There’s something supremely satisfying about the ritual of making coffee: the smell, the heat, the way all of the tiny details eventually become second nature. For some, the process can be as important and gratifying as the end product. And it turns out that can be true even when you’re brewing a virtual cup.
Coffee Talk is a game about, well, coffee and talking. It’s a sort of visual novel where you play the proprietor of a coffee shop in an alternate version of Seattle. It’s still 2020, and it still rains every day, but the world is also full of magical creatures. Your patrons include not only humans, but also vampires, elves, werewolves, mermaids, and other mythical beings. The cafe is only open after midnight — fans of Netflix’s wonderful Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories will feel right at home — and so it attracts a rather eclectic bunch. (Also, everyone seems to smoke for some reason.)
Each day starts the same. You can scan the headlines of the local paper, the Evening Whisperer, to get a sense of the state of the world before opening the shop. There’s a regular, Freya, a journalist who spends her evenings in the cafe struggling to write a novel. But for the most part, you don’t know what to expect when the front door opens and someone steps in. It could be a budding pop star who is stressed out by her overprotective father, an orc game developer in the midst of exhausting crunch, or maybe an elf and succubus whose families won’t accept their relationship. You might even be accosted by a government agent looking for a literal alien.
The cast is quirky and fantastical, but their stories are grounded. Most of the time, your job is to simply sit and listen. They start out as strangers, but you’ll naturally grow close to them over time. There’s something about the mysterious barista shtick that makes people open up and tell you about their problems. Slowly, characters will form relationships with each other as well. It becomes one big group of friends. When someone has been away for a while, others ask about them. Eventually, you’ll be able to tell who’s entering the shop by the sound of their footsteps.
Of course, patrons also come into the cafe for a hot drink. When they sit down, they’ll usually give an order, and you make it through the game’s sole interactive element. It works like this: each drink has three components, and to make it, all you have to do is select them. An espresso is three shots of coffee, for instance, while a masala chai requires tea, ginger, and cinnamon. Over the few hours the game lasts, you’ll learn all kinds of drinks, from exotic cough remedies to rich hot chocolates, using a handful of ingredients. Sometimes, you’ll even have to guess how to make a drink based on a vague description. There’s no real penalty for failure, though, and it’s pretty hard to screw up anyway. My latte art is terrible, but no one ever complained.
In a nice touch, you also have a simple smartphone with four preinstalled apps. One collects all of the drink recipes in case you forget, while another lets you pick from an excellent selection of chill, lo-fi music. You can also read Freya’s short stories on the paper’s website and check out peoples’ profiles on a social network called Tomodachi. (The closer you become to your new friends, the more information the app will display.)
Coffee Talk is a simple game. What makes it work is the way all of the elements — from the endearing writing to the soothing soundtrack — work together to create a supremely chill experience. The stories are serious, but the experience is mellow. There are no time limits or game over screens to deal with. I played it on the Switch, and the vibe was just about perfect: reclined, with headphones in, gripping my own hot mug of coffee. It’s almost as good as the real thing.
Coffee Talk is out now on Xbox One, PS4, Switch, and PC.