August 17, 2023
Spiral Up Games
It’s not often that you find a JRPG that combines comedy, life perspectives, time management, and strategy. Affogato takes those aspects and mixes them together like a fine cup of coffee, taking several cues from the Persona series but having enough unique elements to stand on its own. The characters, visuals, and combat have enough charm to immerse you for hours.
The result is a game that makes you laugh, ponder, and think at opportune moments. Affogato gives you a smooth experience from start to finish, throwing enough variety to keep you entertained. Its short length doesn’t leave much room for time management, and there are slip-ups in the instructions and UI. But those flaws are minor in comparison to the game’s strengths, which make Affogato a game to remember.
The story begins with the titular Affogato, a witch who is moving to Arorua City. Along with her demon partner Mephista, she must do everything she can to not lose her home. She starts a café because she enjoys serving coffee, but quickly gets dragged into the city’s supernatural happenings. As Affogato learns about the city’s problems, she makes new friends and tries to solve their problems too.
Despite the comedic situations that Affogato often finds herself in, most of the game’s content touches on real-life issues. Economic recession, bullying, and relationship uncertainty are just a few of the topics that are covered. Rather than taking the easy way out and showing easy resolutions, these topics are covered in great detail.
For example, you meet a column writer for a news website who is unhappy with her life. She’s teetering on the edge of homelessness and unstable employment, working at a job she doesn’t like. But it’s hard to find a job as there’s been an economic recession. What is the right answer? Unlike other RPGs where there’s always a happy ending, the conclusions in Affogato are often bittersweet. That bittersweet taste works to the story’s advantage because it takes its subject matter seriously. It makes you think about the story you just witnessed and motivates you to keep going.
The characterisation is excellent, with unique personalities that endear you to the cast. Characters feel like actual people, with real concerns and behaviours. No one is perfect which helps immerse you in the problems they face. It’s easy to put yourself in their shoes because it’s likely you have experienced or are experiencing the same problems. All of these factors work well to create a memorable story. You will also endear yourself to a few characters who make this game great on their own. For example, Mephista is exactly what you would expect a selfish demon assistant to be, and provides the humour to match. But she also provides nuggets of wisdom that demonstrate how multi-dimensional the cast is.
“It covers what it needs to and ends before it starts overstaying its welcome.”
The story isn’t as long as you would expect of a time management game, which could surprise users who are used to much larger experiences in the genre like Persona. Fortunately, the story length is just right. It covers what it needs to and ends before it starts overstaying its welcome. While you might be left wanting more, you should still be satisfied when it’s all over.
Affogato loves helping people with their problems and serving coffee, but her biggest priority is rent. If she can’t make rent, the game ends. Earning money isn’t too hard, but you must balance your schedule with other activities; building your supernatural powers and developing relationships is key to your success too. Just like Persona, you have deadlines to meet and you are free to spend your time as you wish. While there are some story events, your mornings and evenings let you explore Arorua City to your heart’s content. You can boost your stats to interact with characters or train against demons possessing humans on the street.
What’s great about Affogato is that the story matches your pace. If you want to clear the story ASAP, events will be encountered earlier, but for players who like to take their time, you can wait until the last day to tackle the story. This flexibility is an advantage over games like Persona where everything progresses as normal even if you finish early. Completing story events early doesn’t reduce the number of free days you get either, letting you play as you like.
The only flaw is that it isn’t obvious that you can use Witch Vision in the beginning. Early on, using Witch Vision is crucial to find a story target, but it’s not made clear. Witch Vision is also how you find targets to battle during your free time. The game makes it more obvious later, but it would have been helpful to spend more time on it.
When you aren’t managing your time in the real world, you are fighting against demons in reverse tower defence. Affogato has several tarot cards which take the form of allies that travel around a board. These allies have various roles which are suited to different situations. Part of the game’s strategic appeal is using cards at the right time, balancing your short-term needs vs. long-term objectives.
Demons take the form of cute beings scattered around the map, trying to defeat your allies. They are easy to destroy in the beginning, but enemies soon gain resistances and abilities that hinder your progress. This prevents you from getting complacent and using the same strategy all the time. Innovation and experimentation are key to victory, and it’s a fun activity.
There are multiple viable strategies for every map and you can choose your preferred strategy. The tutorial walks you through a solid team combination but it won’t last forever. New maps present new challenges that force you to come up with new strategies. Fortunately, it’s hard to lock yourself in an impossible situation. Most challenges can be overcome with careful planning.
As difficult as the new maps can be, they are never unfair, simply require specific strategies. Matching different ally attack types, changing formation, or using different cards is often enough to win. As you get more cards, you are encouraged to test them out with Mephista and open up new strategic options. Failure is expected since the game throws several curve balls at you. To mitigate the pain of failure, checkpoints are dotted around long maps which let you save your progress mid-battle.
The various combinations are fun to explore, especially when you have map features to contend with. All maps contain tiles that control directional movement, but many have unique qualities. Some maps force you to dive underwater to avoid attacks while others require you to make deliveries. Adapting to these challenges keeps things feeling fresh, especially because there’s enough variation to avoid repetition. The variety of challenges can interfere with the visual UI however, such as making directional tiles hard to see. It’s frustrating when you think a tile is set in the right direction, but can’t actually check if that’s true. This doesn’t come up often but it is noticeable on larger maps with lots of activity. The obstruction isn’t impossible to overcome, but it feels like it could have been planned for.
One of Affogato’s greatest strengths is its visuals. Characters are drawn well and are distinctive from each other, and it’s easy to get attached to them based on their designs, with the Japanese voice acting bringing out their personalities. When someone sounds tired, they are actually tired. If someone’s hit a realisation, you can hear the maturity in their voice.
When you are exploring Arorua City, characters take on a small cartoonish form. It’s not a full chibi-art style, but it is cute enough that everything looks adorable. It’s best seen when characters are jumping, which represents either anticipation or frustration. The art style provides a nice balance; while the story can be intense, the characters are there to be had fun with.
Where the art truly shines is in coffee creation. When you meet someone for the first time or talk with a friend, coffee is involved. It’s easy to make recipes and they all look stunning. From the simple Americano to the spicy Flame Strike, all coffee creations look like a work of art. You can also decorate and season them as you like, adding a unique touch to your creations.
It’s easy to see Affogato as a smaller-scale version of a Persona game, and in some respects that’s true. The time management, themes, and character interaction are similar. But there’s enough charm and uniqueness in the gameplay to help Affogato stand out on its own. With its own storyline, strategic gameplay, and memorable characters, Affogato makes for an experience that you won’t soon forget.
- Story is well-written and is very relatable
- Combat is a wonderful mix of strategy and challenge
- Artwork is gorgeous, especially the coffee
- Not a long experience for a JRPG
- Some visual UI elements in combat block each other
Affogato takes the much-loved Persona formula and runs with it, adding its own twists to the story and gameplay to be unique. The time management and character relationships are familiar gameplay elements, but the story and combat truly stand out. The story is relatable and not afraid to touch on serious topics, while combat hits the right balance of challenge and strategy. While there are some minor flaws, they don’t pop up frequently and don’t have a large impact on the experience overall. Just as cafes can turn familiar cups of coffee into unique creations, Affogato takes standard JRPG elements to make an amazing game you won’t soon forget.