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Tavern Talk Review: Come for the drinks, stay for the company

Tavern Talk Review: Come for the drinks, stay for the company

There's always a drink waiting for you here

Visual novels are such beautiful experiences, yet they often get ignored because they’re so text heavy. I can understand why; some people just want to get hands on with a game rather than consume every scrap of lore placed in front of them. But for me, I find the combination of digital artwork and the written word intoxicatingly joyous.

Needless to say, it didn’t take much arm twisting (or any, in fact) for me to want to venture into the D&D inspired world of Tavern Talk. I’ve only dabbled in D&D, but as a hardcore RPG video gamer, I felt I knew enough to pull up a pew at this cosy tavern and get to know the passing NPCs.

They’re a curious bunch who visit your tavern, but would you expect anything less when beasts great and small lurk in misty forests and near babbling brooks? Of course not. Part of its charm is the weird and wonderful characters you’ll meet.

Ready for a drink in Tavern Talk?

Fans of Coffee Talk will feel right at home in this environment; you’re behind the counter, getting to know both familiar and new faces, while creating unusual beverages to give your customers a little pep in their step. Quite literally. You see, the drinks you’ll create will enhance the skillset of those who consume them; much like your typical RPGs, there’s strength, charisma, dexterity, intelligence, and defence.

Sometimes your customers will specify which drink they want based on the stats they want to improve, but other times, the decision falls to you. Your choice will alter the way a quest plays out, so I suggest you think carefully before just creating a random concoction. Not that Andu will let you.

You’ve likely spotted Andu while browsing Tavern Talk’s Steam page, but seeing him dutifully waiting to help dispose of poorly made drinks is wholly different to simply seeing a cute picture. This little dude is your ride or die, and is easily one of my favourite parts of the game. Not just because they’re adorable, but also because of the short sequence every night after the tavern closes, where you feed them and they gladly chow down like a labrador.

Gentle Troll Entertainment

Slinging drinks in a magical bar isn’t all you’ll do as the innkeeper, though, for you’ll also listen to gossip to form new quests for wandering adventurers. All of this is thoroughly explained to you at the very beginning of the game. If, like me, you played the demo first, you can skip the tutorial and just crack on like the pro you now are.

As you should have already gathered considering its story-telling format, this is very much a slow burn adventure. While you’ll converse about legendary foes, you won’t see the action take place, but rather learn of it second-hand through your visitors. Yet, like any decent dungeon master, they weave their story beautifully so that it almost comes to life. That’s what I so adore about visual novels, especially Tavern Talk: the commitment to describing every aspect of an event. The attention to detail is impressive, and certainly a large part of the reason this game is sure to be a favourite amongst RGP/D&D lovers.

However, I’d be remiss if I made the experience seem faultless, for there are elements of its gameplay I find monotonous, as well as too predictable. Firstly, the drink variations don’t start to come into effect until much later down the line, and so you repeatedly make the same drinks for the same customers. I appreciate everyone has “their usual”, but I tired of making Fable a Swift Strike before long.

Furthermore, the stereotypical behaviour of the NPCs – the way they played a specific role, e.g. the burley brawler who relies on strength – began to wear thin after a while. Even though you want characters to feel familiar, the reliance of tired RPG jokes spoils it for me, chiefly because so many games poke fun at those mechanics now. Instead of feeling fresh, it all becomes a tad stale. Never enough to dampen my enjoyment of this inviting tavern, though.

Aesthetically speaking, Tavern Talk is a treat for the eyes. Its artwork is gorgeous, though surprisingly not as illustrative as I was expecting given the genre and context of the game. In truth, I preferred the anime style visuals as opposed to something akin to watercolour sketches, for the atmosphere of the game felt more vivid for it. The art style gives a subtle depth to the world you’re suddenly inhabiting. As, too, do the small flourishes of additional detail that aren’t necessary but heartily appreciated.

Gentle Troll Entertainment

Every time you load up the game, you must open the Tavern Talk journal, within which you’ll notice a ‘Wanted Wall section, as well as the ‘Guestbook’. This game could have easily been made without these extras, and it would have still been a brilliant experience. But by adding this additional layer to the tavern keeping experience, the world becomes richer for it. It demonstrates the developers’ passion for delivering a game that has all the trimmings; it’s commendable because it’s not often seen, even in indie titles.

The authenticity of LGBTQIA+ representation also deserves a shoutout here, for the devs have ensured that queer portrayal feels as natural as breathing; as it should do, but so often doesn’t in video games. Bearded dwarven women, muscular female wolves, and non-binary elves are just the beginning of the tapestry woven here. It’s wonderful to see the multifaceted nature of the RPG world conveyed in more than just mythical beasts, but via the conduit of sexuality’s spectrum as well.

I’ve yet to finish this game, yet I already dread when that moment arrives because it means our journey has ended, the story told. Despite being better for having experienced it, like when I finish any good book, I pine for its narrative long after reading.

Pros: Stunning artwork, immersive story, and it has Andu helping you behind the bar

Cons: Slow pace, stereotypical NPCs, and not enough drink variation

8/10: Excellent

Tavern Talk is out now on Steam (version tested), and Nintendo Switch. Review code was provided by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Gentle Troll Entertainment

Topics: Indie Games, Reviews, Steam, Nintendo Switch