Welcome to the first-ever LootPots Game Club, where we, the LootPots staff and you the community, come together to enjoy and discuss a game each and every month. For our first game we thought it was only fair to have the mind behind Game Club, DJ “The Content” Lewis choose our first game: Toge Productions’ charming visual novel, Coffee Talk.
In addition to this article full of short reviews from the staff, make sure you check out our special PotsCast episode (hosted by DJ!) dedicated to discussing the game.
I’ll openly admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the visual novel genre. I tend to ask myself, “What can this game provide that a comic or graphic novel can’t?” How is this story benefitted by existing as a video game rather than as another medium of entertainment? And while Coffee Talk doesn’t exactly answer that question for me, I still enjoyed it regardless.
Set in a fantasy world brimming with werewolves, vampires, sea creatures, and hipster humans, Coffee Talk takes the fantasy genre convention and bends it onto its head. Much like Pixar’s Onward, most of the magic behind this fantasy setting has died out—quite literally—being replaced with cars, planes, smartphones, and quaint coffee shops.
The crux of the story focuses on Freya, a human journalist — and regular at your shop —who has to finish writing a draft of her first novel before a ticking deadline. While writing in the shop, she finds inspiration in those that stop in for a drink. These characters are where the game really shines.
See, Coffee Talk tackles some surprisingly deep social issues. Each character that enters your shop comes with their own story to tell. One story might deal with a struggling relationship due to racial tensions, another tackles a strained father-daughter relationship, another deals with the pains of PTSD, and so on. Heck, this game even becomes a little self-aware and talks about crunch in the video game industry. Not only is Coffee Talk unafraid to broach the harder topics, but it does so superbly.
Yet for all the colourful characters that walk into your shop, your own character— the barista — couldn’t be any duller. And this is where I go back to my question at the beginning. For me, Coffee Talk lacks the essence that makes video games unique: the ability to make choices. Sure, you can make coffee and lattes and tea for your customers, but that mechanic can be described as shallow at best and only accounts for maybe 10% of what Coffee Talk is actually about.
When your character does pipe into conversations — and this is what bothered me most — you have zero control over what you say. The lack of dialogue options means you have less agency in changing the outcome of these character’s stories than you would have in a choose-your-own-adventure book. You simply don’t have a part to play, which is something I’m not particularly used to nor fond of when I play a game.
Outside of a cosy, lo-fi soundtrack, Coffee Talk didn’t provide anything for me that a graphic novel couldn’t have. The gameplay loop was simple but frustrating: become invested in a story, think of advice to give, then be denied the choice of giving said advice. It manages to tell engaging stories while never being an engaging video game. If you go into Coffee Talk with all of this in mind, though, I believe you will find enough joy in the writing and characters alone to make your time worth it.
Coffee Talk was an experience that I won’t forget any time soon. In a time of global uncertainty, Coffee Talk hit on a lot of relevant notes about current social issues while also providing a narrative that was interesting and charming while not taking itself too seriously. One of the main characters, Freya, was particularly relatable to me because of her constant struggle with writer’s block, which as a games journalist, happens more than one may think.
Even though specific characters experiencing their own arc, the storylines in Coffee Talk intertwine seamlessly because everyone is seeking advice from you, the barista, whose ability to influence a potential arc is based on dishing out the correct, or incorrect, drinks.
Gameplay-wise, the experience is simple yet satisfying. One wrong brew could change a character’s attitude toward you, even if they don’t send the drink back. You need to remember recipes, and regular drinks for your regular customers, just as if you are running your own shop. Coffee Talk opened my eyes to coffee and tea recipes that I did not even think existed, and it gets me excited to give them a try here in real life.
Overall, my experience with Coffee Talk was nothing but positive. The music is relaxing, the gameplay is satisfying, and the narrative is relatable. Although it was a bite-sized experience, it’s one that will stick in your head for a long time. Do yourself a favour, not only by picking up this game but by taking a look at the available artbook and soundtrack. This experience left a lot of room for Toge Productions to explore the world of Coffee Talk even further down the line, and I hope they do!
Coffee Talk was an absolute joy to play from start to finish. In fact, after playing just the first half-an-hour, I placed a preorder for the game’s upcoming physical Collector’s Edition because of how immediately charmed I was.
The characters, despite being werewolves, elves, vampires and more, felt incredibly real which is a testament to the game’s writing. I became genuinely invested in their stories, which ranged from relationship drama or trying to write a novel to navigating the problematic music industry as a young woman.
A great feat was achieved in how these 2D pixel art characters are made to be so expressive; the way heads bow when someone is sad or how shoulders move when someone is trying to disguise their laughter. These small animations conveyed a huge amount of emotion, adding a new dimension of character that couldn’t have been achieved through writing alone.
The game strikes a perfect balance between funny and serious. It discusses various important social issues such as immigration (and an agency cleverly named FIRE), racism, and even a (zombie) virus outbreak through a great cast of characters including a vegan vampire and a police officer that seems to take one too many coffee breaks on the clock. The game depicts an all-too-familiar fantasy Seattle that doesn’t so much subtly draw parallels to the real world but actively encourages the player to consider these issues in their real-life contexts.
The gorgeous pixel-art style and the charming story is accompanied by a fantastic lo-fi hip hop soundtrack that I had actually already been listening to on Spotify months before even picking up the game. These combine to give a perfect cosy coffee shop atmosphere that made it really difficult to put down the game sometimes.
My one gripe with the game is that the coffee-making gameplay felt a bit lacklustre. This sounds like a big issue in a game that is essentially a barista-simulator, but it definitely wasn’t a dealbreaker. Taking the time to guess at ingredient combinations and carelessly draw shoddy latte-art ultimately felt like a small price to pay to enjoy the game’s fantastic art style, music and writing. For anyone looking for a short, cosy, story-driven game to dig into, Coffee Talk is definitely worth your time.
I’m a sucker for a good story, and ultimately, that’s what Toge Productions’ visual novel, Coffee Talk, is all about: good stories.
Before I ever got my hands on the game, preview material for Coffee Talk drew me in with its novel setting of a nighttime coffee shop set in a modern-day, but alternate universe version of Seattle full of elves, orcs, mermaids, and everything in between. That, coupled with two more things I’m a sucker for: a stellar lo-fi hip hop soundtrack and a charming pixel art style, made Coffee Talk something that was bound to pique my interest.
But, as much as Coffee Talk’s world and aesthetic spoke to me, visual novels are a VERY hit or miss genre for me. Since they tend to be light on gameplay, they really live or die by the quality of their characters and the script itself. Thankfully, this is where Coffee Talk shines above all else. Anchored by the highly caffeinated journalist turned novelist, Freya, the game’s cast of characters are diverse, lovable, and surprisingly dynamic.
While some storylines are definitely better served than others, I found something to connect with in each story arc and I was always eager to learn more about the shop’s patrons when they’d stop in. You may only get brief glimpses into each of the supporting character’s lives, but I think that only makes Coffee Talk’s cast feel more real and its version of Seattle feel more lived-in. We get bits and pieces of what’s going in the world through character interactions and environmental story-telling, but there are corners and moments we’re never meant to see.
The one place where Coffee Talk really stumbles is in its drink-making gameplay. At its best, it’s a distraction, at its worst, it’s an active impediment of the game’s best quality: its story. As soon as I realized that how well I prepared drinks would impact my friendship with each character, I immediately looked up a drink guide for any request that wasn’t immediately obvious. If the gameplay of making drinks wasn’t compelling to me, why risk not advancing a character’s storyline as much as possible?
My decision to cheat my way to a better ending proved to be the right one for me because during our Game Club podcast discussion I realized that my co-hosts had missed out on certain scenes and even gotten a less positive outcome for one of the key character’s stories because of their failures as a barista. I think the game and its story would have been better served by allowing you to make meaningful dialogue choices rather than having story beats impacted by what often amounts to a guessing game.
Thankfully, Coffee Talk’s cosy atmosphere, colourful cast of characters, and personal stories that artfully tackle heavy themes like mental health, generational bigotry, and love both familial and romantic, were more than enough to outweigh the shortcomings of its gameplay. In a hectic year where all I want to do is visit a comfortable coffee shop where everyone knows my name, Coffee Talk was the perfect companion on lazy Sunday mornings. It’s a game I was charmed by throughout, and one I’d recommend to anyone who likes slice of life stories, quality pixel art, and a soundtrack that’ll get stuck in the back of your head. Seriously, go listen to that soundtrack.
It’s hard to explain how much I miss just grabbing an overpriced white chocolate mocha, popping my headphones in with a podcast, and taking 30 minutes for myself every now and again. Those 30 minutes of “me time” are something that Coffee Talk did a great job of delivering.
I worked through this visual novel in bite-sized chunks and due to the game being split neatly into days, it was easy to see these breaks as a perfect point to pause the story and dip back into Animal Crossing for a while. It was lovely grabbing my Switch out of the dock, snuggling up on the sofa next to the window, and listening to the rain (in real life and in Coffee Talk) while Freya poked her nose into someone else’s business for the umpteenth time.
In that sense, it’s very much like reading a good book, and as an impatient reader, it’s a good thing that the quirky characters and story arcs hooked me early on. I loved following Freya’s career change and it made her the perfect catalyst for the other characters’ stories in the game.
You “play” the role of an extremely passive barista who after serving up all manner of hot drinks will be your window into the lives of Coffee Talk’s eclectic mix of humans, orcs, mermaids, and more. It proved to be a vibrant and deep world to be a part of, and one that suffers from many of the same issues of our own world. Issues of race, exploitation, and career troubles are all covered in the short month you spend behind Coffee Talk’s bar. I also felt like the dialogue did a great job at world-building outside of the walls of the late-night haunt.
As it’s a fantasy world there are obviously things that we don’t think about in the real world. Some are only mentioned in passing such as Hyde’s reliance on “vegan” blood and the high price tag it carries. Some are entirely visual and only make sense as the story unfolds, such as the scars that cover Gala’s face and body. They’re minor tidbits that don’t add to the overall web of stories Coffee Talk presents, but its a level of detail I very much appreciated.
I also loved that additional background on characters is available through the in-game smartphone. It was nice to see your level of friendship and see how everyone presents themselves online. It really hit home how real the game felt to me when I noticed the striking difference between Aqua’s shy character in the shop and the level of confidence she shows in the virtual world. I’d also definitely recommend checking out Freya’s stories on the newspaper app too as they often showed the spin she put on things that happened in Coffee Talk the previous day – a nice insight into how her book is progressing.
So, as a visual novel, it’s clear that I was enamoured with Coffee Talk. The gameplay elements though, are to me, a little lacklustre. Making coffee is often frustrating and I think most people will cheat their way to the “true” ending. I encountered a point where I was putting all the right ingredients into the drink, just in the wrong order, and the machine spat out an incorrect drink because of it. Making latté art is also seemingly impossible and I really want to hear from anyone who can make something decent with the tools provided. Despite the game offering full touchscreen support throughout, I was still not able to make the fern leaf I was aiming for.
I also think there were missed opportunities for mini-games at points in the story too. This is fairly common in the visual novel genre and there were times (such as a point in Gala’s arc) where I think it really would have added to the overall experience.
As a whole though, I had a great time with Coffee Talk. The stories are presented in a wonderfully styled package, complete with a kick-ass soundtrack that I’ve found myself listening to on Spotify from time to time. It’s these stories that are the real reason Coffee Talk is a game worth checking out. There is someone or something in the game that you’ll relate to, be angered or upset by, or just find quirky and amusing. If you’re looking for something to enjoy on a rainy Sunday afternoon then definitely consider Coffee Talk.
Next Game Club
That’s it for this month’s game club, for more on Coffee Talk don’t forget to listen to our special Game Club podcast. For next month’s Game Club, DJ is back with our own Max Wright and very special guest, Jon Cartwright from GameXplain to discuss Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. Get playing, and we’ll see you next month!