Created by Toge Productions, Coffee Talk is essentially a visual novel in which you play a barista and owner of your own coffee shop. You get to brew drinks and read text… and that’s it. If Coffee Talk were a visual novel, it would be considered a kinetic one – meaning not that it’s short, but that there is no interaction from the player. This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but boy howdy is that a big problem.
I need to preface this article by saying Coffee Talk is still a work in progress, and the public demo is just that – a demo. A lot can change from now and the game’s final release, and even still, this demo likely doesn’t contain everything we’ll see in the game. The above video and below spiel is entirely based on this work in progress demo.
Coffee Has Never Been So Bland
Coffee Talk is beautiful. The dialog is well-written (even if the plot is silly and poorly established), and the art is clearly fantastic. Heavily inspired by Va-11 Hall-A, the game sees you mixing drinks and serving them to customers. That’s all you get to do here, other than read text, so I hope you like it.
The game’s Itch.io page promises branching storylines not from dialog options, but “through how you treat and serve the customers of your café.” Now, it’s pretty silly to think of a scenario where you fundamentally alter the world of Coffee Talk by serving someone a cappuccino instead of a frappe, but that’s not the worst of it. What really grinds my beans is just how boring this aspect of the demo is.
When it comes time to brew the do, you’re told what drink to make. You start by choosing the base, such as tea, milk, or coffee, and then select a primary and a secondary ingredient. You then hit brew, and that’s it. The challenge comes from the fact that you’re not told how to brew any of the drinks, despite the fact that you’re a barista who owns their own coffee shop.
You have the chance to mix and match as much as you want, there’s no timer or anything. You could brew 50 different drinks in front of them before you get it right and they won’t care. This makes the entire system feel boring and rote. If it’s a drink you don’t know how to brew, just randomly click buttons until you get it right. If it’s the rare instance where someone asks you to make something up for them, again, just randomly combine stuff together and that’s that.
Thanks to its dialog and art style, Coffee Talk has potential. But it’s hard to see this brewing system adding much to the game in the long run, even if they add more ingredients, more combinations, or more drinks. It’s just not fun, and the fact that it provides the only interaction with the game you’ll get sucks.
Kinetic visual novels always have a hard time justifying themselves, but when they try to add basic interactions like Coffee Talk has, they often just make things worse for themselves. I’d rather have a fully non-interactive game than one in which I have to waste my time pressing buttons.
Hopefully this system will be overhauled by the time the final game comes out, or maybe we’ll get some real dialog options. Either way, I walked away from Coffee Talk feeling more disappointed than excited.