Black Magic Brewster
Much as with coffee, life can be bitter or sweet, and well does a certain witch know that. The titular character of Affogato, now available on Steam, is a magical lady with a mission. Witches of her tradition have long partnered with powerful demons, striking deals that allow them to help their fellow humans at the eventual cost of their own souls. Wielding the powers of the contract, they delve into the hearts of those mortals who have been less fortunate with demonic encounters, clearing away evil influences and generally making the world a better place.
That said, Affogato has her work cut out for her when she opens her own coffee shop in busy Arorua City, where the sun never quite seems to rise and shine. The local boss witch is more than happy to dump the toughest jobs on her, and it’s soon apparent that something more extreme than usual is at hand. As the weeks pass, the magenta-haired barista must balance the business of brew with the call to cast out evil, saving souls one coffee at a time.
Affogato‘s story has a decent setup and better support, with the plot points arriving on a set calendar with some wiggle room for completion. Via her smartphone, the world’s witchiest barista gets news updates that fill in pieces of world-building, foreshadow new plot or side characters, and generally make the world feel more like a lived-in place. The side character plots are surprisingly robust for something completely optional, and the extra Witch Card units they eventually unlock are useful. Doing all five side plots in one playthrough requires some forward planning, however, and the game might have been better served by folding these more into the main narrative as actual chapters of the plot. As it is, Affogato covers a period of about two and a half in-game months with enough material to last half a year at least.
The basic gameplay loop consists of three times of day: morning, evening, and late night. During the morning period, Affogato can go shopping, do activities to boost social skills, work the till at the cafe for a bonus to the daily cash flow, or trawl for random demonic possessions on the street for a quick battle. In the evenings, she can again work on her social skills, choose battles, or pursue side stories with the secondary cast of characters. Late at night, she stays in her room, does unit management with Mephista, and sleeps. It’s not dissimilar to the basic time management concept of the later Persona games, complete with calendar time limits for things like paying rent or completing main story quests.
As Affogato is a barista with her own shop, coffee-making is a thing, but it’s not as dominant a part of the gameplay as one might expect. The process is fairly straightforward and a little repetitive, especially as many of the drink recipes begin with “Make an Americano,” but it’s only a thing to do for plot-related reasons, either in the main story or the side stories. The game could have actually done more with this subsystem, such as incorporating it into the normal daily store operations, but as it stands, coffee-making is a sidebar item that’s mainly in there to fit the heroine’s theme.
The biggest difference between this game and most other RPGs is the combat system. Affogato is described as a “reverse tower defense” game, or tower assault, where the field of battle is organized around a large track with demonic targets placed strategically all over. The player puts together a team of Witch Cards for Affogato to draw from in battle, requiring differing amounts of magical Penta for each. Combat commences when the first card is placed at the start of the track, though the player can switch the orientation of directional tiles in advance. The card units travel along the track and will attack whatever enemy unit is handy unless the player specifically points one out to prioritize. There’s a decent variety of units to take out, many with their own quirks to exploit, and the main plot chapters also include gimmicks to account for. Since units in motion tend to stay in motion, the player must pay close attention to the track ahead, switching the orientation of directional tiles or initiating other tactics on the fly and hoping that it all does not descend into a chaotic mess by the end.
Penta is gained either by eliminating enemy units with a coin icon, redeeming a specific card collected on the track, or by utilizing the innate abilities of certain allied cards. In any case, Penta management is a major element of success in this game, as some battle maps are stingier with it than others. While the difficulty is never too high, the later main and side plot maps will take multiple tries before the player can figure out the best combination of cards and the right approach to removing the obstacles.
The visual aspects of Arorua City are all neon lights and dusky skies as, for plot reasons, the city has existed in perpetual twilight for the past six years. It’s a striking visual theme, bright colors on indigo or black, and the background elements have an interesting blend of English, Japanese, and Chinese influences that might have fit a neo-modern cyberpunk game equally well. The population of Arorua City are represented by big-headed paper doll models, but the portrait art is beautifully detailed. For the large proportion of female characters involved, there’s surprisingly little cheesecake, with only a few obvious splash art images in certain story scenes. Even then, it’s not completely gratuitous.
To match the graphical aesthetic, the soundtrack of Affogato is full of neo-fusion jazz elements, with thumping backbeats providing rhythm to the Witch Card units as they trundle along the battle track. The tunes are catchy and likely to stick in the players head well after the game is turned off. Voice acting is available in Chinese and Japanese only. I can only speak for the latter, but it is well-performed for all characters and matches the tone and content of the English text to a tee. It’s also interesting to see where the voices and text do not align, covering the same intent with different phrases or grammar, as it points to a decent attempt at translation and localization.
Affogato was an entertaining romp for me to end my summer gaming season with, and while I had some hang-ups with the late-game battle maps, I only experienced one major bug–in the final boss battle of all places. That bug failed to occur on the second attempt, and overall I’ve enjoyed my time with this game. Like a fresh sip of caffe latte on a cool morning, it’s been a good pick-me-up for the rest of the season.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Cool visual and audio aesthetics
Fast-paced tower assault combat
Good plot and general writing
Side content could easily have been included in main for better flow
Some later maps are very particular or finicky about approach