When I played Coffee Talk back in 2020, I quickly found myself enamoured by the simple yet engaging premise of being the owner and barista of a late night cafe that serves as a shoulder to lean on to its various customers. It had coffee, chill vibes, lo-fi beats to relax and make coffee to, which is what everyone needs. Visual novels had never really been my cup of tea, but I was quick to warm to them when I was introduced to this fascinating modern day rendition of Seattle, where humans and mythical creatures live amongst each other, and aren’t afraid to discuss their various life problems alongside their trusty barista. In Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly, you again assume the role of the barista, and your job is simple – kick back, make beverages for your patrons, and get deeply invested in the happenings of their lives at your titular establishment Coffee Talk.
It’s good to be back
Set in modern-day Seattle, three years on from the original, Episode 2 will be strikingly familiar to those who played the original, and a new cosy location for those jumping into the series for the first time. You’re situated in the same shop, with the original cast of customers returning to the cafe throughout the story, alongside some fresh new characters such as Lucas the pretty boy social media influencer, and Riona, a Banshee who wants to be an opera singer but is currently a part-time food delivery driver. While in some moments the player character will converse with customers to progress the game in typical visual novel fashion, another major aspect of the experience is simply listening in on (and occasionally joining in on) the conversations guests are having amongst themselves.
Despite being set in a version of Seattle in which fantasy creatures coexist alongside humans, the conversations throughout Episode 2 feel very believable and real. From the struggles of being an influencer and the downsides of social media, to family issues, relationship problems and racism, there are plenty of serious and thought-provoking conversations to listen in on, and I believe they’re each handled with a respectable level of care.
Lucas is a welcome new character
Although some of the issues present throughout Coffee Talk aren’t exactly positive, the experience still feels quite comfortable and relaxing thanks to the chilled vibe and atmosphere that is created by combining its rainy day Seattle coffee shop with another excellent lo-fi soundtrack by Andrew Jeremy (known in-game as Aremy Jendrew). Songs can be freely cycled through via the Shuffld app present on the barista’s phone, which also has some other applications on it, such as Brewpad, which allows you to keep track of special recipes you’ve concocted throughout the game, and Tomodachill, a social media platform where your relationship with the regulars at your coffee shop will gradually improve as you speak with them and get their drink order correct, which in turn provides you with further background on their character. The Evening Whispers app is an application that displays daily short stories, which serves as additional dialogue you’re free to read if you so choose. They’re fine, but will likely be missed entirely by most players.
In terms of visuals, storytelling and its atmospheric soundtrack, Episode 2 feels almost identical to the original, which results in a great experience, however the sense of familiarity and lack of major change means that the novelty of the experience didn’t hit quite as hard this time around. In saying that though, following the lives of the coffee shop patrons and seeing the various outcomes at the end of the game depending on whether you got their drink orders correct (it’s actually crucial to getting the better endings), makes it a visual novel ripe for multiple playthroughs, and the continuing storylines for characters from the original game is a welcome reward for those who played the first entry. Characters also seem more emotive in their movements here as well, doing a great job at portraying the gravitas of their dialogue, and making up for the lack of voice acting.
Shuffld isn’t quite Spotify, but it does at least have some quality lo-fi
On the gameplay front, Episode 2 is again essentially its predecessor, however there are a few new additions that provide a little bit more variety. Those familiar with variants of coffee’s far less interesting sibling tea will be well aware that the hibiscus and butterfly present in the game’s title are types of tea, and they serve as the two new primary ingredients. Other than that though, the primary ingredients of coffee, green tea, tea, chocolate, and milk return again, alongside additional ingredients like ginger, mint, lemon, honey, and cinnamon. Latte-based drinks can have lovely latte art adorned atop them, however like I am in real life, I’m absolutely useless at the mechanic. It’s still a fun tool to mess around with, and those more creative will enjoy presenting fancier looking drinks.
The additional drinks don’t really alter the gameplay experience much at all, but they are welcome extras that set themselves apart from the roster present in its predecessor. Each drink requires a base, primary, and secondary ingredients, and you must combine these ingredients throughout the main story mode, to satisfy the requirements of your regular customers. Some customers outwardly state the ingredients that they want, while others can be quite vague, requiring you to experiment with what is at your disposal. It’s a fun and relatively stress-free exercise, allowing you to take your time and make drinks at your own pace.
Also new in Episode 2 are items that can be served alongside a customer’s drink, which can open up more dialogue opportunities throughout the game. In one instance, a character leaves an item behind for you to give to a character he felt he had upset, and giving them this item in turn improves the relationship between the two. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s easily forgotten during the process of making a drink, so I did find myself forgetting to give items on various occasions. A bit better job at signposting this task wouldn’t have gone astray.
If you’re more interested in a challenge, the aptly named Challenge Mode is the place for you to show your lightning-quick barista skills. Customers come thick and fast with orders, with the goal to get as many orders completed within the given time frame. Getting an order right will see a new customer arrive, and your timer will be granted some additional time, whereas getting an order wrong will see a new customer, but the timer will not receive the much needed bump. The staying power of this mode likely won’t be long, but it’s undoubtedly fun to play around with for an hour or so. Much like the story mode, some orders will be explicit, while others are vague, however the most interesting addition is completing orders of particular flavour profiles. For example, a customer may request a drink that’s extra bitter, which in turn requires you to keep your eyes locked on the stats of the drink you’re making. Each ingredient has its own attributes which are visualised by bars below the ingredients, and sometimes you are required to focus more on the taste than the contents of the drink. It’s a cool premise and really makes the experience of concocting beverages more complex, especially as the demands get more and more strict.
If you just want to kick back, bask in the lo-fi soundtrack and be smothered with cosy vibes, Free Brew is also a welcome mode to try out. Here you can freely make drinks of your choosing, which grants you a freedom to experiment that isn’t really present across the other modes. Free Brew is also the best place to learn the various special drinks that you may need throughout subsequent playthroughs to get better endings for characters.
Challenge mode is a fun time
While I love Episode 2 to a similar level that I did the original, I am somewhat left just a little disappointed by its decision to not reinvent the wheel much at all. The experience is still a great one, don’t get me wrong, but the additional drink choices and the ability to give items to customers to get further story content just isn’t a enough evolution in the experience, especially seeing as the location and collection of regular patrons are basically the same bar for a few new characters. The vibes and aesthetic however are still as pleasing as they were before, and those keen for an indie game to relax and pair with a hot beverage, Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly serves as a welcome choice.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Toge Productions
- Chorus Worldwide
- PS5/ PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / Switch / PC
- April 20, 2023