Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy from developer Kikaiism and publisher Ratalaika Games is nothing if not unique.  As you’re sure to have surmised by the title, caffeine plays a central role here, but it’s definitely not the role you think it would be and nothing is really what it seems.  This is a visual novel with romantic pathways and a degree of choice, but for the most part, you’ll be reading the story.  Caffeine feels like the best kind of mangas, somewhat irreverent, serious in some areas, lascivious in others.  But you want to know what the heck it is, right?

In Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy you play Taka Knight, a young man whose mother disappeared when he was young.  He’s had a falling out with his father and discovered a clue to his mom’s whereabouts, so he boards a plane to look for her.  That’s where things get interesting.  Suddenly Taka is being pulled from water, waking in what appears to be the coffee shop that his parents ran.  However, the shop is named after him and it is run by a girl about his own age named Alice.  Confusing to be sure.

To make matters even stranger, Taka doesn’t seem to be in our world any longer.  Instead, he’s in Victoria, ostensibly in England but certainly not our England.  Rather, this is a steampunk utopian version of the world that shares only dates and language with our world.  Coffee is king here and for good reason.  A properly brewed cuppa bestows magical powers upon those who imbibe and are able to use the magic arts of caffeine!  Barista is the highest calling a persona can have in Victoria and cuppers and baristas fight duels with coffee-based magical powers for honor and status!  It’s a unique and fascinating sort of world-building and the game is incredibly compelling from that standpoint.  Even your beliefs have an impact on the effects of caffeine!

This is a visual novel so there’s not a ton of gameplay but you do get to make a fair number of choices in Caffeine.  As you learn to be a barista to save Alice’s coffee shop from being closed, you’ll be given opportunities to sweep one of four different ladies off their feet, leading to 4 different endings and also a true ending that takes a fair bit longer to get to.  Plenty of choice is available, which is a refreshing change from a lot of visual novels coming out lately.  However unless you buckle down and pick a girl to woo, you won’t truly experience the character development that Caffeine hides within its depths.  There really is a remarkable amount of excellent writing here and players that have the patience to play through multiple times will definitely be rewarded.

While the romance is the crux of the game, the coffee backstory is arguably more interesting and it’s a shame that more isn’t done there.  A game focused on coffee duels and the politics of cuppers and baristas would have been utterly fascinating even if you hate coffee.  The subtleties of brewing and tasting coffee are quite compelling as story elements and the entire world is just begging to be explored further.

Sadly, that’s not to be the case for us with Caffeine.  Your journey, which weighs in at around 20-25 hours, mostly focuses on individual characters and love interests with a side of finding your mom.  It’s an interesting one and there are plenty of twists and turns, but some players might be wishing for more.  Regardless, the script is quite good and few players will be disappointed.  DOn’t count on matching Switch visuals though.  Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy is filled with glitches and artifacts that pollute the screen randomly.  They’re not constant but they definitely stand out, especially when you’re mostly sitting and reading with a weird box or line flickering in the corner.  For some reason, this port is not optimized very well and even the startup for the game is noticeably lengthy.  Just when you’re about to give up and play something else, the game finally loads.  When it does, things don’t look great though.  Between the visual artifacts and the art style itself, Caffeine feels somewhat incomplete.

That’s not to say that the game looks bad, it definitely doesn’t.  But the artwork is often weak and well below the high standards set by AAA visual novels.  Other times, the backgrounds are simply empty with dialogue, remarkable because it’s so irritating.  Once in a while, things look absolutely amazing and the pans and motion of characters is pure excellence, but it’s certainly an uneven game overall.  This is no Chaos; Child or Clannad.  There’s a certain charm to those weak visuals however.  Much like some of the other VNs Ratalaika has published, Caffeine is a diamond in the rough managing to be compelling despite the visuals and even the glitches.  That’s no small feat!

The music in Caffeine manages to outdo the visual problems of the game with solid tracks that are unique and mesh well with the plot and atmosphere.  Additionally, the surprisingly good voice work is a treat.  Sadly the game isn’t completely voiced and while many key moments have full dialogue, others only have a word here and there to remind you of the character’s voice while you read the text.  Surprisingly, Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy doesn’t take itself too seriously either.  For a romance with a side of missing family members, you’d think there would be a fair amount of drama, but jokes and quips pop up fairly frequently and the game even breaks the forth wall a fair bit, an unexpected treat.  It feels somehow fine to go that route here and the occasional silliness doesn’t take away from the excellent writing and interesting world that Caffeine builds up.

For the most part, Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy is a fantastic game with a compelling narrative and character development, creative steampunk alternate history, and unique fusion of coffee lore and magic.  The sound work is equal to the writing and the only real sticking point are the graphical glitches, long load time (mitigated by the Switch resume function) and the sometimes sub-par character art.  Overall though, this is a fun and interesting game for only $18 and well worth your time!  If you like visual novels, coffee, steampunk, or even just a fun story with cool characters, don’t hesitate to grab a copy of Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy!

This review was based on a digital copy of Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy provided by the publisher.  It was played on a Nintendo Switch in both docked and undocked modes and played equally on both.  Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy is also available for PS4/PS5, Xbox, and PC on Steam.

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