chill beats to listen to orcs to
Publisher: Toge Productions
Developer: Toge Productions
Available on: PC (Steam, itch.io), PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Played on Steam
Copy provided by developer
I’ve always had a romantic idea about cafes. The idea of softly sitting and watching the world go by with a coffee, a witness to other people’s stories that float in and out of the setting. The smells. The sights. The relaxed atmosphere. It’s a calming thought to be present in society, yet not being part of the hustle and bustle.
That romantic idea lasted right up until I worked as a barista in real life. Instead of a calming, romantic idea, now I associate cafes with lunch-time business rushes, people getting angry because there’s simultaneously not enough and too much foam on their cappuccino, and managers who use their positions as justification for becoming the miniature Hitler they’ve always wanted to be.
Thank god for Coffee Talk then. A visual novel from Indonesian devs Toge Productions, it revives that idea of a café being the centre of the world and yet also a shelter from that same world. It places you in the no doubt scuffed and coffee-stained shoes of an unnamed barista in Seattle. You’re not the head of Starbuck’s, thankfully. Instead, you’re the sole employee of Coffee Talk, an all-night café that serves the colourful cast that walk through the door.
There’s a catch to that cast too. Only one or two of them are human, such as your regular, Freya, a local newspaper writer who’s working on her first novel. Everyone else is a fantasy race. There’s the succubus and her elven boyfriend going through relationship troubles. There’s best buds Hyde and Gala, who are a vampire and a werewolf respectively. A local popstar drops in occasionally, when she’s not in cat form. Sometimes even an alien turns up.
It’s a fun premise that adds a slight fantasy twist to a slice of life story that sees you as an observer to portions of other people’s stories, and an adviser that drops in and out of their lives when they need them. The stories aren’t afraid to touch on some controversial subjects either. The alien I mentioned? An immigration agent pops by asking about them, allegorically referencing the current US administration’s attitudes towards immigrants. A character complains about crunch time at large games studios. The relationship troubles of the elf and succubus aren’t that far off troubles faced by disapproving families of different races in real life. The writing is consistently superb, and everyone feels so real, even if one of them is a hulking great werewolf covered in scars from his transformations. I feel invested in all their stories.
Not that you have much influence over these stories. Being a visual novel, interactivity is limited to mostly clicking through character dialogue windows. Occasionally you’ll receive a drink order, and you must assemble the right combo of ingredients to make their drink. This is rarely taxing, however. Sometimes the game can throw you off by leaving out an ingredient or presenting the order as a named drink rather than by ingredient, but most of the time it’s directed, and you’ll probably not struggle with it. Sometimes you can create your own latte art, but it’s largely up to you how this goes. Side note: I was bad at this part.
But that’s the point of the game. It’s not about taxing puzzles or tons of action. It’s about listening to people’s stories and taking in the calming atmosphere. It’s a story that couldn’t really be told in any other medium. A film could show this story without too much adaptation, but you’d be watching from outside as a barista talked to their customers. By telling the story as a game, it casts you in the story. You’re still an observer, but you’re present in the café with everyone else, soaking in the atmosphere with everyone else.
And that’s where the point of the game becomes apparent. This game is a relaxation tool that tells you stories. It’s a fictional place you can retreat to when you need calm. The simplicity of the gameplay serves as a tool to put you in this mindset so you can sit back and enjoy the stories and the soundtrack.
Oh, that soundtrack. If you’ve ever loaded up one of those lo-fi chill-hop streams on YouTube, you’ll have an idea of what to expect here. You know the ones. The chill beats to study to type things. Usually with visuals of someone reading while a cat sleeps on a windowsill nearby. Coffee Talk is all about that. It’s chill beats to listen to orcs by. And it solidifies the chill café vibe so perfectly that I’m glad Toge have put the whole soundtrack online for casual listening.
Coffee Talk has some flaws, but they don’t detract. Sometimes character portraits can feel out of proportion with each other, with some characters appearing bigger or smaller than they probably should be. The music transitions aren’t always smooth. There are occasional typos in the text. But this is all minor, and not unexpected from a small indie team. And it does nothing to shatter the chill atmosphere that the game excels at.
If you like visual novels, or just want something to act as a breather between more intense games, I can’t recommend Coffee Talk highly enough. It’s a meditative late-night comedown that lets you live out your romantic café dreams, and it’s just plain lovely for it. I want to live in Coffee Talk forever, please.