REVIEW: Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is a warm cup of comfort
I can't tell you the last time I walked into a social space to relax and hang out with others. Since the pandemic began, those spaces are inherently not relaxing to me anymore and I deeply yearn for a time when they were.
Video games haven't really ever fulfilled the same need for me, even when I hang out in social games like Tower Unite or VRChat with pals... but somehow Coffee Talk Episode 2 does.
To put it simply: the return of the barista-simulating visual novel is one of the most uplifting and heartwarming experiences of the year.
Just the Facts
Developer: Toge Productions
Publisher: Toge Productions
Platform(s): PC*, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series S and X, Nintendo Switch *denotes platform reviewed on
Release Date: April 20, 2023
Review key provided by Stride PR.
Toge Productions has risen up quite a bit in the last handful of years, anchored by indie series like Infectonator, which started as a flash game, and new originals like Coffee Talk. They've become quite the powerhouse publisher, based out of Southeast Asia with a lineup of great teams and games.
Before we can really talk about Coffee Talk though, we have to talk about Mohammad Fahmi. Fahmi was the original creator and writer of Coffee Talk and, tragically, he passed away last March at the age of 32. Having started his career at Gameloft, Fahmi built a legacy for himself in games like Coffee Talk, What Comes After, and Afterlove EP. One of genuine narrative brilliance. He was known by his peers as a passionate star of the Indonesian game dev scene and his loss had echoes throughout the indie space.
Knowing that going into Coffee Talk Episode 2 adds a layer of melancholy to the whole affair. His passing is still so fresh, but when you see the impact Coffee Talk had on the world, and when you see how excited people were for the sequel, you know that his art had an impact on so many.
Before hopping into Coffee Talk Episode 2, I went back and watched a playthrough of the original on YouTube to refresh my memory. Seeing the love the video's commenters had for various characters, for the coffee house aesthetic, and specifically for Fahmi's writing... it touched my heart. And that would prove to be a reoccurring feeling throughout my time with the game.
So before we get into the review proper, we wish to say: Rest in peace, Fahmi. Your presence is felt to this day and we hope you know your art made an impact on the world.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is as sequel as a sequel can be, one that is making a point in titling itself Episode 2. These days, being a sequel usually means newcomers can hop in with no worries: Stakes are usually reset, relationships are recommunicated fully, and storylines are left fairly straightforward and accessible. Coffee Talk Episode 2? Not so much. If there's any "issue" with Episode 2, it's that the game definitely skews more into "must play the first game" territory.
Which feels like a weird complaint because... that's just how sequels are? I've always been the type who needs to experience all things in order, worries about spoilers, and could never imagine skipping ahead in any way, shape, or form — so I couldn't imagine skipping ahead, particularly in a story-driven game. But if you're the type who finds more enjoyment in just jumping into the hot new stuff, I greatly recommend playing the first game ahead of this.
"It's exactly what you want in a sequel, and the cozy comforts of running a café come through in all ways."
Coffee Talk's entire basis is the barista's relationships formed with each of those across the counter, about the growth of its characters and relationships over time. And that's all cut short without the first game.
It should also be noted that I'll be talking about this game as if you've played the first, so definitely turn back now if you'd rather not be spoiled.
But enough preface, let's get into why I'm being so precious about those relationships and characters. In short: Coffee Talk Episode Two's writing and character arcs are worth experiencing end to end. So, if you've got some time, grab a cup and pull up a stool for more.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly continues three years after the first game, in real time just three years after the release of the first. You'll inhabit the role of owner and proprietor of Coffee Talk, a café tucked away on a hidden side street in rainy Seattle that only opens toward the end of the day and stays open late. As the name implies, you'll be serving drinks and listening to the stories of Seattleites from all walks of life, playing a role somewhere between barista and bartender as you serve and talk with the night owls, from cops on the graveyard shift to folks looking for somewhere to relax after work, and maybe a few cat girls.
Oh yeah. Did I forget to mention?
This fantastical version of present-day Seattle sees mythical beings walking and living amongst humans. You've got satyrs, banshees, vampires, nekomimi (said cat girls), and more passing through your door. Toge Productions uses this to the fullest extent possible, with some fun mixing and matching of each creature's traits with their fit in modern reality. A cat girl fits in nicely as a pop star. A banshee might want a career as a singer.
This fantasy-meets-reality angle is done fairly well but is honestly mostly there for flavor. Make no mistake, this is an incredibly human story. As the game pitches, "In a time where people are isolated from each other, Coffee Talk is a place where we can reconnect over a cup of warm drink." It's the relatability of these characters and the writing that sell the experience. It's how human their struggles are that make it so good, not so much that they're elves, orcs, and werewolves.
There are analogs for racism, identity dysphoria, cultural struggles, and other painfully recognizable issues that are handled far better than many other games built to "tackle the serious issues." Through the inherent narrative structure, as a late-night barista, you're built to listen. Built to be the sounding board for the kind of people troubled enough to drink coffee after midnight.
Most of the patrons who visit Coffee Talk are regulars from the first game, like the adorable elf-succubus couple of Baileys and Lua who are working through wedding drama in this game after salvaging their relationship in the first. Or Hyde the vampire who has been around for centuries and is experiencing burnout in his modeling career after being little more than an observer in the first game.
"Toge Productions found a way to distill down the comforts of shared familiarity between friends and the otherwise complex nuances of interpersonal relationships in the piping hot drink known as Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly."
Episode 2 does introduce a couple of new characters, like Riona the banshee who's struggling with her creative identity and Lucas the satyr who fulfills the role of an atypical "influencer" — atypical in the sense that he's charming and enjoyable and not a menace to society. They blend into the cast fairly well and their stories are fun, but it's the payoff of arcs two games in the making that hit hardest.
Coffee Talk's narrative is all about these little stories, all about opening up the café every day, seeing who's wandering in, and learning more about them and their problems through conversation. Seeing how each character's unique perspective helps to reframe someone else's issues, how a friendly face and a warm cup can do so much more than spiraling alone, and what power a safe space shared between friends can bring.
By the end of 15 days, which will come out to anywhere between 6-10 hours played depending on how committed you are to completion, you'll have dealt with the issues of all your pals through conversation and coffee.
Back from the original is your phone, loaded with four apps: the Brewpad, which documents your recipes; Shuffld, for music; The Evening Whispers, where you can read short stories; and Tomodachill, the social media used by your patrons, where you'll unlock pieces of their profiles and learn more about them. Most of this carries over from the first game, but Tomodachill now has a fun new "stories" feature where customers post updates every day giving a look at what they're up to. It's a fun way to extend that connection with each character and even give you hints as to where their stories may end up.
It's hard to talk too much about any one story here without giving too much away, particularly because the game is 80% built around the power of these conversations and stories, but the relatability stands out. For example, Baileys and Lua struggle with the idea of a "perfect wedding." They talk of the pressure of expectations to deliver the best wedding, stressing about creating the amazing day your partner deserves, and moments of failing to just ask the other what they want out of the day. As someone currently in the process of planning a wedding with my partner, the conversations felt ripped straight out of my reality and placed into the game, so much so that by the end of that arc, I found myself in tears.
Across each of these smaller stories, I'm certain you'll find a piece of your reality reflected in this game. Whether you're struggling with an aspect of your identity, with a sense of purpose in your work, with finding a creative spark, or just struggling to find the best way to tell your friend a hard truth, Coffee Talk Episode 2, much like its predecessor, explores a little bit of it all. What the sequel does is simply make the writing a little more mature, a little more grounded, and presents scenarios that feel more universal.
You don't make choices in conversations — you simply click along and see the storylines through. That's where the rest of the game mechanics enter to keep things fun and to make you a part of the story. The bulk of the gameplay comes in the coffee half of Coffee Talk. Making and serving drinks to customers, attuned to their likes and dislikes, based on the flavor profiles of your ingredients and in what order you mix them into a drink.
This sequel doesn't reinvent the wheel, only adding two new bases for drinks in the form of hibiscus tea flowers and butterfly pea tea flowers, but it adds just enough to the equation to make deciphering your patrons' needs that little bit more complicated. You see, the drinks actually serve as a way to influence their mood and decisions. Get their specific drink orders right and they may find themselves on a better path than when they walked in. Get them wrong and their problems may resolve in unexpected ways.
After you make a drink, you'll be able to do some fancy latte art, which is a fun mostly optional thing on the side. Don't ask me too much about it, whenever I try to doodle something beautiful with some milk it mostly comes out looking like... well, a pool of milk in the middle of a drink.
The last real new addition comes in the last order of the process — handing out items with the drinks. As you progress through your shifts, you'll come into possession of a few unique items. Lost lighters, business cards, and numbers scribbled on napkins. It's up to you to decide when and who to give these out to, and that will also dictate the outcomes of some of these characters' arcs. For the most part, this is a welcome addition, but it remains painfully obvious when and where to send most of these things out. And in the cases where it isn't... well...
This leads me to my few minor negatives. Coffee Talk serves up a beautiful selection of drinks, but these next few things are like a cup of lukewarm decaf: surprising and questionable.
Despite how chill and cozy this experience is, it's surprisingly simple to find yourself failing the game's few actual gameplay sections, tunneling you into an imperfect ending. Serve the wrong drink and an entire arc could be settled with a bad end. And with the new ingredients and the hundreds of potential mix combos, that's more common than you think.
Fail to deliver what feels like an extraneous item to a customer, while doing everything else nearly perfectly, and find yourself locked out of the best ending. That's what happened to me.
You can, of course, reload a day, try to correct your issues, and move forward. But that's far from the optimal way to make your way through a game. It's a light frustration and it only really gets "difficult" in the end, but it's something to note if you're shooting for perfection on a first run. Be prepared to reload or to follow a guide.
Outside of a few glitches here and there that barely affect the experience and the aforementioned genuine need to play through the first game to enjoy the sequel, there's not a lot that otherwise could upset a playthrough of Coffee Talk Episode 2. It's exactly what you want in a sequel, and the cozy comforts of running a café come through in all ways.
You've got the constant rain drizzling outside the café windows. The new looks for old friends from the last game. The constant soundtrack of lo-fi beats to brew to from Andrew Jeremy. One of the most underrated pieces of the game's soundscape is the simple ASMR sounds that play when you go to brew a fresh drink. The sounds of the machine venting out hot air, ingredients being chopped, the liquid being poured. It's comforting in a way I never expected.
Coffee Talk Episode 2 provides all the creature comforts it can. A perfect line to wrap up on.
Toge Productions found a way to distill down the comforts of shared familiarity between friends and the otherwise complex nuances of interpersonal relationships in the piping hot drink known as Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly.
Its narrative-first visual novel presentation might scare some away, but just like that complex-sounding drink at your local café with ingredients you've never heard of, it's most definitely worth a taste.
Video Games Are Good and Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is . . . GREAT. (9/10)
+ a deeply comforting experience, powerfully relatable stories from all the café patrons, and everything you could ask for from a sequel
- surprisingly easy to "fail" the game's few challenges, a few minor glitches, a true sequel that NEEDS the first game to be enjoyed fully
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