Like a lot of men my age, I’m a huge Haruki Murakami fan. Yet, whenever someone asks me why I like his work, I struggle to come up with a reason. Nothing really happens in a lot of his stories. There’s often a well and a cat and people just wandering around not doing very much, ruminating on jazz and the past.
Some things are all about the vibes.
Coffee Talk is totally about the vibes. You’re the owner of a coffee shop in Seattle. Customers come in from the rainy street and you make them coffee (or tea – new to this sequel) and chat with them. That’s it. The stories are all low stakes but, man, the atmosphere is off the scale.
You’re constantly accompanied by the sound of rain and really relaxing lo-fi beats as you talk to the peculiar characters that come in late at night, all the while witnessing their sometimes strange interactions.
And what characters they are, too. There’s a little inspiration from the comic Fables here, as your clientele include both the humans and the stylised mythical creatures who occupy the world of Coffee Talk. There’s a succubus, a banshee, an alien and various other creature, all talking to you about their problems, rendered with beautifully large pixel art sprites.
They walk into your café, ask for a drink and proceed to spill the (coffee) beans.
When you’re asked to make a drink, you are sent to a sort-of mini-game. Making the drinks is a trial-and-error procedure, picking ingredients from the shelf to make what you think the customer wants. You’re allowed to pick three ingredients from the available list, and your coffee machine will allow you to top off the drink with some latte art. The latte art simulator has some nice physics, and we found the process of drawing fun. There’s potential for immature behaviour, certainly.
Here you get a few more herbal blends. Hibiscus and butterfly, specifically. Though we really questioned some of the customer’s orders. Hibiscus tea with (steamed!) milk is apparently a thing. We’ll have no milk near our herbal teas, please.
Sometimes it’s fairly obvious how to make the drink the customer wants. Other times, it’s quite difficult to work out how to make use of your limited ingredient pool. A café latte with extra sweetness particularly stumped us. Luckily the in-game phone has a ‘brewpad’ app that lists all the drinks you’ve made so far and how to make them. You can also trash the drink if you think you’ve made a dud, although you can only trash five drinks each time.
Making customers the correct drink allows you to unlock stronger relationships and can impact the outcome of their stories. You can also serve customers an item from your drawer, with items giving the story a gentle push. Giving a customer another regular’s contact card, for instance.
The rest of the game is a straightforward visual novel, where you just watch the story unfold. You can even put it on autopilot. The first time I played a visual novel, I was confused. Why turn this into a game rather than a book? In fact, I still think that about some visual novels, but Coffee Talk uses its format nicely. The soundtrack really adds to the ambiance, and the forced slow reveal of the text paces the story nicely. It’s also perfect for the Switch – a wonderful game to play whilst curled up in bed. It’s a cosy thing.
I personally really liked the stories in Coffee Talk. Initially, I found the more mystical and fantastical elements to be a turn-off, but they enable a parable-like structure to many of the stories. Coffee Talk can talk about race through banshees and the trans experience via aliens. One thing some of the dialogue does suffer from, though, is trying to make the experience good for both newcomers and returning players. There are returning characters here, continuing their stories from the first game, and the dialogue goes to great pains to make sure that new players don’t have any gaps that would leave them not understanding what’s going on. Exposition dumps put a dampener on the melancholic mood.
Coffee Talk also doesn’t overstay its welcome. Its fourteen nights can be played through in around 6 hours, although replaying it does unlock extra interactions and is worth doing.
My advice for newcomers would be to play the first game. You’ll gain a load of context, and the returning characters have extra depth. If you have played the first and liked it, then buying Hibiscus and Butterfly is a no-brainer. True to its name, it feels like a soothing mug of tea.
Chorus Worldwide’s Coffee Talk Episode 2 is out now on all formats. Developed by Toge Productions.