Sometimes, a game sits at such a cross section of my interests that it almost feels made specifically for me. In the case of Affogato, it’s three of my favourite types of games mashed together: it’s Coffee Talk by way of Persona by way of any card-based tower defence game – only here it’s sort of "reverse tower defence", as the game's Steam page is keen to point out. It's your own card units that are the ones moving along pre-defined tracks wreaking havoc on stationary enemies, not the other way around. Maybe tower assault would be a better term, but that's by the by. Served with a dollop of anime froth on the top, Affogato should be my exact cuppa joe. But despite its intriguing ingredients, I wouldn't say it's been wholly successful in slooshing them all together.
The coffee brewing in particular feels watered down. You play as the eponymous Affogato, whose whole personality seems to be constantly correcting people about her name and hair colour (it’s magenta, not red, don’t you know). She’s a kind soul deep down, though, and takes it upon herself to solve a series of mysterious goings on in the perpetual night-time city of Arorua. These quests always originate from customers in her newly-opened coffee shop, and much like Coffee Talk, you get to make the drinks in question by dragging and dropping a mix of ingredients into your various machines.
However, the citizens of Arorua are a lot more straight-talking than the fantasy folks in Coffee Talk's alternate Seattle, as pretty much every order is clearly spelled out for you, and almost all of what you’re asked to make is just a variation on espresso plus one other ingredient. Even when a rare signature coffee order enters the mix, the instructions for how to make them are all available on tap in dropdown menus on the left side of the screen, so you'd actively have to go out of your way to make a mistake. Similarly, there's a whole additional menu of extra flavourings you can add after making the coffee proper, but these aren't utilised much either. There are a couple of occasions where customers will say, 'I'd like X but extra sweet,' or, 'I want something extremely bitter', but you rarely get the chance to spread your barista wings in a regular basis.
This lack of freedom makes a lot of Affogato's coffee-brewing feel repetitive and underutilised - especially when it limits you to only making coffee during specific points in the story. Outside of these set story beats, for example, it's structured much like a Persona game, split into mornings and evenings where you can complete one activity in each time slot before the clock ticks forward, and late night where you have to go to sleep and advance the day. On any given morning, for example, you could open the coffee shop to earn a bit of money. Affogato still needs to pay her rent at two week intervals, after all, and doing your job will help you save a nominal amount alongside the cash you earn from completing its set story missions (more on those in a sec). But you’re not afforded the luxury of actually serving these customers. The whole thing just happens automatically, giving you a wodge of cash at the end of it.
Ultimately, despite the coffee shop being Affogato’s main job, it's really more a side hustle to the main event: the tower assault dungeons. You see, in addition to being a barista, Affogato has also made a pact with a demon who, strangely enough, gives her magical powers to exorcise… other demons? The logic isn’t particularly sound, I’ll admit, but it does let Affogato dive into people's minds who have been corrupted by other demonic presences. These mind palaces are presented as the aforementioned tower assault courses, with cute, eye-catching chibi characters littering the map. You conjure units from your deck of eight cards and place them onto the automated lanes, the direction of which you can change on the fly at dedicated junction points, and set them off toward your objective - which is usually 'kill the big demon at the end of it'. However, you can only play new cards when you have enough 'penta', or magic, stored up, and this isn't a resource that regenerates automatically. As such, there's some strategy involved in what order you play your cards, so that you'll have enough penta to play the rest of your hand and complete the course.
I say 'some', as once I happened upon a particular combo to generate a decent amount of penta (shout out to my man, Hermit), I found I didn't need to use anything else for the rest of the game. There are other cards you can buy from your demon pal Mephista, and further cards that get unlocked when you start helping out other characters in their little side stories, but I was able to use the first eight cards I obtained during the natural course of the game for pretty much its entire runtime, without ever feeling the need to switch things up.
That said, you can still mess things up quite a bit, and in doing so actually prevent yourself from being able to complete a level, forcing either a complete restart or a hasty retreat back to one of its few checkpoints. During the second main questline, for example, there are cards that let you swap between different layers of the world map - the regular overground and a second, underwater world where your units have limited oxygen. You need to use specific cards to swap between these worlds, most of which need to be won by defeating certain monsters. Use them too quickly, though, or fail to spot that, actually, the boss creature for this level is underwater, and you're effectively stuck up a creek without a paddle.
Instead, most of the actual strategy comes from deciding which course you're going to take through the level, changing direction at opportune moments, or taking potshots at enemies from afar by funnelling them down a specific side route where they couldn't reach you. This side of Affogato's battling felt a lot more satisfying on a tactical level, and there's an early boss battle where this kind of intricate direction switching really came into its own. Alas, it never quite reached the same highs after that, and would often veer between meaty strategic spaghetti junction puzzles to almost game-quitting levels of frustration. Perhaps that's on me for not coming up with better strategies, but ultimately battles felt very similar to Affogato's coffee brewing - there's an illusion of choice, but most of the time there's really only one set way to do things correctly.
There's more freedom to be found in how you go about the rest of your day - you can visit certain shops to pumps points in your three main stats (intelligence, beauty and courage), or you can choose to spend them with certain characters or by completing a story quest. The three stats don't have much of an effect in battle, mind - they're effectively just gates that you'll need to overcome to pursue its character-driven side stories. This can sometimes lead to amusing, if slightly immersion-breaking scenes where you're told "You're not intelligent enough to carry on this conversation", or "Your lack of beauty makes it difficult to continue", but this is quite easily rectified by going to the requisite stat activity and trying again a different day. Indeed, you earn so much money just by doing the story that the need to make any more via the coffee shop is effectively redundant, and so you actually have ample time to pursue these main and side story quests - unlike Persona where its condensed timescale puts greater pressure on which course of action you take.
Altogether, Affogato does a reasonable impression of all three types of game it's trying to emulate here, but it also spreads itself too thin in the process. Each part of its demonic triumvirate lacks the full-bodied flavour that really makes them sing when they're viewed in isolation, and while I've enjoyed it plenty over its 15-odd hour runtime, it's mostly just left me hungry for the real thing. It will no doubt be someone's cuppa joe, but I'm not sure it's mine.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game that was provided by developers BeFun Studio.