I still want to talk about this coffee!
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is a direct follow-up to 2020’s Coffee Talk (i.e. Episode 1), a story-driven experience that takes place entirely in a humble Seattle cafe. Developer Toge Productions has brought back many familiar characters and a few new ones to share more of their stories and to see new relationships take shape. The elevator pitch is that if you enjoyed the original, you’ll dig this second chapter. That said, aside from a few new ingredients at your disposal as the cafe’s proprietor and the ability to give an item or possession alongside the beverage you’re serving up, the familiar Pacific Northwest weather isn’t the only thing that you’re getting more of here.
As the owner and sole employee of the Coffee Talk establishment, the player-named protagonist serves as a sounding board for old friends from the first game and a handful of new characters that pop in for a warm beverage on a rainy evening. In some rare moments, a customer will drop a remark that sheds some light about the proprietor’s background, but it’s generally left a mystery, which is part of the charm. Given that I very much fell in love with the original game (whose mechanics are explained in more detail here), I was excited to see familiar faces like Baileys and Lua, police officer Jorji, and even vampire model Hyde. Picking up where those relationships left off gives this sequel a wonderful sense of continuity, and the effective writing makes many of the conversations ones where you’ll hang on every word.
The drink making “gameplay” returns and really hasn’t undergone much of a transformation. There are a few new ingredients, namely the blue pea tea leaves and hibiscus, which blend into vibrant blue and red drinks to soothe the weary souls of your patrons. You’re still tasked with deciphering what beverage each customer is looking for based on a brief description: something sweet with milk, or maybe a hibiscus with some warm spice. At times you’ll need to remember what you served up during someone’s previous visit, and you’re generally rewarded with extended dialogue, unique story paths, and more detailed character descriptions by concocting the right brew and sliding it over the counter. A variety of in-game achievements are tied to both successfully and unsuccessfully meeting your customers’ requests.
While Freya from Episode 1 represented the beating heart of its narrative, the new characters in Episode 2 don’t quite reach the same highs. The first one you meet is a satyr named Lucas, who works as a social media influencer. His enthusiasm and tendency to stick his foot in his mouth can make him endearing, but I rarely found him as captivating as Freya. That said, given how well written the cast is as a whole, it’s more than likely that players will still find at least one or two of them relatable and easy to connect with.
With how much of a role story plays in this genre, I’d say the anecdotes and tales spun by the characters of Episode 2 are slightly less captivating than those of Episode 1; that might be less of an indictment of the sequel and more praise of the original. Fortunately, the incredible lo-fi soundtrack that befits the dark and stormy nights of Coffee Talk’s setting is again a major highlight of the experience. There’s nothing finer than hearing the rain beating down outside your window as you breathe in the steam from a cup of hot chocolate or matcha while a banshee named Riona pours her heart out to you and her fellow cafe patrons about her struggles as a singer.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly refuses to fix what isn’t broken, and it adds a few new mechanics that freshen up the gameplay just enough. While elements of its narrative aren’t quite as strong as those of the first Coffee Talk, it remains an incredibly chill and peaceful experience, and I’d gladly play through as many episodes as the developers choose to bless us with. Catching up with old friends is one of my favorite pastimes, and being able to do it in video game form is something I can definitely raise a glass to.