Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly shines as an ideal continuation of one of 2020’s most cherished indie titles. While its simplistic gameplay loop and visual novel aesthetic may not appeal to everyone, players seeking respite from more demanding games or looking for some cozy conversation won’t be disappointed.
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A Long-Awaited Return
In January 2020, the Indonesian indie studio Toge Productions released a quiet indie game called Coffee Talk. Only a few months later, the pandemic would reshape the world and lead many to spend much more time at home. Video games were the perfect escape for many, with cozy games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Stardew Valley seeing massive player numbers as people both young and old sought comfort in a world not their own.
While Coffee Talk was short and sweet, it left a lasting impression. A cursory glance at the original game’s review scores will show heaps of thankful praise, with people from all backgrounds applauding the title’s characters and unimaginably cozy aura. While there was little gameplay to be found, most players simply chose to get lost in the game’s heart-to-heart conversations instead. It took away the feeling of loneliness so many had been struck with without warning. Spending around eight immersive hours as a mysterious barista and serving up drinks to troubled customers in a fantasy version of Seattle was just what the doctor ordered.
Since the release of the first game, Toge Productions has been hard at work on the sequel, releasing a demo in January 2022. On March 28, 2022, Mohammad Fahmi Hasni, the co-creator and writer of Coffee Talk, passed away at only 32 years of age as the result of a seizure. The outpouring of love and support across social media was incredible and instantaneous, driving many to discover the game and its wonderous world for the first time.
At the SEA Game Awards held last October, Coffee Talk Episode 2 managed to snag three awards: Best Visual Art, Best Storytelling, and the coveted Grand Jury Award.
In January of this year, Toge Productions also made headlines after releasing the narrative-heavy slice-of-life adventure title A Space for the Unbound, which currently has a perfect score on Steam. Pixel art, lo-fi tunes, and down-to-earth storytelling seem to be the developer’s bread and butter, and that recipe for success continues with Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly.
Whimsical Characters, Modern Problems
In Coffee Talk Episode 2, players return to their role as the inexplicable barista at Seattle’s Coffee Talk, a cafe open only during the nighttime hours. Set in a diverse fantasy world, the patrons aren’t necessarily human—two new characters include Riona, a banshee aiming to become an opera singer, and Lucas, a satyr who happens to be a wildly-popular social media influencer. Beloved characters from the first game are also back, dealing with new issues and craving new beverages to keep them warm during some stormy Pacific Northwest nights. (Although not mandatory, we’d highly recommend playing the first game before jumping into the sequel.)
While the characters themselves may be otherworldly, their problems are anything but. These aren’t standard video game protagonists aiming to defeat evil lords or anything as lofty–instead, players will likely find glimpses of themselves staring back at them from your screen.
Two characters argue over the mundane stresses of planning a wedding, while others lament the toxic nature of social media. Riona, painfully aware of the stereotypes most people have about her kind, wonders if it’s possible to overcome them to achieve her dreams. Despite his success on social media, Lucas wants to reinvent himself but fears losing his audience in the process. Aqua, an aspiring game developer, is offered a contract with her favorite company, but the terms of the contract seem predatory.
There’s nothing fantastical about the character’s problems, and that’s what makes the game shine. The advice offered up by the game’s cast could potentially help a player in real life, given the number of relevant subjects addressed during the title’s runtime. The first game’s brevity meant that not every story was given the time and attention it deserved. Thankfully, Coffee Talk Episode 2 is lengthier than the first, and the connections you make with the characters feel much deeper as a result.
Players are still able to access an in-game smartphone, which offers a recipe guide, a music player, and access to a social media platform called Tomodachill. In the original Coffee Talk, it was only possible to see your patron’s profiles, which would gradually update with new information through the course of the game. In the sequel, characters will constantly post to their feed with both images and status updates, making them feel much more alive.
Additionally, players will sometimes come across lost items, or be given items for specific purposes. Not using these items at the proper time can result in changes to the overall narrative, and some of them will disappear without warning, adding a little more excitement to the standard gameplay loop.
Richer Flavors for Players to Savor
As you uncover more about your patrons through dialogue and social media posts, you’ll also be tasked with brewing delectable drinks that meet specified requirements. Though the gameplay hasn’t changed when compared to the first game, your list of ingredients has been increased, and plenty of new recipes can be uncovered as you try to satisfy your customers. Once you hear the order, you’ll be taken to the ingredients screen. Each drink consists of only three ingredients, and it’s up to you to figure out what those ingredients are. When serving up a drink, you can also give an item to a customer, if need be.
Each drink is wonderfully rendered, and it’s tough to get through a session without running to the kitchen to try your hand at Cozy Drink Making 101 in real life. Sometimes, you’ll need to get creative when it comes to whipping up the right beverage–this can mean choosing unique ingredients to quench a particular thirst or showing off your best latte art skills. There are dozens of images to unlock in the gallery and far more achievements to strive for this time around, so replay value has been boosted a great deal.
“I would really appreciate a hot, very sweet, very comforting drink.”
The above request represents the highest hurdle of difficulty you’ll find in Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly. There are no battles to be fought, no dialogue options to choose from, and no experience points to be gathered—there are only warm drinks to be prepared and stories to be heard. To some, this might be a detriment, but to others, it likely sounds like the perfect game to play after a hard day of work, or a breakup, or a bought of stubborn depression. Sometimes, you don’t want to think too hard. Sometimes, you don’t want to fight or micromanage. Sometimes, you just want some coffee with friends.
Music to Soothe the Weariest Soul
The first Coffee Talk wowed players with its lo-fi soundtrack by Andrew Jeremy, and fans will be pleased to know that the same chill vibes continue in Coffee Talk Episode 2. Jeremy’s return to the game’s audio is a major boon, and his vision for the soundtrack keeps with the title’s premise of being an escape from the hectic world outside.
In an interview with PlayStation, Arya Wiryawan Wibowo, the Communication Manager at Toge Productions, noted that Jeremy’s vision was to “recreate the calm vibe of a coffee shop into a game, where we could listen to lo-fi music, hear people talking, and just enjoy the atmosphere.” The game’s music can be enjoyed actively or passively–it can entirely disappear into the background if you need it to, or it can continuously set the scene for the conversations you’ll have throughout.
While both games feature minimal sound effects, what sounds you do hear are hugely satisfying. Whether it’s coffee being poured into a cup, a knife against a cutting board, or beans being ground, Coffee Talk Episode 2 continues to prove that less is more when it comes to setting the scene. As thunder claps outside and neon signs illuminate the damp streets of Seattle, there’s only warmth and good company to be found inside this quiet coffee shop.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is closer to a visual novel than some players may prefer, but it isn’t a title to be overlooked. Some games are designed to test your brain—others are designed to test your reflexes. Coffee Talk Episode 2 isn’t here to test you at all, instead offering a unique narrative experience that can’t be forgotten, much like its predecessor. Much of Episode 2 centers around the theme of being remembered, and it’s certain to meet that goal.
This game improves on everything that made the first title so loved, tapping into a market of players seeking a place to relax and reflect in an uncertain world. It’s tough not to love something so filled to the brim with heart and soul.