Written by Ross Locksley on 01 Nov 2022
Distributor Ratalaika Games • Price £18.00
Ah, visual novels, a genre that's either loved or looked at with confusion. While I often love the art that goes into these games, I have to confess that I don't play many of them. But as a coffee addict, the idea of passing over a game called Caffeine is about as likely as me refusing the beverage itself.
Available on Switch, Xbox or Playstation (here we have the Switch version), I have to confess my bias for such games being best on mobile. Certainly, my OLED Switch shows the game off in a great light, the beautiful colours looking vibrant and inviting. The character designs aren't hugely distinctive, a sort of European Steampunk setting with a barista/maid aesthetic that's been seen elsewhere, but within the confines of the game's world, it works as it needs to. Yes, there's repetition abounds as the same character art pops up against different background, but that really is par for the course.
In terms of the dialogue, you get a few spoken lines, mainly to establish what the character should sound like, but you'll be reading for the most part. Personally, it's my preference, as I often read faster than the characters would speak the lines anyway, and in this format I'm less likely to be frustrated by "rushing" through it. This is further aided by the ability to speed up (or slow down) the text, so you can find the pace that suits you and knuckle down.
What really matters in such games is the narrative, and here it's a pretty good. You're placed in the role of a young man looking for his errant mother. While on a flight, you are offered an amazing coffee by a young lady who is later implicated in the plane going down due to an explosion. Waking in an alternate world, you are tasked with keeping a coffee shop afloat, which just happens to belong to your old lady. Oh, and in this world, coffee is a source of magic. Yes, it's nonsensical, but what isekai isn't?
The prose is a bit flowery for my tastes, and occasionally the grammar grates, but it's not a bad translation by any means. The music is pleasant and adds atmosphere to proceedings. It's not at all intrusive and some of the tracks, such as the orchestral opening during the prologue, are very pleasant indeed.
Of course, being a visual novel, you have a range of romantic opportunities open to you, accessed by interacting favourably to those girls you like. Our main candidates in Caffeine are Alice, Eliza, Mel and Oceane, each with their own distinctive personalities and styles. In this regard it really isn't hard to manipulate events to your desired outcome, but I can't think of many games where this isn't the case. Even Persona 4 allowed you to romance certain characters and form relationships with characters you gravitated toward (Chie was always my pick) and here you'll encounter all the anime tropes - accidental intimate touching, duels and even breaking the fourth wall, it's as well rounded a game as I've played in this genre when it comes to romance.
Rataleika claims that there are 450,000 words in the game; it sounds quite meaty to me, but you'd need a real VN enthusiast to tell you if that's exceptional or not. For my part, it was an enjoyable read - the idea that coffee is magic is nothing new to me, and while the artwork isn't necessarily the best I've seen in the genre, it's generally pleasing.
Extras include a gallery, music selection and credits - the first two are most likely to be of interest. The gallery contains 78 images taken from the game, while the music is a much shorter selection - both are unlocked as you play through the game.
In all, it was an enjoyable experience with interesting characters and a plot that had enough twists and verve to make it a better than average experience. It may not be quite on the level as Fate, Muv Luv or the big franchises, but it doesn't carry their price tag either. I think £18 is a fair price to pay for the entertainment on offer here.
Ross founded the UK Anime Network waaay back in 1995 and works in and around the anime world in his spare time.
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