Coffee Talk Episode 2 key art
Coffee Talk Episode 2 key art

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly review

Release Date
20th April 2023
Toge Productions
Chorus Worldwide
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC, Nintendo Switch (tested)

For many of us, modern life can often be exhausting. It’s an endless series of bleeps and bloops, emails, phone calls, Teams messages, Slack pings, Zoom meetings, and phantom vibrations. When the world of work becomes overwhelming, it’s important to take some time for yourself. Time to relax, and reconnect with the people who bring you joy. Sometimes, you just need to stop for a moment and smell the rosewater.

The titular café of Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly offers such a safe haven away from the hustle and bustle of city living. It’s a wonderfully chill experience, one that soothed me during a particularly hectic period of real life stress. If you’re looking for the game equivalent of a cosy light novel before bed, you may well find it here.

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly screenshot

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly review

Set three years after the original, Coffee Talk Episode 2 once again sees you fill the role of a Seattle barista who operates the titular Coffee Talk. Your knowledge of caffeinated drinks is unrivalled, and you love nothing more than solving your customers’ problems. But this isn’t Seattle as you might know it. This is a world where fantasy creatures like mermaids, werewolves, and orcs live and work right alongside humans. The beings of this world are just as weary of the rise-and-grind gig economy as we are in ours. And so they flock to the late-night shelter of the Coffee Talk café to pour out their hearts as you pour out their lattes.

The cast of the original game all reappear here, loyal patrons that they are. Aqua and Myrtle are bickering over the direction of their game development project. Baileys and Lua are navigating the highs and lows of wedding planning. Vampire Hyde is growing dissatisfied with the superficial glamour of his modelling career.

All of the game’s characters are extremely well-drawn, both figuratively and literally. Their distinct personalities and manners of speech both gel together and create friction in delightful ways. I only played the first game relatively recently, but it was a joy to return to my best coffee friends. Seeing these oddballs bouncing off each other again felt almost like coming home.

There are new characters in the mix too, like satyr influencer Lucas or wannabe banshee singer Riona. It’s enlightening to see Coffee Talk‘s world through the eyes of new species, but they’re not particularly well-integrated into the game’s existing cast. Riona and Lucas happily chop it up with the more familiar faces, but their stories are largely siloed off together. There is, however, a welcome hint of danger to these newcomers. They don’t yet possess the same brand loyalty to Coffee Talk that your regulars do. Serve them the wrong drink one too many times, and they might not come back.

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly screenshot

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

And of course, in a game called Coffee Talk, serving the wrong drink is an occupational hazard. The drink-making minigame hasn’t changed much from the first game. Characters will start off by giving you specific orders. Gala loves his special Gala Tea, and Officer Jorji is a staunch triple espresso man given his lactose intolerance. But as the game progresses, their whims grow steadily vaguer. Lua might want something sweet and soporific, or Hyde may desire something spicy and inventive. It’s up to you to figure out what your customers want, even if they’re not totally sure of that themselves.

These mini puzzles require experimentation and guesswork with each drink’s three ingredient slots. First, you choose a base like tea, cocoa, or the new titular additions to your stock, hibiscus and butterfly pea. Then as you make additions like mint or honey, meters indicating qualities like warmth and bitterness fill up accordingly.

Once you hit the ‘Brew’ button, you’ll learn if you’ve hit upon one of the game’s dozens of secret recipes. Alternatively, you may discover you’ve made a cup of undrinkable muck, but be careful. You can only toss away five brewed drinks per in-game day, so you need to be selective. It’s incredibly satisfying to see a customer fall in love with a beverage you’ve slaved over, and a little heartbreaking to see you’ve disappointed them.

Espresso Yourself

Actual drink orders are relatively few and far between, though. This is firmly a narrative game, with an emphasis on the narrative. Most of my time was spent in non-interactive dialogue sequences, in which I was given next to no influence over what my character said or did. Hell, you can even fast forward through these scenes, or have the game tab through line by line automatically. I genuinely loved learning more about the characters of Coffee Talk, but I wouldn’t have minded having even just a little more control over my barista’s dialogue.

That’s not to say you’re completely without agency, though. Hibiscus & Butterfly introduces a new lost and found drawer, in which you gather items left behind by forgetful customers. Some objects have a right and wrong answer, and will be politely declined by anyone other than the intended recipient. But others allow for more choice and flexibility, and will be accepted by a number of characters.

Who you give these items to and when can open up branching story paths and impact how the game ends. It’s not quite as sophisticated as a full dialogue tree, but these choices are a welcome addition nonetheless.

Dark Roast

Much like the first game, Episode 2 is laden with social commentary that’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer. In-game newspaper headlines hint at corporate malfeasance and governmental overreach, all with a twist of magical realism. And of course, you can easily draw parallels between the historical discrimination against different mythical species in this world and, uhhh, certain aspects of our own reality. But this sociopolitical analysis isn’t much more than a skin-deep veneer to give the world a little extra flavour. Any time Coffee Talk Episode 2 even begins to dig into a thorny topic, it quickly beats a hasty retreat.

No character better embodies this issue than alien visitor Silver, previously known as Neil. Silver has been acclimatising to life on Earth as part of a fact-finding mission, desperate to understand Earthling customs. The longer he lives in Seattle, though, the less his disguise as a human remains a performance. Silver talks of feeling ‘more Earthling than alien’, and his sister Amanda’s loving acceptance of his new identity clearly means a lot to him.

You could easily read Silver’s plight as an allegory for the immigrant experience, or for trans rights, or maybe even for neurodivergance. The commentary here is so broad that the game struggles for a point more incisive than ‘be kind to others’. Coffee Talk Episode 2 traffics heavily in these metaphors, but it doesn’t have much of substance to say with them.

Having now played two Coffee Talk games, I also find the lack of a critical eye on policeman character Officer Jorji somewhat puzzling. His investigation into a bizarre pattern of vandalism in the area forms the closest thing Coffee Talk Episode 2 has to an overarching narrative, but the game seems to have little interest in the implications of his job in a world defined by racial differences.

Instead, Jorji is the platonic ideal of a friendly neighbourhood policeman, one who never abuses his power or who even has colleagues who might abuse theirs. I’m not saying I wanted a scene where Jorji guns down an unarmed teenager or whatever. Confronting police brutality head-on would be totally out of keeping with Coffee Talk‘s lighthearted tone. But for a game so clearly attuned to social consciousness, it’s curious that Jorji’s role as a cop goes largely unquestioned.

Chill Beans To Relax/Study To

Coffee Talk‘s reach may exceed its grasp in terms of its world building, but Episode 2 remains a delight aesthetically. The pixel art character designs are colourful and memorable, and reflect their personalities to a T. Werewolf Gala is a hulking, imposing figure, the kind of guy you would assume can turn into a deranged beast even if you didn’t know it. But with a few perfectly drawn lines, his face radiates a kindness and mirth that reflects his actual nature.

And of course, Coffee Talk‘s soundtrack is some of the most immediately relaxing music I’ve heard in a game. Andrew Jeremy’s lo-fi chillhop score for the first game has become a go-to album for me when I’m working; I think this game’s soundtrack will soon join it.

Coffee Talk Episode 2 also fits the Switch pretty perfectly, largely due to its optional touchscreen controls. It’s never been easier to draw latte art of a penis and serve it to character you find mildly irritating (I’m looking at you, Baileys). That being said, I did run into some annoying instances of slowdown with my Switch copy. It’s not frequent, but it is noticeable when switching between menus or during rainy establishing shots.

The game’s story mode won’t take you longer than five hours, but there are two Endless modes to keep you hooked after the credits roll. Challenge Mode throws an increasingly difficult series of drink orders at you with the added time pressure of a ticking clock. Free Brew is a distinctly more laidback affair. Here, you’re free to experiment with colourful concoctions to your heart’s desire, with no fear of judgement from your patrons. This is a great way to unlock hidden entries in your recipe book, and it’s something I can see myself dipping in and out of in future if I need to decompress for five minutes.

Final Thoughts

The strengths and weaknesses of Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly are nearly identical to those of the first game. It’s a truly calming experience, filled with charming characters and small-scale interpersonal drama. Solving coffee-based riddles

I appreciate the strides developer Toge Productions took towards increasing my personal investment in the story through new features like the object drawer. I’d still like even more agency and interactivity, but when a barista serves you something slightly different to what you wanted, what can you do? You can either reject it altogether or, like the regulars of Coffee Talk, you can try to enjoy what you’ve been given for what it is. Hey, there’s always the next order.

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly review
Chill and soothing atmosphere
Charming characters
Fun coffee puzzles
Great music and design
Limited interactivity and agency
Clunky social commentary