chill lo fi beats to drink to
Indonesia has some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.
It’s not even just about the taste, but the ritual; sitting with a cup of Bali coffee and a plate full of salak and mangosteen while overlooking the forests in Ubud has to be my vision of paradise. Of course, an experience like that is best paired with good conversation — something about the wonderfully bitter taste reaches into the depths of one’s soul and draws out contemplative introspection worth sharing.
Back home, I find myself drinking coffee primarily for its caffeinated benefits, but that first sip each sunrise still does something magical for the soul. I am grounded in this morning routine, my day beginning over a warm cup and warmer chitchat.
Overcome by the soothing pleasantries, I am prepared to face the day, whatever it may bring.
It’s this premise that Coffee Talk so masterfully portrays as it explores a whimsical alternate universe through the lens of a Seattle coffee shop, its colorful customers, and its perceptive barista who serves exactly what the soul needs.
Developed and published by Toge Productions, this Indonesian indie game powerhouse — responsible for quirky titles such as She and the Light Bearer and and A Space for the Unbound — brings to life a peaceful coffee shop visual novel with lo fi chill beats to drink to. Brew coffee as you listen to patrons spill their sorrows while they sip the night away. Can you provide a listening ear and a soothing beverage, solving their problems along the way?
Coffee Talk’s premise unfolds like a smooth bouquet of tantalizing flavors. The stable foundation of a 10 year relationship that twists into a fight so bitter it lasts throughout the entire experience. The surprise opposites, sweet like honey, savory like milk, blend naturally into the mix in the form of a diminutive mermaid and a statuesque orc. And the daughter’s relationship with her manager…the overly-saccharine toppings of specialty drinks — at first a delightful buzz — become too much when the last few sips remain in a sugary pool at the bottom of the cup, the empty promises of pleasant sweetness throughout simply too good to be true. Of course, had we listened to our gut — her father — we’d know moderation and boundaries are key. Drinking deeply from the caffeinated concoction soothes the raging beast inside — in one werewolf’s case, quite literally.
Coffee analogies aside, Coffee Talk’s characters and storyline really do swirl throughout just like a cup of coffee. Everything is warmly energizing while still soothing the soul. My favorite example is probably Gala and Hyde’s arc — the werewolf and the vampire — who are probably more than friends but the whole will-they-won’t-they takes a backseat to their everyday problems, like Gala’s monthly fury and how the government funded pills that keep his sanity intact haven’t quite hit the market yet or how Hyde’s vegan, synthetic blood diet is going. I also enjoyed learning more about Baileys and Lua (the elf and the succubus) — veritable star cross’d lovers whose families would never accept the other, leading to a bitter fight that lasted pretty much the entire game. Each day brought new updates to the relationships, and I felt myself thoroughly invested in the lives of the people of Alternate Seattle.
Naturally, there’s more to just Coffee Talk than talk — brewing up the right drink for the occasion is absolutely critical, as some endings can only be unlocked if you serve what the soul needs. For example, the overworked, aspiring novelist Freya will demand an espresso after many sleepless nights burning the midnight oil. So when she pounds the counter demanding coffee, your intuition tells you otherwise — at this juncture, you can give her the espresso which potentially leads to one ending, or whip up a bedchamber (milk, cinnamon, and honey) to help her sleep like a baby, the much needed rest giving her enough energy to write her heart out once awake. This also holds true for Gala, who has been experimenting with caffeinated ginger drinks throughout the game in preparation for his monthly fury when the moon is full. By giving him the appropriately named Gala Had (tea, milk, and ginger), the beast in him subsides, a danger to himself and others no more.
When it comes to actually making the drinks, barista duty becomes a bit of a challenge. Customer orders roll in casually; some will tell you exactly what they want, like an espresso, while others will ask for something caffeinated that isn’t coffee. By choosing from an array of ingredients such as coffee, tea, milk, honey, mint, and more, you’ll brew and concoct delectable drinks to hopefully please your patrons — either way, they’ll gulp down your creation. Choosing a base, primary ingredient, and a secondary ingredient and then brewing leads to potentially creating a new recipe, which can then be logged in your phone for future reference. Be sure to get the order correct, as putting ingredients in the incorrect slot will impact the recipe.
Of course, what coffee shop would be complete without latte art? When it comes to drinks with milk, players are absolutely encouraged to try their hand at the liquid medium, although it’s a little easier said than done. Still, it’s something that the game rewards you for, so feel free to try your hand at making pretty leaves and… whatever this is. Art, maybe.
Brewing the specialty drinks can feel a little difficult at first, but as Coffee Talk progresses, the reason why makes sense. When customers ask for “Sugar and Spice” or “something warm and cold”, you already know how to make it, because your experience, intuition, and keen observation skills know exactly what to choose. Of course, the customers don’t need to know you can save and reload if you fail at fulfilling their request, but that doesn’t matter. That’s an ability no one has to know about and no one will ever find out about at any point in the game, especially not after the credits… right?
Honestly, it’s the depth in Coffee Talk that surprised me the most. The OST is undeniably good — for me, it even rivals Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to). The writing is charming, witty, and chock full of personality, creating relatable characters experiencing familiar problems. There’s an endless mode featuring a free play to test out new recipes and timed challenge mini-game where patrons will order and you’ll have to fulfill their requests within the time limit. There’s even a daily newspaper with short stories written by the coffee shop’s literal resident writer, and they’re absolutely scintillating. Where some games boast about traversing a vastly open world, Coffee Talk invites players to explore every nook and cranny within four cozy walls, and it’s glorious.
Coffee Talk is many things — it’s a coffee shop simulator. It’s a visual novel. It’s a therapy session. It’s a captivating story. It’s a land full of opportunities to springboard off possible fantasy settings. But above all, it’s simply good, and I felt good after playing it. Coffee Talk not only encapsulates what coffee-lovers enjoy about coffee shops, but coffee itself. It’s bold, it’s soothing, it grounds us, and it excites us. Playing Coffee Talk plays like a cup of coffee — I’m not sure how else to say it — capturing the very essence of what it means to take a deep draft of that wonderful ritual.
Coffee Talk may remind players of The Red Strings Club or VA-11 HALL-A, and while it certainly looks the part, it’s as different as a cocktail is from a cappuccino. If you understand the absolute joy that comes from sipping your favorite brew in a coffee shop window, listening to lo fi beats as you watch city lights twinkle while rain lightly falls from the heavens, you will immediately understand Coffee Talk. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste; those with refined palates will easily see how perfect Coffee Talk is — not too sweet, not too bitter — but a bold, refreshing experience that leaves players immensely satisfied until the very last drop.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: Switch, PS4, Mac, XBox One, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Toge Productions; Developer: Toge Productions; Players: 1; Released: January 29, 2020; MSRP: $12.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Coffee Talk given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.