Review: Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly

20 Apr 2023
0

The Coffee Talk series features two things I’m fond of: visual novel elements and coffee! It’s interesting because while the premise seems rather simple, I don’t actually come across many games that explore these types of random mixes often, or well, for that matter.

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is actually meant to be a continuation of the first game, and as I understand from some of the in-game dialogue, takes place a few years after the original. 

I haven’t played the first one yet (although one of our other editors did review it), but I didn’t let that stop me from trying out this experience, which allowed me to flex my barista muscles and learn about a rather unique cast!

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly released on April 20th, 2023 for PS5, PS4, Xbox One, PC, and the Nintendo Switch. The PC version was played for this review.

For Whom the Bean Tolls

It’s interesting that while Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly is a narrative-heavy game, it doesn’t really have a cohesive story. If I could summarize the experience, I would say that this game is really just a series of moments that eventually come together in the end. This probably doesn’t make much sense so I will explain how this visual novel operates to help make things clearer.

You (the player) are a barista at a coffee shop that only opens at night in an alternate version of Seattle where humans co-exist with a bunch of other races including banshees, nekomimis, orcs, werewolves, vampires, etc. You can name the player whatever you like but I left my name as the default (which happens to be Barista). 

Nightly, Barista tends to a series of customers who come in to enjoy a cup of coffee and vent (or talk) about their lives. Your role is to listen to them and their interactions with the other patrons and eventually grow closer if you make their drinks to their liking.

Each patron that comes in has a problem that they’re looking to solve (a bored vampire, a cop dealing with a mysterious case, an alien trying to find their way, etc) and with your help (and the help of some of the other patrons) you get to see them address it in its entirety and to its conclusion. However, there isn’t anything overarching that is happening within the in-game world. The game isn’t trying to tell you any one particular story or build any sort of narrative. It literally is just you learning more about these people’s lives on a daily basis and seeing the outcomes of their decisions by the end. 

That isn’t to say that it fails as a visual novel or that the game is bad. In fact, I would say it’s the opposite. This game really shines because of the decision to treat every character as an individual and, in fact, gives you a ton of perspectives to think about because of all the different things it tries to tackle.

Some of these things do fall flat, but others are really compelling. For example, I was a fan of Riona’s story. She was a banshee whose dream is to be an opera soprano. This particular role is dominated by sirens but she’s determined to break into the industry. Riona starts off as rather standoffish and unclear in regard to her goals, but by the end of the game, she finds the ability to be flexible and even partners up with another bar patron to chase her dreams. This sort of character growth was really nice to see, and her particular arc tackled a lot of human issues like self-doubt and the importance of chasing your dreams regardless of prejudice and the expectations of others.

My second favorite would have to be Hyde. He’s a vampire who is becoming bored with the life of a model. You find out later that the issue actually runs deeper as again, it’s actually more about the human issue of tackling change from a perspective of a species that lives forever.

The personal stories of some of the other customers weren’t quite as impactful despite their build-up. Officer Jorji, for example, has a story that spans quite a few of the in-game days and it pertains to a series of vandalisms around the neighborhood, but to be honest it was rather disappointing in its conclusion so I was not as big of a fan of it. However, I understand its importance on a fundamental level as it tackles the issue of remembering those we’ve lost and how that can vary from person to person (and in this case species to species). 

Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Coffee Talk 2 is a game with a series of stories it wants to tell, rather than saying it doesn’t have a cohesive one. Despite the many narrative shifts, I would say that the cast won me over with their unique characteristics and relatable approaches to their issues. By the end, I was genuinely curious to learn what their outcome would be, even if not all of them left me satisfied. 

I would also like to highlight how well Toge Productions wrote the interactions between each character. They all behaved in a pretty believable way when you consider how a group of strangers would interact with each other at a local cafe. Despite the strangeness of the moment, their dialogue never felt forced or far-fetched which I feel is really hard to do.  

Side note: I was left with quite a few questions that I hope to get answered in other installments. Most of them pertain to the game’s main protagonist who we learn very little about despite him being the owner of the café.

A Bitter Taste

The gameplay is where you may see some of my dissatisfaction with Coffee Talk 2. It’s just one of those titles where I found the main component of the gameplay to be so meaningless it’s unnecessary. I know this goes against the entire premise of it being a game where you make drinks and listen to people, but to be quite honest, this could have very well just been a visual novel for the amount of impact your barista skills actually have. 

The drink-making mechanic has Barista making drinks at the customer’s request. Sometimes they tell you exactly what they want, or the components of what they want, and other times they just leave it completely up to you. The trick is to make something they will be satisfied with so you can grow closer to them and get a better ending.

The issue I have with the whole system is that it’s uninspired and has no real impact on anything besides the game’s ending (which feels minor as I got a pretty good ending despite messing up more than half the drinks). 

Most of the necessary recipes require some googling or outside knowledge of coffee making, which seems like a lot when the game only allows you to use three ingredients at a time anyway. I actually found it hard to be truly creative with those kinds of limitations. 

And don’t even get me started on the “Latte Art” mechanic where you get to draw pictures on the coffee. THERE’S NO WAY. Even my hearts looked like blobs. I barely did any latte art at all given how time-consuming it was to make anything even remotely nice looking. 

In fact, the feeling I got when trying to make latte art is probably an accurate descriptor of how I felt about having to make drinks in general. It just felt so tedious given how limited your choices actually are. It was also kind of off-putting when you thought you were following a patron’s request but they actually hated it, especially in instances when the game gave you nothing to go on in the first place. 

I probably would’ve liked the main gameplay feature a lot more if there was more in the game itself to help flesh out your skills as a barista. Although, I guess your knowledge does transfers to a New Game + so you can always keep trying endlessly to be better. You can also challenge the game’s endless mode where you’re allowed to try a bunch of ingredient combinations to unlock recipes.

A few other features of note are the in-game social media app and character profile section. Here you can learn about what each character is up to and learn more about them as a person. There are three levels you can unlock, each containing a fact about them that becomes deeper and more personal the closer you get. Making the drinks that each character likes is the key to unlocking each stage so on my first playthrough I was only able to learn about a few of the cast members in-depth, but overall it’s a nice way to give each character a little more depth and life. 

There is also a playlist feature that allows you to change the game’s music and a newspaper filled with stories, poems, and songs written by random people. A lot of these writings have real-world references that can be pretty funny so I enjoyed reading them.

Last but not least there is a minor mechanic where you can give the patrons an item they either left behind or another person wants you to give to them. Doing this can have some impact on the interactions between the characters but most of them are minor and the truly important ones get pushed narratively by the story anyways so it again feels like another thing that could’ve been left out.

I guess the final verdict is that I didn’t enjoy the coffee-making part of Coffee Talk 2. There was just no real reason for it and it often felt tedious to a point because of how little the game does to develop its own gameplay mechanic. I honestly would’ve preferred Barista having dialogue options to choose from as opposed to this half-baked type of approach.

Brew-ti-ful Game

On a more positive note, Coffee Talk 2 is a good-looking game. It features bright and eye-catching pixel art that fits well with both the game’s general atmosphere and characters. 

In terms of backdrop, the game really only has one background which is the inside of the Coffee Talk café with a glimpse of a rainy Seattle through its windows. This constant is actually a nice contrast to the vibrant cast of characters. As mentioned before, most of them aren’t human, so they tend to appear in all shapes, sizes, and colors with a myriad of different features to boot.

I must admit that I really enjoyed Toge Production’s rendition of certain species and the creative approach they took to bring them to life. Their design choices were all unique and appealing enough that I was able to overlook the roughness found in a few of the in-game sprites, particularly the moving ones. 

Sound-wise, Coffee Talk 2 was OK. I think the music fits the setting and what the game itself was going for, but I didn’t find myself drawn to any particular track. My favorite one was maybe the Sweetheart Latte remix but hearing it once was enough. I think I would’ve really enjoyed this game a bit more with voice acting, to be honest. It would have brought every character to life in a whole new way. It’s interesting Toge Productions didn’t go this route given that they did go out of their way to create specific sounds for certain characters in the game.

Overall I enjoyed this title visually and musically. More so one than the other but I think in this category it’s a solid title.

Shaky Grounds

​​I’m torn because narratively Coffee Talk 2 is a pretty good game and I would have absolutely no problems recommending it to fans of the genre. However, gameplay-wise it’s just not that fun and leaves a lot to be desired so it’s hard to give an accurate description of how I feel about it.

Perhaps true coffee fans or researchers/lovers of trial and error will not find this game nearly as tedious as I did. If that’s you please give this a try as it promises a great cast of characters, compelling narratives, and pretty visuals. 

Unfortunately, I’m not one of the aforementioned people that can overlook shoddy gameplay so I don’t think I will be doing any more playthroughs. A shame really because there is an achievement system and multiple endings. Still, for me, it just doesn’t feel worth it. I hope that if there is a new installment Toge Production considers doing more with the Barista part of things.

I’ll end this by saying that I didn’t entirely hate my experience with Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly and am glad I made it through because experiencing the characters really was a treat. There are a lot of heart-warming moments and lessons in this title and I am happy I got to learn a few. I just wish there was more to do, especially because the game is not that long to begin with.


~ Final Score: 6/10 ~ 


Review copy provided by Toge Productions for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Toge Productions.