles more timeless subject matters, like sexual harassment, strained familial relationships, and unfair working conditions.

My one problem with the writing is the ending. It’s pretty clear sequel bait featuring a ‘twist’ that comes out of nowhere. Sure, it makes you want to see what happens next. But in the context of this game, it’s pretty weak. Honestly, I feel like this should have been a one-and-done kind of story.

Granted, part two isn’t out yet. Who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind after playing that.

Switching gears: this game looks fantastic. It has a simple sprite look, but all of the sprites are insanely well-detailed. Each character looks entirely distinct and each of their facial features read as clear as the sun on a clear day. They all look amazing!

In the more intense moments of the story, you’ll get more dynamic shots that focus exclusively on the characters. Sort of like highlight panels in a comic book. These are rare enough that when one pops up, they hit like a truck; the sudden change in visuals is incredibly striking. They all look fantastic!

Even Coffee Talk itself looks amazing! The cafe is absolutely brimming with personality, from the various decorations to the passing silhouettes in the windows. You only ever see one room, but it has so much life and variety to it that it feels broader than a good number of open-world games!

The music is really nice, too. It’s basically if someone took the whole ‘Lofi vibes to read/study too’ trend and made a video game OST out of it. And it works! It gives the whole game a laid-back and relaxed vibe that fits the gameplay perfectly. Also, you can freely change tracks via your in-game phone, so if you don’t mesh with a particular song, you can just go right past it.

As a whole, the presentation is a solid A+. But what about the gameplay? This is a video game, after all. How does the actual gameplay hold up in such a story-focused experience?

Well, the main story is pretty straightforward. You experience the narrative the game wants to tell, and occasionally you brew a drink for the characters in the cafe. Whether you brew it correctly or incorrectly doesn’t really matter; your only reward for making it right is unlocking more of the character’s in-game Facebook profile, which you can use to learn more about them. So you can play through the entire story without even trying and get the whole experience.

Side note: you can also read all of Freya’s short stories and that simple fact makes me so damn happy.

Endless mode is the only mode that’s truly gameplay focused. In this mode, you’ll continuously make cups of coffee for your customers. Simple. In Free Mode, you can make whatever you want; it’s the perfect mode to experiment and unlock all of the different recipes.

Challenge Mode is where things get interesting. It starts off really simple, with the customers giving you all three ingredients for their drink. Then they’ll get more specific, asking for particular recipes; still easy, so long as you’ve unlocked them all in your phone by this point. But then it gets super hard, as they start asking for drinks that fit more abstract requirements, like meeting a certain flavor or temperature. It’s a decently fun mode, but its only reward is seeing a number go higher and higher. Enjoyable as it is, it gets old pretty quickly.

Also, if you screw up, the characters make unhappy faces. I don’t like that; I love them all so much that I don’t want to see them upset.

Overall, I really enjoyed Coffee Talk. It’s an incredibly simple game with a strong narrative and wonderful presentation. Sure, the gameplay is simple, but that only adds to the relaxed feeling the experience is shooting for.

If you’re looking for something laid back to play in an afternoon, this is the perfect game. However, if you’re looking for something a little more engaging and dynamic, you might want to look elsewhere. This is a game for chilling out, not getting your heart pumping. And for that, I absolutely love it.

RIP, Mohammad Fahmi Hasni. You helped create an incredible experience I’ll be coming back to for years to come.

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