What if your rank in society was determined by your ability to be a coffee snob?
I don’t drink coffee. I’ve somehow managed to avoid it for my whole life, mostly out of never seeing the need to start, and being too lazy to bother unless I felt it was necessary. I do drink tea from time to time, but coffee is never something I got into. As such, I had a bit of a hard time getting into Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy, a visual novel set in a steampunk world where coffee gives its drinkers incredible powers based on how well they can identify the flavours within it. This results in a society ruled by and filled with coffee snobs, also known as my own personal Hell.
Caffeine tells the story of Taka Knight, a young man who, after being thrown out of a crashing airplane while searching for his missing mother, finds himself stranded in this coffee-controlled city of Victoria. He is taken in by Alice, a young woman selling pastries out of the coffee shop he remembers his parents running when he was a child. As he gets his bearings, he meets other residents of this world: the quirky and reclusive Eliza, the haughty barista Oceane, and the down-to-earth espresso barista Mel. To prevent the coffee shop from being shut down, he resolves to take the royal barista test, in order to get registered for this prestigious position. In Victoria, he finds clues that may lead him to his missing mother, as well as discovering that his parents made powerful enemies within the city.
Initially, I didn’t find myself that taken with the story; as I mentioned in the introduction, I had a hard time getting into it, possibly because of its heavy focus on coffee. However, it grew on me as I progressed into each route. At first, it felt like it spent too much time focusing on side characters, but they all came more into play as I got further, especially once I started into the true ending. This goes for Taka himself, as well; my opinion of him grew throughout the game, even if I initially disliked him. The other main characters are charming in their own ways, and it’s interesting to see how they develop, and their stories unfold over each of their routes.
That being said, I had some issues with the flow of the true ending. There’s a relatively long string of consecutive plot twists, and eventually, they start to lose their impact. It also spends a lot of time here in flashbacks, even more than the rest of the game, which also takes its toll on the flow of the story. It’s a lot of information delivered all at once, and it tells and retells the same period of time too many times in succession, when it may have been better for pacing to space out that exposition a bit more. It’s all interesting – and important – but it makes the story drag a bit, right after the climax of the entire game. Despite the minor pacing problems, though, it’s still satisfying to see how all the individual characters’ endings tie into each other in the end.
While the character designs and art are somewhat appealing, there’s a sort of distinct amateurishness to it. It’s hard to put into words, but it seems like it’s trying to imitate a style, rather than having a style of its own. The sense of lacking polish extends to the rest of the game as well. Perplexingly, the engine seems to have problems, with anything meant to scroll smoothly having framerate issues and stuttering, including text display. When clicking to add text to a text box that already has text in it, the existing text shifts slightly, sometimes changing where the line breaks are, while these issues may seem trivial, they can be distracting while playing. There’s also a large number of minor typos and grammatical errors throughout the game. Sometimes nametags appear on non-spoken narration lines, and the game even crashed a few times while manually skipping through text. Also, scrolling up on the mouse wheel doesn’t bring up the backlog like in every other visual novel I’ve played, which bothered me.
The game has partial voice acting, where certain lines during character introductions and important scenes are voiced while the rest aren’t. This would be fine, but in my opinion, issues arise when even within a single scene not all of a character’s dialogue lines are voiced. The voices themselves are mostly fine, but some more consistency would have been appreciated, even if it stayed only partially voiced. The music does its job as background music well enough, but it doesn’t stand out that much.
While Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy has a fascinating world, well-developed characters, and an interesting story, it’s dragged down by a slew of minor technical issues, some occasional pacing problems, and a generally unpolished feeling. It’s possible that someone who’s more into coffee would get even more out of it than I did, but by the end I found myself enjoying the story more than I expected I would, based on its first impression and how much of a hard time I had getting into it. Once the story hits its stride, it is very engaging, and the girls’ stories all entwine and add to the overarching story leading to the true ending. If you can look past the various issues, it’s not a bad 25-hour experience, especially for the fairly low price.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Steam; Publisher: Kikai Digital; Developer: Kikai Digital; Players: 1; Released: March 20, 2020; ESRB: N/A; MSRP: $15.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Steam copy of Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.