A warm, comforting cup of joy.
After a pretty gruelling week, I cleared enough space on the sofa to finally sit down and relax a little. A review for Coffee Talk, the new coffee-brewing and heart-to-hearting sim from Toge Productions, would be due the following week and I thought I better take a quick pre-emptive look before I chilled out with a movie or two. Six hours later and I’ve forgotten my life outside this ‘lo-fi hip-hop beats to chill/study to’ heaven. I’m warm, my soul feels rested, and I never want to leave.
I can’t really tell you why talking sims are so hard to pull off. Something in the way people interact – if the nuances are off, or the vibe isn’t right, they can feel forced, static, and awkward. When the whole focus is on human interaction in a video game that by default means the person playing it isn’t looking for human interaction, I guess the line between success and failure wears quite thin.
Games like VA-11 Hall-A and The Red Strings Club have all occupied this niche of success – but their focus was on more of a Papers, Please level. You worked out the formula for mechanical interaction and you dealt with an increasingly complex request spectrum, the game rewarding your triumphs and gently admonishing your errors. Coffee Talk is different.
It feels odd to say, but Coffee Talk is truly a remedy for loneliness when you’ve had enough of people. If it’s just me then I apologise, but sometimes the world just takes enough from you and you want to sit down with a cup of something warm on your own… you just don’t want to be alone. In this respect, Coffee Talk brings something special. It is critically human, despite all the mythical creatures, and offers up a selection of heartfelt anecdotes that you can dip into as you please.
Crucially, the way this game accomplishes its goals is cleverer than any I’ve ever seen. We know preaching doesn’t work, we know pandering doesn’t work. We know that if people have hard-held beliefs, we on the outside are never going to change them. What does change people’s hearts is those casual chats over a cuppa – with people you feel safe around, in calm spaces of open-heartedness that take all the fear out of generosity and acceptance. Coffee Talk addresses complex issues away from the debate scene, takes antagonism off the table, and encourages you to sit with friends and work it through.
Using orcs, elves, werewolves, even aliens, to speak truth to our current state of affairs is a tricky business. Addressing issues as complex as PTSD, neurodivergence, racism, and parental responsibility within the confines of this warm and cosy game makes you feel as though you’ve been heard – even when you say nothing at all. The characters are gorgeously designed, and you’re left wondering endlessly about the next person to walk through your door.
Making the drinks IRL is a great way to unwind, especially if you’re a bit of a coffee and tea obsessive like myself. I have genuinely tried a few recipes from this game, and I’m not going back to my usual espresso again if The Grinch or Russian Tea are on the cards. Playing Coffee Talk is an exercise in self-care. The music is flawless, you can experiment with the drinks as you go, you can indulge in a bit of latte art, or while away the hours as these characters become your friends and confidants.
As a faceless entity, you can insert yourself fully into the role of the Barista. They take your name and can shape the conversations by how well or badly you listen to people’s requests. There are no difficult dynamics, particular challenges, or hardships – aside from the emotional journey you will be expected to undertake. This game is an absolute masterclass in how to write character dialogue. Nothing ever seems forced, aggressively preachy, or unrealistic. You can imagine overhearing these conversations on any trip to a late-night coffee bar in your nearest city.
This is a game that challenges the idea of how we label games. Sure, Coffee Talk is a sim, but it’s also a vital experience, a potential therapeutic tool. It’s a friend. A gorgeous, lo-fi, nostalgic, heartfelt journey into some complex lives that makes you want to believe in people. What better way to spend your evening than with a couple of vibrant souls, listening to ambient beats and sipping custom coffee? Just don’t blame me if you can’t put it to bed.
[Reviewed on PC]
Miri is an English grad with a fascination for sci fi, RPGs, grand strategy and point-and-click games. She also enjoys strong coffees and cats.