When the press release for Coffee Talk landed in my inbox I was instantly intrigued and excited. The premise is exactly why I love indie games. No mainstream game could even attempt the design, goals and concept that Coffee Talk does. Unfortunately whilst it has a wonderful premise it falls short on nearly every aspect of its delivery.
As the Barista in late-night coffee shop, ‘Coffee Talk’, players offer friendly conversation and late-night warm drinks to the colourful and fantastical inhabitants of alternative-Seattle including elves, aliens, and orcs. The game features visual aesthetics inspired by 90s anime, classic pixel art adventure games, and images often associated with lo-fi chill hop music. The visual novel story lines are determined based on drinks they are served, not through the dialogue selections. Coffee Talk is the place to be for those who want to chat, relax, and relate no matter who they are or where they come from over delicious expertly crafted hot drinks.
Again I absolutely love the premise of Coffee Talk. As the barista of a late night coffee shop you essentially take on the role of the friendly barman of your local pub that listens to and holds the secrets of their community.
Factor in the fantasy aspects of having orcs, vampires, werewolves etc gives a great opportunity to expand on societal themes such as culture, family, immigration and racism.
Whilst Coffee Talk attempts to address the issues above it fails drastically at everything it attempts. It is incredibly self aware yet somehow manages to completely miss the things it does so well. This is incredibly frustrating as there are ingredients within the game that could see the original promise achieved quite easily.
Coffee Talk introduces some interesting concepts in brief passing such as synthetic blood for vegan vampires and werewolf BDSM porn. Unfortunately as quickly as these are mentioned they are forgotten. it would be great to further explore the effectiveness of synthetic blood, the vegan vampire movement and how vampires integrate into society. Sadly this thematic thread comes to an abrupt end with the thought of adding synthetic blood products to your drinks. When I say abruptly I mean in a matter of seconds!
Coffee talk is all about dialogue yet weirdly you have no choice in the dialogue. make the correct drinks and the customers open up to you. That’s it. You have no direct influence on conversation or able to explore individual character narratives.
As bizarre as it is to have a game built around dialogue that you have extremely limited input in the most confusing and frustrating aspect of Coffee Talk is the newspaper headlines at the beginning of each day.
The headlines cover events such as an outbreak of disease or Orc’s striking for workers rights and eventually rioting. Strangely not a single one of these is mentioned in the actual game dialogue. It’s like there is an amazing game and themes to explore but the game completely ignores them.
Seriously the headlines are the exact content I was expecting and got excited for but Coffee Talk for some unknown reason decides to just completely abandon them for weak, almost pretentious speeches that really make you feel like the game has just stopped while the developer rants at you.
The worst of these speeches is without doubt the clunky, ham fisted, almost fourth wall breaking speech on game development, crunch and working conditions.
While these are obviously important issues the way this speech is presented is jarring, atmosphere breaking and quite simply poorly delivered. it does nothing to rally support and simply does not fit within the game. Everyday you see newspaper headlines mention world changing events and you get forced to sit through a rant on game developer working conditions, toxic fans and sexualisation in video games! I mean come on! Seriously!?
Coffee Talk could have easily been a fantastic and thought provoking indie game. Honestly I was expecting something along the lines of Headliner: Novi news. Instead I received something that left me feeling cheated. I was under the impression this would be a title that explored social and political themes. That explored issues from multiple points of view that would broaden your thinking and enable you to be emphatic to others point of view. Instead Coffee Talk is pretentious, self absorbed and ironically feels like it has been written by someone so entrenched in their views that it refuses to even explore or understand the perspective of others.
Coffee Talk is a wonderful idea and could be a vehicle to open up dialogue that results in understanding. Unfortunately it runs away from any issue of actual substance.
like a cup of decaffeinated coffee, Coffee Talk looks and tastes like a great indie game but cannot provide the actual oomph you came for.