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Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus And Butterfly Review - Brewing Something Special

  • Gorgeous visual style with a ton of character
  • Solid writing tackles an array of difficult topics in a natural and interesting way
  • Provides a look at an interesting world that introduces fantasy races to modern society
  • Some writing feels artificial or clunky
  • May be difficult for newcomers to jump into without playing the first game

A Switch review code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus and Butterfly" will be available on April 20, 2023 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

The indie sphere of the games industry allows developers to experiment with unconventional game structures to offer players unique experiences. One indie gem that did just that was the visual novel "Coffee Talk" in 2020 that blended conversations with fantasy creatures living in the modern world and mixing ingredients to make various beverages. Now, fans are able to jump back into the game's cozy alternative universe in the sequel "Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus and Butterfly." 

"Episode 2's" name is particularly indicative of how the sequel approaches continuing the franchise. It takes an episodic approach by allowing players to jump back into the role of a barista in the world a few years after the original where they can meet new characters, re-connect with familiar faces, and get a new perspective on the real world through the game's lens and commentary. Rather than adding new features or greatly expanding the scope of the original, "Episode 2" refines its visuals and gives fans more of what they loved about the original. This may make it difficult for newcomers to jump straight into the sequel, but proves itself to be a solid formula for established fans.

Heart to hearts

As its name suggests, "Coffee Talk" is all about conversations. From behind the counter of a late-night café, players meet a diverse cast of characters and get to know them as they talk about social and political issues, their personal lives, and whatever else is on their minds. It is important to note here that the games are visual novels that don't have any player choice built into them. Players are never able to choose different dialogue options and their in-game character has a pre-defined personality of being a polite and helpful barista that can somehow afford to keep their establishment open in Seattle by serving only a few customers a night. 

This puts a heavy burden on the game's writing to carry the experience. The only gameplay elements come in the form of players making drinks and deciding when to give items to certain characters, so it is almost entirely up to the game's writing to be engaging enough to keep players locked in. Luckily, the writing is almost universally successful. The conversations throughout "Episode 2" manage to explore heady topics without feeling condescending or preachy, all while thoroughly exploring its varied cast of characters. Occasionally, the writing can feel clunky or inorganic, but those instances are rare enough that they hardly detract from the experience. 

A world through a window

One of the more fascinating aspects of the "Coffee Talk" series is its world that is a unique blend of our modern society and fantasy creatures like satyrs, orcs, and succubi. In "Episode 2," players are introduced to the fantasy-infused rendition of Seattle in September 2023. This contemporary setting allows the game to comment and explore on societal topics that players are currently dealing with while bringing a fun perspective to the table thanks to its fantasy elements. As "Episode 2" explores societal and political topics throughout the majority of its playtime, it is also worth noting that it presents a very liberal perspective of its world that some players may not like.

Throughout the game, players get only small glimpses of the world to piece together, making it feel like a greater mystery that exists just outside of the single perspective in the café they are restricted to throughout their playthrough. They hear about a group of vandals that are slashing tires throughout the city, learn about its pop culture, and hear conversations about racial tensions and the fight for equality through their conversations, and a social media app on their in-game cell phone. While the lack of an in-game codex or massive collection of information regarding the game's wider world prevents players from ever getting the full picture, it helps the game's world feel more realistic and realized as details are slowly revealed, which is a massive boon to the narrative being told. 

Don't forget the coffee

Apart from having conversations, players also have to brew various drinks and serve them to customers of the café. Each drink is made up of three ingredients like green tea, milk, honey, and cinnamon, to name only a few. Sometimes, customers will tell players exactly what they want in their drink either by listing ingredients or giving them a name that the player can look up in the recipe app on their in-game cell phone. Other times, customers will instead give players the sort of drink they are interested in and leave the specifics up to the player to figure out. While serving drinks isn't particularly challenging or impactful during the course of the game, it does provide a fun change of pace to keep players engaged and offering a break from reading paragraphs of text.

The mechanic helps ground the player in the world while also revealing interesting aspects of characters through what they like to drink and how they order it. It is an elegant dimension of "Coffee Talk's" story-telling that helps highlight just how special and unique of a series it is. It is the perfect cozy game to curl up under a blanket with on a rainy night and just quietly enjoy with plenty of characters to grow attached to, conversations to think about, and moments to remember.